State of the Team: LSU
BOWL PREVIEW: Hot seat chilled, Miles leads promising bunch into 2011
Editor’s Note: The following appears in Tiger Rag’s annual Bowl Preview Edition, available now. Throughout the month of December, TigerRag.com will run a select group of columns and features from the issue. To purchase the 48-page full-color print edition, CLICK HERE for subscription information.
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
With 10 wins already in the bag, LSU has assured itself a better record than in 2009, when the team’s 9-4 run marked a one-game improvement over the season prior.
Baby steps? Maybe. But that’s definitely the direction you want to be trending if you’re LSU, and the memories of a 2007 BCS national championship are still fairly fresh. And the 2011 BCS title game, much like the 2003 and ‘07 editions, is being contested in the Superdome … hmmm.
That’s putting the cart a long way in front of the horse, though, especially when Oregon, which could be coming off a national title of its own, looms as the ‘11 season opener.
What is true beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the 2010 Tiger football team helped put the program back on the map, never in a fashion which could be called traditional, but winning at a high level, nonetheless. Call the ‘10 team the table-setter for greater things to come.
As the season started, Coach Les Miles, entering his sixth year in Baton Rouge, was feeling the warmth coming off his seat and staring dead-on at one of the nation’s toughest schedules. He also had a stable of quarterbacks many were sour on and numerous personnel changes set to unfold on both sides of the line.
Despite the obstacles, the former Michigan man did have two major pluses going in his favor: a boatload of blue-chip talent compiled over several years and a clean program lacking the team rap sheets of many an SEC team. (Even in the slightly darker days of the Miles era, those have been two perpetual feathers in the man’s cap - or Hat, as it were.)
In the opener, against ACC up-and-comer North Carolina, LSU held on to win a wild affair vs. a Tar Heels team decimated by suspensions springing from an NCAA investigation (a regular occurrence in college football this season). The win, and the surreal manner in which LSU obtained it late, would become the hallmark of the ‘10 Tigers.
Close-call victories ensued over West Virginia (20-14), Tennessee (16-14, thanks to an extra untimed down), Florida (33-29), Alabama (24-21) and Ole Miss (43-36). Even games like Vanderbilt and McNeese State - both LSU wins - felt tighter than the final scores indicated. And the Tigers two losses, at Auburn (24-17) and at Arkansas (31-23), were nail-biters, as well.
Even though the method was in-question - and at times very voraciously so across Tiger Nation - the results were beyond scrutiny.
LSU broke two-game losing streaks to not one, but three conference opponents - Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss - which had previously got the Tigers’ goat since 2008. The Bayou Bengals won in Gainesville for the first time since 2004, and Miles’ troops marched out to a 7-0 record, the best start for an LSU team since 1973.
Along the way, Miles debunked one of the chief complaints about his teams heading into the season - that he didn’t play enough underclassmen.
Youth was served, to be certain, particularly on the defensive side. Coordinator John Chavis found innovative ways to use true freshman Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary and also worked fellow frosh Craig Loston, KeKe Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Eric Reid into the regular rotation. The SEC coaches named Mathieu, Mingo and Montgomery freshman all-conference members at season’s end.
With the future looking bright with returning players, LSU went out and landed its biggest need, position-wise, to complement its returners. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, from Butler (Kan.) Community College by way of the University of Georgia, verbally committed to Miles and the Tigers on Dec. 6. and officially inked with the purple and gold Dec. 15.
Of course, in a circle of life-type way, there are usually subtractions to match additions.
This year’s exodus will be a painful one, too, with seniors Joe Barksdale, Josh Jasper, Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard all headed to the NFL. They’ll most likely be joined in the league by junior cornerback Patrick Peterson, a projected top-10 pick who pulled off a pair of impressive award doubles early in December.
Peterson, who’s younger brother Avery Johnson has already committed to LSU as a wide receiver in the Class of 2012, was honored by the SEC coaches as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year. Adding to his legend, Peterson walked away from the NCAA awards with the prestigious Bednarik (most outstanding defensive player) and Thorpe (top defensive back) awards to his credit.
Replacing Peterson and all he brings to the table in ‘11 and beyond will be virtually impossible. Replacing his production with a number of players is the more realistic route.
The bigger question, one which will only amplify once the final horn sounds in the Cotton Bowl, is whether LSU will replace any of its coaching staff.
Unlike a season ago, when vacancies left by Larry Porter and D.J. McCarthy necessitated back-filling pre-bowl game, the Tigers won’t undergo any shake-up in advance of the Jan. 7 showdown with the Texas A&M Aggies. But that doesn’t mean the future’s set in stone yet, particularly in the case of offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, who’s seen his passing game rank 97th and 107th, respectively, in the past two seasons.
Finally, the interim between the Arkansas game and the bowl tilt provides LSU a nice window of time in which the coaches can finalize the ‘11 recruiting class (National Signing Day is Feb. 2), one which already ranks among the nation’s best (the Tigers are hovering around the No. 13-15 rated class nationally due to sheer volume and numbers, but the quality per current commit is strong).
Some of the top remaining targets on the Tigers’ radar include Isidore Newman wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Evangel defensive end Jermauria Rasco, St. Paul’s defensive lineman Mickey Johnson and Columbia North (Fla.) defensive lineman Tim Jernigan.
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