ENGSTER: At least eight wins is a guarantee for LSU football

By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine

For the 17th straight year, LSU has won at least eight games in a football season. Since Nick Saban opened his tenure at Tigertown at 8-4 in 2000, LSU has produced eight victories as a baseline every season, peaking with 13 wins in 2003 and 2011.

With the 29-9 post-season thrashing of Louisville, the LSU record in the 21st Century is 168-52 under Saban, Les Miles and Ed Orgeron. Let us not forget that LSU closed the 20th Century with eight losing seasons in the previous eleven years.

LSU, not Alabama (165-57, 74.3%) owns the best record in the SEC in the current century. The Tiger record in the preceding 220 games prior to Saban’s hiring was far less impressive under Jerry Stovall, Bill Arnsparger, Mike Archer, Curley Hallman, Gerry DiNardo and Hal Hunter.

From the middle of the 1980 season (a 24-7 win over Florida) to the last game of the 1999 season (a 35-10 win over Arkansas), LSU played the same number of games it has since the opening game of the Saban Era in 2000 (a 58-0 win over Western Carolina).

LSU was 119-97-4 in the 220 games played prior to the finish of the 20th Century. The difference in winning percentage is 76.4% since 2000 compared to 55.1% in the previous 220 dates for the Tigers.

Prior to the 21st Century, LSU enjoyed a total of five seasons with ten or more victories (1908, 1958, 1961, 1987 and 1996). Since then, LSU has featured double-digit winning teams nine times, accomplishing the feat in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Saban revived the program, Miles preserved it and Ed Orgeron will either return LSU to the top of the SEC, or there will be hits and misses with LSU occasionally vaulting into the national championship picture as it did periodically from 1959 to 2002.

The championship seasons of 2003 and 2007 spoiled LSU’s passionate support base. Next year will mark a decade since LSU’s last national title team, and the natives are restless. Tiger fans waited 45 years from 1958 to 2003 for a second crown in the modern age. Coach O knows fans expect another championship soon. And very soon.

At age 55, Orgeron is positioned if all goes well to become the third coach in the century to guide LSU to the penthouse. The battering of Louisville in the Citrus Bowl improves O’s overall head coaching record to 22-29. Much better numbers are coming.

O’s more celebrated 55-year-old opponent, Bobby Petrino, dropped to 109-43 in his college career with another crushing defeat to LSU. The last time Petrino was matched against the Tigers, No. 1 LSU pounded No. 3 Arkansas 41-17 in 2011 at Death Valley with Petrino shouting M.F. (not “my friend”) to Les Miles at game’s end. A few months later, Petrino was out of a job when he crashed his motorcycle with his mistress in tow. Unfortunately for Bobby P, she was a university employee hired by the coach.

Coach O’s college mascot at Northwestern State was a Demon while Petrino’s at Carroll College of Montana was a Saint. The unsaintly Petrino is a brilliant strategist who has been tainted by scandal while Coach O can do no wrong, at least until the 2017 opener at Houston vs. Brigham Young.

Alabama will again prevail as the overwhelming favorite in the SEC West, but LSU will boast the league’s most exciting player in Derrius Guice. The soon to be junior from Baton Rouge Catholic needs 2,008 yards in 2017 to eclipse Leonard Fournette’s career rushing total of 3,830. Look for Guice to surpass Fournette and gain more yards on fewer carries.

The transition from Fournette to Guice rekindles memories of 1973 when Bert Jones left LSU as the most heralded quarterback in school history and was the second player taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Ruston Rifle (No. 7) was also succeeded by (No 5) Mike Miley.

Miley did not have the overpowering fastball possessed by Jones, but he was a remarkable athlete who led LSU to a 9-0 start in ’73. The Tigers closed the campaign with losses to Alabama, Tulane and Penn State, but the legend of “Miracle Mike” continues.

Coach Mac installed an offense to fit Miley’s pass-run style, but the quarterback from East Jefferson High School never ran the veer at LSU. Miley opted to sign a major league baseball contract after the California Angels took him in the first round of the 1974 free agent draft. He was the club’s starting shortstop when his sports car overturned and killed him at Highland Road and Rodney Drive in Baton Rouge early on Jan. 6, 1977.

This week marks 40 years since Miley died. He was 23-years-old and had just signed a new agreement with the Angels that would compensate him fewer dollars for more games played. Miley was forcing his employer’s hand to play him more often. No player in MLB history has had the audacity to forge a deal like that one. Miley’s final game was on Oct. 3, 1976 at Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. He was hitless in four at-bats as the Angels beat Oakland 1-0. Nolan Ryan hurled a two-hit shutout and fanned 14 to win for the Angels. Miley was 95 days from his death.

Two more anniversaries

January 5 marks 29 years since the death of Pete Maravich. The Pistol was gone at 40 after collapsing while playing a pick-up game in Pasadena. He’s been dead much longer than he was famous, but his records are intact nearly 47 years after his final basket at LSU. Nobody has approached the 3,667 career points or the 44.2 points per game that Maravich amassed at the Cow Palace.

Bo Rein died on Jan. 10, 1980 when his plane veered off course on flight from Baton Rouge to Shreveport and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. Nearly 37 years later, North Carolina State, the school Rein left to become LSU’s coach, flew in and out of the same airport in Shreveport where the 34-year-old Rein was last seen alive. The Wolfpack beat Vanderbilt in the Dec. 26 Independence Bowl 41-17.

North Carolina writer Zach Williams is completing his account of the Rein’s final journey. The working title for the book which is due later this year is “Forty Minutes to Baton Rouge: The Story of Robert ‘Bo’ Rein.”

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