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Despite having visiting family and a weekend trip to prepare for, our SBN colleague And the Valley Shook took some time to talk about the coming season for LSU and Nick Saban's return to the SEC, so big thanks to him.
No hype; there really is that much animosity. There's a reason Les used the F word when referring to Bama earlier this year!
Not that this is necessarily representative of the entire LSU fanbase, but a routine visit to the TigerDroppings.com message board here can turn up gobs and gobs of Saban threads. A lot of folks (such as myself) don't even care, but maybe we're just soft.
The typical question is, "If he won you guys a national championship, why do you care what the hell he does now?" I agree. That said, a lot of folks just don't like the way he announced his departure from LSU on Christmas Day, 2004, after denying the talk that he was off to the NFL. When he pulled the same stunt with the Dolphins and wound up not just in our conference but in our very division, that rubbed plenty of folks the wrong way. I won't cast judgment on their feelings.
2. How do you personally feel about Saban's return to the SEC, but not to LSU?
The guy single-handedly returned LSU to national prominence. He's a great coach and a great recruiter. For that, I can hold nothing against him. Now, you won't ever find me rooting for Alabama, but that's only natural. It'll only add to the already intense feelings associated with winning or losing against them, and that just makes for more entertaining football in the long run. Rivalries are great. We don't really have one in particular, so it's nice to be able to stamp that tag on Alabama henceforth (at least from our perspective, if not yours).
3. Is Les Miles the man to keep LSU at the elite level it's attained over the past few seasons? Why or why not?
I think he is. A lot of us were pretty disappointed in our overall performance in 2005 because, even with the 11-2 record, we never really put it all together until the bowl game, even with huge wins like the win over your Tide when you guys were an undefeated Top 5 team (minus Prothro by then, of course). Now, Katrina made the season somewhat of a mess, but there's only so much one can chalk up to that. We had a lot of sloppy play and just boneheaded coaching. The blown lead to Tennessee in the home opener seemed to define that year early on. At the very least, things improved from there! In the end, finishing ranked 6th wasn't bad.
Then last year, we put it together in every game against the cupcakes, and came out flat in the first two big games of the year (losses @ Auburn and @ Florida). So those were frustrating as hell, given that we all know we could have done better (the Auburn defense was stout, but 3 points??). We squeaked out wins at Tennessee and at Arkansas, and I think 2-2 in that overall stretch is acceptable. The dominant Sugar Bowl and #3 final ranking made the season far more palatable.
Using stock parlance, the bear argument thus far is that Miles has been working with Saban's talent and has not brought the team to battle in the big games which REALLY matter - i.e. when we're still in contention for a national title. Once those hopes are out and all we're shooting for is a Top 10 finish, we seem to have little problem rolling it up. Frequent comparisons are made to Larry Coker after he inherited Butch Davis' players and rode their coattails to a title, then gradually deteriorated from there.
The bull argument is that two straight 11-2 finishes in an extremely tough conference capped off by two dominating bowl performances against Top 10 teams (cumulative nine touchdown margin of victory) is indicative that Miles is a high caliber coach. After all, no coach in LSU history has put together two straight 11-win seasons. It's important to place that record in perspective and stack it up against what every other team in the country has accomplished the past two seasons. Regardless of a "stacked cupboard" of talent when he arrived, one absolutely cannot dispute the fact that it takes some skill to put together a 22-4 record over two seasons.
I'll say this much: whether or not Les Miles is the answer, it may very well be that he can be a Goldilocks coach. All he has to do is be just good enough - a DLG coach if you will. The reason? His hired help. We Tiger fans breathed a gargantuan sigh of relief when defensive coordinator Bo Pelini decided to stay on. I honestly thought he was long gone after the year. He has done a phenomenal job with our defense, and it ought to once again be a Top 5 unit. Meanwhile, I'm cautiously optimistic that Gary Crowton will be given enough freedom to run an offense that doesn't miss too much of a beat after having lost JaMarcus Russell, Dwayne Bowe, and Craig Davis to the NFL.
4. How important is it for Miles to beat his predecessor? Should LSU lose to Alabama this year, will the fanbase turn on Miles?
Anyone who says it's live-or-die based on the Alabama game is smoking something. Hell, Nick Saban himself led us to a homecoming loss versus Alabama-Birmingham in his first year. In our national title year, we dropped a home game to Ron Zook's Gators. So if we were to run the table with the exception of the Alabama game, it would sting like hell but it'd be bearable. No doubt that for a week or so after a loss to Alabama, Tiger fans far and wide would be calling for Miles' head regardless of our record to that point. The game is relatively late in the season too, so a loss there would have even greater implications for our title hopes than would, say, an October 6th loss to Florida. But in the end it'll have to be judged retrospectively in January, with the accomplishments of the entire season as context.
5. With all the hype surrounding this year's Tigers and the expecations to play for the BCS Title, if LSU stumbles (i.e. goes all season without any catastrophic injuries or other mitigating circumstances yet still manages to inexplicably drop a game or two) how will Les Miles be perceived by the LSU fanbase?
I suppose this answer should be combined with the next, but it's safe to say that anything short of an SEC Championship would elicit calls for Les to go ahead and take the expected Michigan opening at season's end. Tough crowd, I suppose.
6. What are your expectations for the coming season, and what's the bare minimum this team must do to have 2007 be considered a success?
At this point, I think it's fair to say the general expectation is for no less than an SEC Championship, at the very least. Even I will be disappointed if we don't achieve that much. This is arguably the highest that preseason expectations have ever been for the Tigers, and given the highly favorable schedule (Florida, Auburn, Va Tech, South Carolina, and Arkansas all at home), the stars are aligned for the 2007 Tigers to bring home a title. When our average preseason ranking is from #2-#4, how could anything less be acceptable?