FanHouse's 2010 Preseason College Football Poll -- No. 20 LSU
Will this be the year that Les Miles resurrects the Bayou Bengals from the doldrums of an 8-8 SEC record the past two seasons, or will it be the final year in Baton Rouge for the Mad Hatter?
Despite a 9-4 season last year, which featured competitive losses to Alabama and Florida, the lingering impact of Miles' boneheaded performance down the stretch in a loss against Ole Miss counted for more than one defeat. Everything that LSU fans feared about Miles, that he was an idiot head coach who stumbled into great fortune in the wake of Nick Saban's departure, was crystallized in those final seconds.
Now LSU is back with what should be a talented, but young, team. In his second year at the helm, defensive coordinator John Chavis should be capable of instilling even more backbone in a defense that improved a great deal over the course of 2009. A junior quarterback in Jordan Jefferson could be poised for a great leap forward, and he'd better be -- last year LSU had the 112th-rated offense in the nation.
The SEC media's not buying it, picking LSU fourth in the west, behind Alabama, Arkansas, and Auburn. If that happens, Miles could become the first head coach to win a national championship and be fired before a season is complete.
THE BASICS: Last season, amidst the muck that was the middle-tier of the SEC, LSU fought its way to a 5-3 conference mark, good for third-best, behind Alabama and Florida, in the conference. Indeed, LSU was the only team other than those two to finish with a better than .500 conference record. The 9-3 regular season landed LSU in the Capital One Bowl where, on a field that looked like it belonged in a Middle Ages fair, Penn State outlasted LSU 19-17. In the wake of the defeat, which featured even more ridiculous Miles coaching decisions -- the screen into the middle of the field that took thirty seconds? -- LSU fans circled this season as the defining one of the Miles era. It's come to this in Baton Rouge: Even nine wins doesn't keep your head off the chopping block.
KEY PLAYER YOU PROBABLY DON'T THINK OF AS A KEY PLAYER: Wide receiver Terrance Tolliver. How good can he be as the team's number one receiver now that Brandon LaFell, the team's leading receiver last year, has left for the NFL? Given that LSU had an awful offense last season, Tolliver needs to be special in his senior season. The quarterback position is going to be solid but not spectacular, and it appears there will be multiple running backs, all solid but not spectacular. Can Tolliver be a consistent threat in the passing game?
He'd better be.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT: LSU has the toughest schedule among the top teams in the SEC. (Vanderbilt has the toughest overall in the league, but Vandy fans would be ecstatic with four wins. LSU, not so much.) The Bayou Bengals take on North Carolina in an opening game neutral site contest in Atlanta and then take on West Virginia later in September. Combine this with the fact that LSU draws Alabama and Florida every year, and you're staring down the barrel of a brutal slate. In years past, Miles has found a way to triumph because he has better talent. This year, LSU will be underdogs in at least four games. Can Miles pull off upsets when he has inferior talent?
DON'T MISS: LSU vs. Auburn on October 23. In the past two seasons, LSU has started strong and finished weak. Auburn offers a good litmus test for whether that trend will continue in 2010. Beat Auburn and LSU can withstand Alabama's likely Death Valley victory two weeks later. Lose to Auburn and all of a sudden Ole Miss and Arkansas, not to mention Alabama, are fraught with peril. Les Miles is 51-15 in five years at LSU. But nine of those 15 losses have come in the past two seasons. Indeed, Miles is just 17-9 in his past 26.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the puffed up hat.
PREDICTED RECORD: 7-5
FanHouse's LSU team page with schedule