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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 16: L.S.U.

After years of smooth sailing, the last two seasons have Les Miles searching for answers.

Even when he was winning a national title, Les Miles was more beloved in Ann Arbor than in Baton Rouge. It’s not easy stepping in for Nick Saban, obviously. Now two years removed from his championship, Miles enters the 2010 season firmly under the microscope: 17-9 over the last two years, with an abysmal offense and a defense that lacks the killer instinct of the Bo Pelini-led units of 2005-7. Is this a make-or-break year for the sixth-year L.S.U. coach? One thing that has clearly occurred over the past two seasons: while L.S.U. has declined, Saban’s Crimson Tide have rocketed to the top of the SEC.

Conference
SEC, West

Location
Baton Rouge, La.

Nickname
Tigers

Returning starters
10 (6 offense, 4 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 7

2009 record
(9-4, 5-3)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 17

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    U.N.C. (in Atlanta)
  • Sept. 11
    at Vanderbilt
  • Sept. 18
    Mississippi St.
  • Sept. 25
    West Virginia
  • Oct. 2
    Tennessee
  • Oct. 9
    at Florida
  • Oct. 16
    McNeese St.
  • Oct. 23
    at Auburn
  • Nov. 6
    Alabama
  • Nov. 13
    La.-Monroe
  • Nov. 20
    Mississippi
  • Nov. 27
    at Arkansas

Last year’s prediction

Can L.S.U. top Alabama in the West, or even Florida in the SEC as a whole? Yes, without question on the first; on the second, it may be tough. But the Tigers have the best chance of any team in the country at knocking off the defending champs, as L.S.U. gets the Gators at home, in what should be one of the season’s finest games. I’m very excited about L.S.U., but I do think U.F. and the Tide rank slightly higher. The Tigers will be right in the mix for a B.C.S. appearance, however; maybe, with a West championship, the Sugar Bowl?

2009 recap

In a nutshell At least the defense was better, allowing roughly eight fewer points per game than in 2008. That’s quite a significant improvement: from 56th nationally in scoring defense in 2008 to 11th last fall. So, good news. There is life on defense after Bo Pelini. Still, bad news. L.S.U. continues to regress on offense, scoring 79 fewer points than in 2008 and a whopping 218 points fewer than in the program’s title-winning season. As at B.Y.U., Gary Crowton’s offense has proved to be an immediate hit but a long-term flop. The offense was particularly poor in conference play: 22.3 points per game — including a combined total of 18 points against Florida and Alabama. It’s confusing, tiring, always frustrating: the talent is there, the technique and consistency — the coaching — not. Until changes are made on offense, expect more of the same. Still good football, but no team capable of making another national title run.

High point Some impressive moments, such as a 20-13 win at Georgia or a three-touchdown victory against Auburn. The Tigers had records of 5-0 and 7-1, but narrow losses to the conference’s elite cost them any shot at a B.C.S. bowl.

Low point No loss – no matter the sport – hurts worse than losing a game with bullets left in your gun. You have the ball, down by one, and never get a shot off. You fly out in foul territory with the winning run on third. You don’t get your field goal team out in time for the winning kick – and don’t make one more throw for the end zone. It’s the last – as L.S.U. found out against Mississippi – that really breaks your heart.

Tidbit What did L.S.U. accomplish from 2008-9 that it had done only once before in its history, and never in the modern era? It’s not a good thing: score at least 75 fewer points than in the season before. It all starts all the way back in 2007, when the national champion Tigers scored a school-record 541 points (the 14 games helped). L.S.U. then scored 402 points in 2008, a healthy number but 139 points less than it had in 2007. Finally, the Tigers scored 323 points last fall, 79 points less than in 2008. The only other time the program had achieved this feat? From 1909-10, when the Tigers went from 442 points (in 1908) to 188 (1909) to 45 (1910).

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) For the final time. And I mean it this time. Here’s how it works: I give you a quiz question; you become the first person to answer the question; you win the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of your favorite team when it appears on the Countdown. Get it? Good. I also realize there was some argument over the most recent quiz question, one that appeared in the West Virginia preview. I can’t decide who answered the question first, to be honest. If you feel strongly that you were the first to correctly respond, let me know below. And here’s the question:

Les Miles has nine wins over coaches who have won a national championship. Can you name these coaches?

Teams already spoken for: Arizona (Zaboo), California (katster), Georgia Tech (DivePlay), Michigan (Seth), Navy (Shawn), Texas (Noefli), Texas A&M (Dr. Norris Camacho), T.C.U. (Burnt Orange), Texas Tech (Freakville), Virginia Tech (James), Wake Forest (jjtiller) and Washington (Dr. Klahn).

Former players in the N.F.L.

58 RB Joseph Addai (Indianapolis), LB Eric Alexander (New England), LB Darry Beckwith (San Diego), WR Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City), WR Demetrius Byrd (San Diego), S Ryan Clark (Pittsburgh), WR Michael Clayton (Tampa Bay), S Harry Coleman (New Orleans), LB Jacob Cutrera (Jacksonville), CB Travis Daniels (Kansas City), WR Buster Davis (San Diego), TE Richard Dickson (Detroit), DE Glenn Dorsey (Kansas City), WR Early Doucet (Arizona), OG Alan Faneca (Arizona), RB Kevin Faulk (New England), DT Marlon Favorite (Indianapolis), QB Matt Flynn (Green Bay), CB Randall Gay (New Orleans), DE Jarvis Green (Denver), DT Howard Green (Washington), CB Chris Hawkins (Baltimore), C Brett Helms (Houston), WR Devery Henderson (New Orleans), FB Jacob Hester (San Diego), LB Ali Highsmith (Arizona), WR Trindon Holliday (Houston), CB Chevis Jackson (Atlanta), DE Tyson Jackson (Kansas City), LB Bradie James (Dallas), DT Ricky Jean-Francois (San Francisco), OG Herman Johnson (Arizona), FB Quinn Johnson (Green Bay), DT Tremaine Johnson (Minnesota), S Chad Jones (New York Giants), P Donnie Jones (St. Louis), WR Brandon LaFell (Carolina), S LaRon Landry (Washington), OG Nate Livings (Cincinnati), C Todd McClure (Atlanta), OG Stephen Peterman (Detroit), WR Josh Reed (San Diego), LB Perry Riley (Washinton), TE Robert Royal (Cleveland), RB Charles Scott (Philadelphia), DE Marcus Spears (Dallas), S Craig Steltz (Chicago), S Curtis Taylor (San Francisco), RB Justin Vincent (Pittsburgh), CB Corey Webster (New York Giants), OT Andrew Whitworth (Cincinnati), DT Kyle Williams (Buffalo), RB Keiland Williams (Washington), DT Al Woods (New Orleans), TE Keith Zinger (Atlanta).

Arbitrary top five list

Writers with Louisiana ties, with notable work
1. John Kennedy Toole, “A Confederacy of Dunces.”
2. Walker Percy, “The Moviegoer.”
3. Kate Chopin, “The Awakening.”
4. Ernest J. Gaines, “A Lesson Before Dying.”
5. Elmore Leonard, “LaBrava.”

Coaching

Les Miles (Michigan ’76), 51-15 after five seasons at L.S.U. Miles led the Tigers to the national championship in 2007 despite a myriad of potentially season-wrecking distractions: expectations, for starters, but also the specter of Saban at Alabama, Miles’s own dalliances with Michigan and two regular-season losses. His 34-6 record over his first three seasons stands as the finest three-year stretch in L.S.U. history, and the team’s three consecutive top five finishes also marked a program first. So the Tigers have taken a step back over the last two seasons, though it is very difficult for any team to maintain an extended high period of success when playing in the SEC. Still, some concerns. Miles has never been a strong game manager, but his missteps have been magnified by L.S.U.’s recent slight decline. He has maintained recruiting at a high pitch, though L.S.U.’s inability to develop offensive skill players has been confounding. And where has the offense gone? Prior to coming to Baton Rouge, Miles spent four seasons as the coach at Oklahoma State (2001-4), where he led the Cowboys from a 4-7 mark in his debut season to three straight bowl appearances. The Cowboys beat rival Oklahoma twice over that span, the only team in the nation to do so. As an N.F.L. assistant, Miles served a three-year stint (1998-2000) as the tight ends coach with the Dallas Cowboys. On the college ranks, Miles spent five years at Colorado (1982-86) and 10 years at Michigan (1980-81, 1987-94); it was his time as a Michigan player and assistant that led to the rampant speculation that he was the favorite to take over for Lloyd Carr in Ann Arbor.

Players to watch

For the first time since 2006, L.S.U. returns a starter at quarterback. This is a good thing. Jordan Jefferson is sure to be improved, thanks to last year’s experience and his growing confidence under center. Perhaps L.S.U. will take the kid gloves off the junior; he was cautious by design last fall, tossing only seven interceptions but rarely taking chances that might have yielded big plays for this maligned offense — of course, those chances might very well have ended in turnovers.

I actually like Jefferson, like his arm, his athletic ability and his potential as a passer. What should we expect in 2010? Better numbers, especially given L.S.U.’s talent at receiver. It might be a breakout season, though he’ll have to combat Gary Crowton’s ineffectiveness to succeed. Nevertheless, keep an eye on his development; he has all the tools to excel. Depth at quarterback is a concern: Jarrett Lee hasn’t proven himself capable of leading this offense for extended periods of time, and incoming freshman Zach Lee opted to pursue a career in baseball rather than join the Tigers.

L.S.U. has options at wide receiver, with returning contributors Terrence Tolliver and Rueben Randle joined by talented sophomore Russell Shepard. Tolliver is the most seasoned at the position, bringing 85 career receptions for 1,241 yards and 7 scores into his final season. Randle, a sophomore, made 11 catches for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a rookie. This will be L.S.U.’s top pair, but keep an eye on Shepard: the sophomore will make the transition from quarterback to receiver on a full-time basis, though I expect him to remain part of the ground game. As a freshman, Shepard rushed for 277 yards and 2 touchdowns on 6.2 yards per carry. Junior Deangelo Peterson, a converted receiver, will provide a boost to the passing game from the tight end spot.

The Tigers must get more from their ground game, obviously: they ranked 90th nationally last fall in rushing, averaging only 121.2 yards per game. It all starts up front, where L.S.U. returns three players with significant starting experience. The first is senior Joseph Barksdale, who makes the move from right to left tackle — replacing 53-game starter Ciron Black. Barksdale brings a team-high 26 consecutive starts into the season. The blind side of the line looks secure, with Barksdale joined by junior Josh Dworaczyk, a 13-game starter last fall.

Will Blackwell holds the edge at right guard, ahead of redshirt freshman Josh Williford. Sophomore Alex Hurst, who played in a reserve role at right guard last fall, stands atop the depth chart at right tackle. Look for a battle at center, where junior T-Bob Hebert is battling sophomore Patrick Lonergan for the starting spot. Hebert started 11 games last fall before being lost to injury; Lonergan stepped into his spot, starting the final game of the regular season and L.S.U.’s bowl loss to Penn State.

Senior Richard Murphy and junior Stevan Ridley lead the way at running back, where L.S.U. must replace the duo of Keiland Williams and Charles Scott. Ridley is more experienced, bringing a pair of career starts into 2010; he rushed for 180 yards and 3 scores last fall. Murphy will certainly see snaps, as will redshirt freshman Michael Ford. The latter had a superb spring, leading the Tigers in rushing and flashing a good combination of size and speed. Ford has the most potential of the three, of course, though it seems as if he’ll take a secondary role in 2010. In L.S.U.’s case, it would be wise to play the hot hand.

Here’s what L.S.U. has going for it on defense: two of its starters rank among the finest at their respective positions in the SEC, if not the country. Unfortunately, as good as this pair is — they’ll be discussed shortly — they represent half of L.S.U.’s corps of returning starters on defense. Yes, four returning starters from a unit that made a very nice improvement under John Chavis a season ago. Who knew that coaching could be so important? Note to Les Miles: when replacing your offensive coordinator — which you’re sure to do quite soon — don’t promote from within your staff. As for Chavis, he’s been here before, replaced starters before, kept the train rolling along the tracks just fine. Don’t worry about the L.S.U. defense.

Well, maybe worry about depth at linebacker. It’s a group led by a good one in senior Kelvin Sheppard, who led L.S.U. with 110 tackles from his spot in the middle a season ago. Unfortunately, Perry Riley and Harry Coleman, last year’s starters on the outside, must be replaced. What does this mean? That L.S.U. needs more than one unproven linebacker to step up. Depth — the goal of any great defense — was further damaged by junior Ryan Baker’s broken jaw. He won’t miss too much time, perhaps only the first two weeks of the season, but it forces Chavis and his cohorts to dig deeper on the depth chart to locate starters.

When healthy, Baker will be the guy on the weak side. For now, it’ll be either Tahj Jones or Josh Johns stepping into the lineup. Junior Stefoin Francois currently leads the pack on the strong side, but he has yet to play any snaps since moving from safety to linebacker prior to last season. Now, Riley and Coleman were good, very good, but neither is irreplaceable. If Baker and Francois show themselves capable, or one of the young kids step up, perhaps L.S.U. can match last season’s production at linebacker. It’s not too hard to believe. For now, however, the linebacker corps looks like Sheppard and two question marks.

How good is Patrick Peterson? If last year is any indication, the junior is poised to for an all-American season. He was great last season, ranking among the best in the SEC with 15 pass breakups while intercepting three passes — two of which officials counted. There’s no SEC receiver Peterson can’t cover, though I’d love to see he and A.J. Green go head-to-head before both head to the next level. Sophomore Morris Claiborne, a former track star, will start on the other side. Depth at cornerback took a hit with Jai Eugene’s move to free safety, though the senior is expected to start at his new spot. The free safety job could also go to redshirt freshman Craig Loston, a former five-star recruit, though it seems like he’s a year away. Brandon Taylor returns at strong safety, with juniors Karnell Hatcher and Derrick Bryant jockeying for the backup spot.

Position battles to watch

Defensive line Look for a little movement up front, as returning starter Lazarius Levingston — also known as “Pep” — transitions from end to tackle in his senior season. It’s an interesting move: while he’s added some weight, Levingstone is not your typical L.S.U. interior lineman. He’s about 270 pounds or so; mammoth in his daily life but somewhat small both for L.S.U. and the SEC in general. Levingston (28 tackles, 8 for loss) will be quick off the line, but I wonder how he’ll stand up against the run. If the move stays, Levington will be joined at tackle by senior Drake Nevis (50 tackles, 11 for loss, 4 sacks), a key returning contributor. What about depth? Sophomore Josh Downs will certainly be in the mix, as is redshirt freshman Michael Brockers, coming off a strong spring. It would be nice to have more experience behind the starting senior pair, especially if Levingston’s lack of prototypical size becomes a concern. The Tigers must also find two new starting ends, with Levingston’s mvoe inside being joined by Rahim Alem’s departure. It will be sophomore Lavar Edwards (23 tackles, 2.5 sacks) on one side, with a few options on the other: JUCO transfer Kendrick Adams, sophomore Chancey Aghayere and redshirt freshmen Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. The latter, a converted linebacker, has the type of speed L.S.U. covets off the edge. Aghayere made three starts last fall, giving him the most experience of the group, but it’s the JUCO addition who stood atop the depth chart as L.S.U. entered fall camp.

Game(s) to watch

Florida and Auburn on the road, Alabama and Arkansas at home. This trio represents L.S.U.’s West division competition, with Alabama the unquestioned favorite, of course. The Tigers have come close to unseating the Tide over the past two seasons, but have fallen short in each try. The season opener against U.N.C., in the Georgia Dome, is one of the top games of the weekend.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell I’m banking on Jordan Jefferson taking a step forward. Not a leap forward, mind you, but merely a step. If he doesn’t — and the offense remains below average — L.S.U. doesn’t belong in the Top 25. Not with this schedule, even with this defense. Perhaps I’m leveling too much pressure on Jefferson’s shoulders; he’s a big piece, but only a single piece of L.S.U.’s offensive puzzle. The offensive line breaks in two, perhaps three new starters, and must do a better job in the run game. The Tigers must replace their top two rushers, though there’s certainly plenty of athleticism at the position. Likewise at receiver, where L.S.U. has three talented options. Most importantly, however, is whether L.S.U.’s talent and speed on offense can overcome Gary Crowton’s underwhelming play-calling and game-planning — though I like the three new additions to the offensive coaching staff. The offense is a serious question mark, a liability that prevents L.S.U. from being considered a realistic candidate to unseat Alabama from atop the division. There’s no reason to worry about the defense, not with its talent and John Chavis running the show. In a perfect world, Crowton would not have returned in 2010; I actually wonder why he did, especially with Billy Gonzalez on the staff, ready to take over. Until L.S.U. overhauls this side of the ball, it will be good, but not a title contender. Nine wins is good, fine, perfectly acceptable. L.S.U. shouldn’t settle, however.

Dream season Miles has the Tigers in the SEC hunt: 11-1, 7-1 in conference play, and back in the B.C.S. after a three-year absence.

Nightmare season The decline continues: from 12-2 in 2007 to 7-5 in 2010, 4-4 in the SEC.

In case you were wondering

Where do L.S.U. fans congregate? Begin your search at Tiger Droppings, and then move onto Tiger RoarTiger Bait and Tiger Sports Digest. For a blog’s take, check out And The Valley Shook and Bayou Bengals Blog. As always, if you feel there’s a site not mentioned that warrants inclusion, list it below.

Up Next

Who is No. 15? Our next university’s main library was endowed by the husband and wife team behind Farmers Insurance.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Mista31 says:

    First off Paul this was a really good read. I came across this site when you got to UNC and I’ve been sort of catching up ever since. With respect to LSU, I think Crowton is a good offensive coordinator, but it’s really hard to have an offense do anything substantial at all if your offensive line is as horrible as LSU’s was last year. Even against “lower competition” they struggled or barely got by, it was just jaw dropping to me to see atleast one lineman drove into the backfield every play! I think if the O-line is better than L.S.U. will be right in the thick of things.

  2. Nizerdone says:

    tall paul, in response to the question about les miles and the 9 coaches: 1 very important coach comes to mind, Jim Tressel. tOSU was jackhammered in the tailpipe by LSU in the 2008 NC game.

  3. birdland says:

    The Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Library is located in the Northeast corner of the University of Southern California’s campus.

    USC is #15

  4. Donavan Verret says:

    Bob Stoops
    Phil Fulmer
    Nick Saban
    Steve Spurrier
    Urban Meyer
    Larry Coker
    Jerry Moore
    Dan Mullen
    Mark Richt

  5. DV says:

    Florida’s away
    Bama is at home

  6. Colin says:

    In no particular order:

    1. Bob Stoops
    2. Urban Meyer
    3. Jerry Moore
    4. Steve Spurrier
    5. Jim Tressel
    6. Phillip Fulmer
    7. Nick Saban
    8. Paul Johnson
    9. Joe Glenn

  7. Gotham Gator says:

    Much as I would like to claim the West Virginia prize, I think it has to go to jerjharris. He (or she) was one step ahead of me the whole way – the first to post the right list of teams and the first to correct that list for a mistake in one of the records. Of course, if the event is declared a draw, I will be perfectly happy to provide an articulate preview of the Mighty Gators.

  8. Uberd says:

    Paul, what do you really think of G.Crowton?

  9. Gotham Gator says:

    Colin’s list is correct, but incomplete. You need to add Larry Coker, so there are really ten. I’ve repeated his list below with the addition.

    Kudos to Colin for digging out Johnson, Moore and especially, Glenn.

    1. Bob Stoops
    2. Urban Meyer
    3. Jerry Moore
    4. Steve Spurrier
    5. Jim Tressel
    6. Phillip Fulmer
    7. Nick Saban
    8. Paul Johnson
    9. Joe Glenn
    10. Larry Coker

  10. 4.0 Point Stance says:

    Faulkner’s early (first?) novel, Mosquitoes, was written in and about New Orleans in the 1920s.

  11. Mike says:

    Which computer ranking system did you use? When you look at the whole body of work, Walker Percy is Number 1, no contest.

    Paul: No B.C.S. computer system at work. Percy has the body of work, no question. And “The Moviegoer” is a vastly underrated piece of 20th century fiction. But Kennedy Toole’s opus, come on. Even if he only wrote one book, he has to lead any list of Louisiana writers.

  12. Colin says:

    I just stopped when I reached 9. I didn’t check for any others.

  13. Tim says:

    Where is Narby?

  14. Jim Dotter says:

    Perhaps Narby does not want to jinx the Huskers making single digits.

  15. Clarke says:

    1. Bob Stoops
    2. Mack Brown
    3. Urban Meyer
    4. Larry Coker
    5. Phil Fulmer
    6. Nick Saban
    7. Steve Spurrier
    8. Jerry Moore
    9. Jim Tressel

  16. jerjharris says:

    I have no teams I cheer on remaining and was going to suggest Jim Narby write about Nebraska.

  17. [...] Five and Five: No. 16, Louisiana State By PAUL MYERBERG Paul Myerberg is getting you ready for the upcoming college football season over at Pre-Snap Read. The Quad will also feature a daily look at each of Paul’s top 50 teams in the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 16, is Louisiana State. You can find a larger Louisiana State preview here. [...]

  18. randy44 says:

    I came up with 11 wins by Miles over head coaches who’d won it all.
    Stoops-2
    Meyer-2
    Spurrier-2
    Fulmer-2
    Coker-1
    Tressel-1
    Saban-1

  19. Xan says:

    You really hit the nail on the head about Crowton. I think ( or hope ) this year will be different in that Miles isn’t going to stand by and let Crowton’s poor performance cost Les his job. Les use to be an OC and hopefully he’ll take over the reins for once and get the offense on track ( no, Les has never held an OC back – that is a conspiracy theory from the Miles’ haters – GC really is that bad and his past performances at other colleges show it ).

    The schedule is realllly tough this year, but if the stars align, I think LSU can make a real run at the title. Have to recall that LSU should have beat Ole Miss last year and Bama two years in a row. LSU has the talent, the DC, and the head coach; just need the OC role to catch up for a run.

  20. Fred Ragusa says:

    Les – It is decision time for Offensive Coordinator responsibilities. How can L.S.U. be without two deep in Quarterbacks that have the potential to be matured to lead a championship team? It is not in the best interest of L.S.U., the football team, Les Miles, or Gary Crowton to retain the latter in that position. He threw his hat into the mix for head coach at Texas State University in San Marcus. He knows it is time to move on. We only hope you will be decisive and make the change.

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