Back to the Big Easy?

The schedule is as tough as ever, but Les Miles has a talented group at his disposal. Will the Tigers head to New Orleans for the National Championship in January?

Open your laptop back up and turn the television back on.

It’s been a tough offseason – particularly a rough last month and a half – for LSU fans, but football is finally back.

It’s safe to come out now, but don’t take my word for it.

Listen to Les Miles.

For a head coach who has never been described as a wordsmith, Miles turns into a modern day Samuel Clemens when talking about his Tigers leaving the distractions of the offseason behind them as they turn their focus to the football field.

“We are looking forward to playing,” Miles said. “If they are anything like their coach, they feel like they’ve been pent up and ready to pursue victory.”

Victory.

With a 62-17 record on the sidelines at LSU, it’s something Miles knows plenty about.

And with a 5-1 record in bowl games and an unblemished 2-0 mark in BCS bowl games, he also knows how to have his team ready in the biggest moments.

Good thing, because this year the stage is set for Miles – in his seventh season – to leave his biggest mark on the LSU program.

The BCS National Championship game is back in New Orleans and LSU is ranked No. 4 in pre-season polls, meaning Tiger fans are already grabbing up hotels and talking of a third title trip to the Big Easy.

But for the cautionary LSU fan, it’s probably been hard to convince yourself to book in advance.

After Miles turned away Michigan, the Tigers worked through spring and summer ball without a hitch.

Then the wheels began to fall off.

In July, it was revealed that junior wide receiver Russell Shepard was involved in an off-campus housing issue that raised a red flag with the LSU Compliance Department. He was later caught breaking protocol during an NCAA investigation, leaving Shepard indefinitely suspended in what was supposed to be his breakout season.

Then early in pre-season camp, first-year offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which forced him to step down from his post and move into a secondary role as quarterbacks coach. Without time to turn anywhere else, Miles quickly promoted offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to chief play-caller.

Then there was the fight.

On a night when a number of LSU players broke curfew and joined together in an annual last-day-of-camp gathering, four players – Jordan Jefferson, Josh Johns, Jarvis Landry and Chris Davenport - were implicated in a bar fight during the early hours of Aug. 19.

A week later, Jefferson and Johns were arrested. Both were immediately suspended from the team.

In a situation he’s become all too familiar with, Miles was left looking for a new quarterback.

Good thing Jarrett Lee never transferred.

While off-the-field shakeups have rattled LSU, there is still plenty to be excited about.

Even without two of the biggest offensive threats and one of their most experienced offensive linemen (Josh Dworaczyk will undergo knee surgery and miss the season), the Tigers will still impress.

After the lack of production on offense the past couple seasons, there’s nowhere to go but up, right?

Watch for Spencer Ware to run wild, and then Michael Ford and Alfred Blue to join the party by midseason. Fans are excited to see what newcomer and Ware-clone Spencer Magee brings to the table, another back that gives the Tigers plenty of options in the run game – which they will need if Lee and the passing game falters.

And don’t forget what wins games, especially in the SEC.

Defense.

And LSU is a damn strong team in that department.

Even without Patrick Peterson, the Tigers have one of the most talented defensive backfields in the country, and the starting three at linebacker – Ryan Baker, Karnell Hatcher and Stefoin Francois – give defensive coordinator John Chavis three seniors on the field at once. The defensive ends will flash speed and give opposing quarterbacks fits, and if the inside men can step up and replace to production of Drake Nevis, this year’s defense will be just as good as last year’s – if not better.

Remember, Miles and this team have dealt with distractions before. They’ve lost quarterbacks, changed coordinators and battled hurricanes – and always came out stronger on the other side.

This season will be no different.

Again, open the laptop back up and turn the television back on.

It’s a great time to be a Tiger.

LSU vs. Oregon

Les Miles doesn’t disappoint when he has an extended amount of time to prepare for an opponent, and despite the recent distractions he will have LSU ready to play against the Ducks. Spencer Ware runs wild and Jarrett Lee doesn’t have to save the day in this one: LSU 35, Oregon 24

Northwestern State at LSU

Bradley Dale Peveto won’t enjoy this return trip to Baton Rouge. Coming off a win in Arlington, Texas, LSU returns home to a fan base eager to get back in Tiger Stadium. Jarrett Lee throws three touchdowns before handing the ball to Zach Mettenberger. LSU fans applaud: LSU 41, Northwestern State 3

 LSU at Mississippi State

This could be a trap game for the Tigers, but Miles will have his team focused in a short week. Watch out for the defense in this one. Ryan Baker will go for double-digit tackles and a Tiger will take an interception for six points as LSU keeps things rolling with their first SEC win of the season: LSU 27, Mississippi State 17

 LSU at West Virginia

Morgantown will be rocking, especially considering the fact that, for the first year in the program's history, West Virginia will serve beer inside the stadium. Since some LSU fans won’t remember this game, I’ll give you the lowdown now. Ware, Ware and more Ware: LSU 27, West Virginia 20

Kentucky at LSU

No looking ahead to the Gators in this one. Joker Phillips will be happy to get his Wildcats back home after Lee turns in his biggest game since Northwestern State. Wide receiver Rueben Randle will burn Kentucky for a pair of scores and the defense will look for the shutout. This could also be Tyrann Mathieu’s moment to make something happen in the return game: LSU 38, Kentucky 6

Florida at LSU

Will Muschamp will want this one – bad. But Les Miles, riding a 5-0 start, will be eager to send the Gators back to Gainesville with a loss. LSU and Florida never disappoint, but good news for the purple-and-gold faithful is this one is in Tiger Stadium. It will be close, but not as close as last year: LSU 27, Florida 21

LSU at Tennessee

LSU, meet the team that still hasn’t forgotten last year's final second mishaps on the bayou. Tennessee – in particular head coach Derek Dooley – will be gunning to make the Tigers pay for stealing one in 2010. This time, the tables are turned. With home field advantage and revenge on their minds, Tyler Bray helps the Volunteers squeak out a win – and hand LSU their first loss: Tennessee 24, LSU 20

Auburn at LSU

Without Cam Newton cutting apart the defense, the Tigers will bounce back from a loss to Tennessee with a strong statement against Auburn. Backup running back Alfred Blue has a coming out party with a pair of touchdowns on long runs – and LSU runs away with the game: LSU 31, Auburn 10

 LSU at Alabama

There’s a good chance Jordan Jefferson could be back in the mix by the time the Tigers head to Tuscaloosa, which will be a big benefit for an LSU team looking to keep a lead in the SEC's Western Division. This one could go either way. The Tigers will pressure Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron into early mistakes, but will Trent Richardson and Eddy Lacy be too much in the end? Defense wins this one: LSU 20, Alabama 14

Western Kentucky at LSU

LSU is picking up steam again, and the Hilltoppers are an easy foe to continue the pace-making against. The Tigers will put on the pressure and never let up in this one. Look for a couple of interceptions from a pesky LSU defense: LSU 55, Western Kentucky 3

LSU at Ole Miss

Houston Nutt always finds a way to scare LSU, but the Rebels won’t create much drama in this one. Jefferson/Lee remember what happened last time the Tigers stumbled in Oxford, and clock management won’t become an issue. Chalk the Tigers up for a big win this week: LSU 38, Ole Miss 17

Arkansas at LSU

LSU has a chance to head to the SEC Championship Game, and Arkansas always has a way of spoiling a good time for Tigers fans in the 11th hour. As long as a certain LSU defender doesn’t give up a couple big touchdowns at the most inopportune moments, the Tigers will cruise from Baton Rouge to Atlanta. LSU 30, Arkansas 17

 SEC Championship Game: LSU vs. South Carolina

There was that stumble in Knoxville, but that was the only blemish for an LSU team that entered the season with dark clouds overhead. The ole’ ball coach will be salivating for another SEC ring, but Miles will take home all available hardware in this one. A dual-effort from Jefferson and Lee propel LSU into the BCS National Championship Game: LSU 24, South Carolina 16

12-1. Feels good, doesn’t it?

All that talk of returning to New Orleans every four years to play for a title comes to fruition.

The opponent?

How about a familiar face: Former LSU offensive coordinator and current Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher.

 


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