As LSU journeys to undefeated Florida for a key SEC test, the ghost of Steve Spurrier hangs over Gainesville.
Spurrier piloted the Gators to a
122-27-1 record from 1990-2001, the best win total for a coach in his 12 years
at a school in major college history.
Florida was 11-1 vs. LSU during Spurrier's
reign as coach, and the Gators were unbeaten in three starts versus the Tigers
with Spurrier quarterbacking from 1964-66.
Since 1964, LSU is 1-14 vs.
Spurrier is involved. But there is another story that warrants inspection.
During the same period, the Tigers are 12-10-2 vs. the Gators when Spurrier is
not throwing or coaching for the Sunshine Boys.
LSU has whipped Florida three of the last
four years, with the only blemish coming in a 19-7 rout by the Gators over the
Tigers' 2003 national champions. Florida has
not whipped LSU at Gainesville since 2000 when Spurrier was coach,
Bill Clinton was president and Nick Saban was in his first year at TigerTown.
Based on early season performance,
LSU is well positioned to top Florida again Saturday at The Swamp. Should
that occur, the Tigers will emerge as the team recognized as superior among its
league brethren. The controversial 7-3 loss at Auburn is now overshadowed by the Alabama Tigers' narrow
24-17 victory over Spurrier's South
Carolina crew. Clearly, Auburn is vastly overrated at No. 2 nationally
and headed for a fall.
Les Miles has a chance to be the
Spurrier of the current generation of coaches in the SEC.
Miles was 28-21 in four years at
State before his ascension
to power at the Ole War Skule. Spurrier was a comparable 20-13-1 in four years
at Duke before his return as boss at his alma mater in 1990.
In his first 18 games at LSU, Miles
is 15-3, the same record Spurrier produced in his first 18 tilts at Florida. In game 19 as
Gators coach, Spurrier directed his troops to a 31-10 triumph at Auburn. Look for Miles to
achieve similar success Saturday at Florida.
In Spurrier's dozen years at
Gators outpointed LSU 421-145, an average margin of victory of 35-12. The time
is ripe to start ripping Florida by lopsided margins after last year's
narrow 21-17 escape at home against Urban Meyer's club.
After Bear Bryant's death in
February of 1983, it took more than seven years for a Bryant-like figure to roam
the sidelines in the SEC. Spurrier was the man until Nick Saban sauntered his
way to a national title in 2003 at LSU.
With Spurrier now exiled in
and Saban struggling in the NFL at Miami, the time has arrived for Miles to seize
the day and become the dominant coach in the league. Phil Fulmer has been steady
at Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville has reached
near greatness at Auburn, but this is the moment for Miles to
Should the Tigers prevail at
Florida, light workouts await Miles and Co. the
next two weeks at Death Valley vs. Kentucky and
State. Only Florida and Tennessee at
Knoxville on Nov. 4 stand in the way of Miles
posting an 11-1 record in his sophomore season in Baton Rouge.
A defeat at Florida this week would
be a crushing blow to Miles' program. A loss would all but eliminate LSU from
SEC title contention, and it would elevate Urban Meyer to status as the new top
dog in the conference coaching ranks.
Meyer is no slouch. At 42, he is
already a two-time National Coach of the Year, and his teams have won 53 of 64
starts in his stops at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. The 2005 Gators were one of only
eight teams in the nation to go undefeated at home. Meyer enjoys a home coaching
record of 32-2.
The clash at The Swamp is the
pivotal game for Miles. He has the chance to make as much history in 2006 at
the Tigers did in 1986. Twenty years ago, LSU posted a 28-17 upset win at
losing at home in the previous week to Miami of Ohio.
The win at Florida was the SEC
coming-out party for Tom Hodson as he guided LSU to a relatively easy win over
the Gators. LSU Coach Bill Arnsparger was a few months away from defecting to
athletic director, while Athletic Director Bob Brodhead was a few days away from
being fired at TigerTown.
At the conclusion of the game on
Oct. 4, 1986, Arnsparger declined to shake hands with Brodhead, and Chancellor
James Wharton installed Larry Jones as interim athletic director.
If LSU prevails in this week's
encounter, athletic director Skip Bertman will have a love fest with his head
coach, and the Tigers will be marching forward harmoniously. The Tigers won an
SEC title in '86 despite the turmoil in the athletic department. Miles is poised to savor the ultimate
success without in-house rumblings threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of
Jim Engster is the general manager of Louisiana Network and
Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at email@example.com.