ENGSTER: Miles on verge of something special

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. Florida when 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 Oklahoma 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 Florida, the 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 Columbia, S.C., 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 savor.


Should the Tigers prevail at Florida, light workouts await Miles and Co. the next two weeks at Death Valley vs. Kentucky and Fresno 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 Gainesville as the Tigers did in 1986. Twenty years ago, LSU posted a 28-17 upset win at Florida after 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 Florida as 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 victory.




Jim Engster is the general manager of Louisiana Network and Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at jim@la-net.net.

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