5 BURNING Questions Heading Into '07

Expectations are quite possibly at an all-time high heading into the 2007 season.

The Tigers find themselves ranked in the top five in every national poll, even as high as No. 2 in several national surveys. A favorable schedule, an abundance of skill players on offense and a loaded defense all factor into the fact LSU could be playing for the national title come January.

 

But to assure the Tigers are playing for the nation's top prize come Jan. 7 in the Louisiana Superdome, some things have to happen. We address several of these questions below.

 

 

1. Can Les Miles win the big one?

 

His critics contend he has won with Nick Saban's talent, but that isn't the case. Les Miles has compiled a 22-4 record in two seasons at LSU. Sure at least half of the players on the Tigers' roster came to LSU under the Saban regime, Miles and his staff has coached them the past 26 games and done so brilliantly. Back-to-back, 10-plus win seasons is a first in the LSU history and impressive blowouts of national powers Miami and Notre Dame in consecutive bowl games ranks Miles' performance so far among the best coaching performances in school history. However, missing in the midst of these 22 victories? A championship. Miles has notched his fair share of "big" wins: the biggest of the bunch was the Tigers 16-13 overtime upset of No. 3 Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2005. Other big wins for Miles in his tenure at LSU include a 34-31 win over Arizona State in his LSU debut, the 40-3 thrashing of No. 8 Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl, the Tigers' 28-24 win at No. 8 Tennessee in 2006 and a 31-26 upset of No. 5 Arkansas two weeks later. And how could one leave off LSU's 41-14 embarrassment of No. 11 Notre Dame in the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Sure Les has some big ones under his belt, but those do not translate into the "big one" of which we speak. Miles will have plenty of chances to add more "big ones" to his resume this year, but wins in Atlanta on Dec. 1 and later in New Orleans on Jan. 8 will then give Miles the right "big ones."

 

 

2. Can the Tigers replace JaMarcus Russell?

 

Going into the 2006 season, there were some Tiger fans who weren't sure JaMarcus Russell was the best quarterback on the LSU football. By the end of the year, the critics had been silenced. Russell's 332-yard, two touchdown performance against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl not only locked up a 41-14 rout of the Fighting Irish, the dazzling performance led to Russell supplanting Brady Quinn at the top of the NFL Draft board. Russell leapfrogged his gold domed counterpart into the top spot in the pro draft. Oakland picked Russell No. 1; Quinn dropped to the 22nd pick by Cleveland. Had Russell chose to return, he'd be leading the preseason No. 1 team into the 2007 season. Instead, that chore will likely fall onto the shoulders of senior Matt Flynn, who has the chance to win a national title as the quarterback of the No. 2-ranked Bayou Bengals. Flynn has some experience – most notably that 40-3 win over Miami two years ago – but he didn't see much of the field in 2006. Should he falter, Miles must turn to beleaguered prep star Ryan Perrilloux, who has the talent to lead the Tigers, but question marks remain when it comes to discipline and maturity.

 

 

3. Can the necessary holes be filled to make a national title run?

 

Everyone is aware of the gaping hole under center. Russell leaves quite a vacancy in the shape of 6-5, 260-pounds in the quarterbacks spot. But Flynn is perfectly capable of leading the Tigers offense. The only thing is can Tiger fans grasp the fact Flynn isn't nearly the physical specimen, freak of nature that Russell was. Beyond the quarterback position, LSU lost its two top receivers in Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis. Early Doucet is being touted as a high, first round draft pick and had Brandon LaFell not been slowed with injury last season, he'd have been more in the mix in 2006. Brian Johnson and Peter Dyakowski were solid veteran linemen from a season ago, but the Tigers get preseason all-American Will Arnold back from an injury. The Tigers also brought in a sluice of freshmen offensive linemen last year that should be ready to go. On the defensive side of the ball, it seems almost irrelevant to mention Chase Pittman's departure at defensive end. While Pittman was a quality player for Bo Pelini's defense last season, the Tigers have as many as 10 defensive linemen ready to go. The most notable holes are at the safety spots. Gone is all-American LaRon Landry and three-year starter at strong safety Jessie Daniels. Craig Steltz split time with Daniels last season and even started the Sugar Bowl. Landry will be a tough one to replace, but Curtis Taylor has been chomping at the bit to get in the game. Colt David should provide a solid replacement for Chris Jackson on kickoffs as will prep standout newcomers Josh Jasper and Andrew Crutchfield. However, it won't be as easy to replace Jackson at punter. Patrick Fisher hasn't played in quite a while and he has to round into form in a hurry. On the coaching staff, all eyes will on Gary Crowton who takes over for the wildly popular Jimbo Fisher at offensive coordinator. Fisher and offensive line coach Stacey Searels' departure marks the last of Nick Saban's assistants on the LSU staff. Greg Studrawa moves into Searels spot while D.J. McCarthy takes over for Todd Monken coaching the wide receivers.

 

 

4. Can Les Miles keep his feet on the floor instead of in his mouth?

 

The past seven months have been dotted with several incidents concerning coach Les Miles and comments he has made in public forums. Most notably was Miles' slip of the lip at the Bayou Recruiting Bash last February when he dropped the "F" bomb when talking about former coach Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. He later apologized via e-mail to the LSU student newspaper. Last season, trailing 10-7 at halftime, Miles, still upset about a missed call by the official, took out some frustration on CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. Following LSU's four-point win, Miles apologized to reporters in a postgame press conference. In June, Miles made more than a few remarks about the scheduling of Pac-10 teams, most notably the USC Trojans, and said "I can tell you this that they (USC) have a much easier road to travel. They're going to play real knockdown drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkely, Stanford – some real juggernauts – and they're going to end up, it would be my guess, in some position so if they win a game or two, that they'll end up in the title (game). I would like that path for us." Miles had been criticized early in the 2006 season (following losses at Auburn and Florida) for not showing enough emotion. He did a complete 180 later in the season and ever since then with plenty of fiery behavior. Let's hope he keeps some of that behind closed doors in 2007, directing it toward his team instead of television cameras or large crowds.

 

 

5. Can LSU beat former coach Nick Saban on Nov. 3?

 

Is there any doubt this is the most anticipated game in decades by LSU fans? The Tigers have played in some big games over the past seven or so seasons, the reason – Nick Saban, of course? With Saban now on the opposing sideline wearing crimson, Tiger fans are seeing red! Miles has a far superior team talent-wise and should handle the ex-LSU boss in the first meeting between the two coaches. Alabama is sky-high with optimism right now and Tide fans are predicting a banner year for Saban in year one. However, a brutal September, that includes games against Arkansas, Georgia and Florida State, might dash some hopes early on. It is important for Miles to win the first meeting with Saban. If he does, the third year LSU coach will finally get to step outside the former coaches' shadow. That might be just what Miles needs to get over that hump and bring the "big one" home to Baton Rouge.


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