ENGSTER: The Golden Age of LSU Football

Les Miles has now been crowned as the prince of TigerTown.

The Michigan Man is the reigning monarch over the LSU football program after leading his troops to a resounding 38-24 victory over Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome.

The affection for Miles has grown with the LSU flock after the man in the white cap struggled to perform in an arena filled with the blow-dried charisma of Nick Saban for five years. Les has evolved from the awkward successor to Saban to the lord of this land after winning 34 of his first 40 games at LSU.

Miles must score wins in only 14 of his next 24 games to equal Saban's LSU record of 48-16. When Saban departed, it was reported by various media outlets that Nick had produced the most successful five-year era in LSU football history. There is no question now that the most celebrated five-year span is the current one. The Tigers are 56-10 in the past five seasons, including a pair of crystal trophies to signify their BCS supremacy.

Like Saban and Paul Dietzel before him, Miles has learned the path to glory ends in New Orleans. It was there that Dietzel completed the 11-0 season of 1958 with a Sugar Bowl victory over Clemson; it was also in New Orleans where Saban's warriors whipped Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game of Jan. 4, 2004.

Saban and Dietzel inherited programs at a low tide and reached the college football zenith in four years. Miles took control of a talented squad deserted by Saban and conquered all obstacles in three seasons. Hurricanes, injuries, suspensions, rumors and the Tiger fandom obsession with all things Saban couldn't keep Miles from relentlessly pursuing the NCAA pinnacle.

It was a year like no other for LSU football. Heart-stopping finishes against Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee preceded the relative ease in which the Tigers dispatched the Superdome invaders from Columbus, Ohio.

LSU was not a champion for the ages, but the Tigers convinced almost everyone that they were the best team on the college field in 2007. Even the contrarian Associated Press voters agreed that Miles and crew were No. 1.

Curiously, the only SEC power LSU did not face in the 2007 campaign finished as the bridesmaid for 2007. Georgia is No. 2 after winning its last seven games. Next season, the Bulldogs join the list of regular season LSU opponents.

Miles deserves plaudits for guiding his unit through a season of uncertainty. It was not known whether Miles would return to Death Valley in 2008, but the coach proved his loyalty by rejecting overtures from the gridiron cathedral at Ann Arbor, the college stomping grounds for the LSU leader.

After losing a 50-48 regular season finale at home to Arkansas, Miles swallowed the triple-overtime defeat to the Razorbacks by lamenting that "one of our goals is off the board." Then West Virginia lost inexplicably to Pittsburgh while the Tigers survived a smash-mouth SEC Championship clash vs. Tennessee, and Miles was suddenly back in the hunt for the BCS title with "my damn strong team."

The season produced a galaxy of heroes and a catalogue of classic showdowns, but the one constant presence for the Tigers was running back Jacob Hester. The senior from Shreveport was a catalyst to glory for his mates, making one big play after another and assuring himself a future in the NFL. Nobody enjoys reflecting on race in college athletics, but the reality is that white guys like Hester usually end up at linebacker rather than emerging as the top rusher for a national champion.

Hester responded to the call for excellence by becoming the SEC's first white runner in 36 years to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season. The last time it happened was when Johnny Musso, "The Italian Stallion," rambled for 1,088 yards for Alabama in 1971.

As Hester closed his college career, LSU's first running back to surpass 1,000 years in a season, watched with interest. Terry Robiskie, who gained 1,117 yards in eleven games in 1976 and was named the SEC MVP in the process, was seated in the Superdome as an Ohio State fan.

Robiskie's son, Brian, was the leading receiver for the Buckeyes and snared a touchdown pass against the Tigers. Brian Robiskie is an academic stalwart in addition to being a powerful weapon for the Ohio State offense. His talents were insufficient to prevent LSU from reigning supreme last Monday, but Robiskie and Hester epitomize the term student-athlete.

Miles and Saban have set the bar so high that no LSU coach may be able to equal their accomplishments. But as long as Les Miles is in charge of the LSU forces, Tiger partisans can be assured their leader is battle-tested and primed for any and all challenges.


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

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