Living with 9-3

After a five-loss Southeastern Conference run in 2008, the Tigers trimmed two losses of their 2009 record. Still, many LSU fans seem discontent with the season that was.

About this time last season, you would have done just about anything for a couple of more wins. 7-5 was not good enough.

Go ahead and admit it.

Nothing would have been too much.

You would have sold the family home. Traded away your first-born. Not eaten crawfish in the spring.

After the 2007 Bowl Championship Series title, where LSU fans experienced a win that allowed them to brag on the unmatched strength of their team for the second time in five seasons, anywhere but up seemed unacceptable.

But, where was up for a team that was already standing at the top?

One answer is to win the National Championship again; satisfy the taste for crystal with a second straight BCS title game victory, which would have been the school’s third in six seasons.

Reality?

Even had Ryan Perrilloux, the assumed leader to the Promised Land, not been kicked off the team by head coach Les Miles, it probably wouldn’t have happened.

Not because LSU wasn’t talented enough, but simply because the odds of stringing all the pieces together are slim to none – especially when you play in the Southeastern Conference, where no Saturday is a cake-walk and a Sunday doesn’t pass that is not spent soaking in a rehab tub and tending to cuts and bruises.

So, the only answer was down.

And with five conference losses, that’s where LSU went.

Almost as quickly as the team tumbled out of control, the fan base frantically searched for the panic button. Where was the imaginary box that you smashed “in case of emergency”?

As LSU fell, a division line was born that remains tough to wrap your head around.

One season changed it all.

The passion from the fan base was presented in the oddest of ways. The starting quarterback was booed for bad performance – more than once. Tiger Stadium, seen by outsiders as the Mecca of the college football experience, often saw opened seats by the third quarter. The heads of everyone, from coaches to players, was being called for from some corner of the map.

Your LSU football team was not just down, but the rest of the conference was kicking them – and changed needed to come.

So, Miles cleaned house.

He got rid of the entire defensive staff in favor of three new coaches: John Chavis, Brick Haley and Ron Cooper.

So far the switch accomplished a complete 180-flip from the defense of last season. Not only are the Tigers not finding themselves behind in games thanks to poor defensive showings, individual players have never looked better.

Still, LSU is not in Pasadena, nor even Atlanta.

So pay no mind to the positive change.

Instead, focus your fanatic efforts on what the Tigers aren’t doing right.

To start, LSU dropped three games.

Common math tells you that equates to two more regular season wins than the year prior, but math done on the bayou reads a different result. LSU did not finish the race in a position to play in a BCS game, and somehow that has become unacceptable.

Is there room for improvement? Always. And in LSU’s case this past season, most definitely.

The offense, stockpiled with talent that many Tiger fans wrongly feel is unmatched anywhere in the land, never got their feet going – and finished the season ranked 108 out of 120 offenses in production because of it.

Fittingly, those same yells and screams that came for the defensive coaches in 2008 are back in 2009 – this time to finish off the staff.

Nobody is safe. Not offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. Not wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy. Not offensive line coach Greg Studrawa. Not even Miles.

If you had a hand in the lack of production, your name has been tossed into the newspapers and onto the message boards for further evaluation – and possible release. If it were up to a fan-vote, coaching would come without contracts and a season with a blemish meant the exit door.

It shouldn’t be that way.

Not at Alabama, not at USC, and, certainly, not at LSU.

9-3, this day in the SEC, should be celebrated (that means you, Tiger fans).

When two of the losses came by a combined 19 points to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, there should be a little extra vindication for the defeats mixed into the schedule.

If you are going to fall, make certain it is at the hands of the best. LSU was not a better team than Florida or Alabama, but they held the Gators from getting away and nearly beat the Tide.

I can beat a dead horse on the third loss, but Miles already took sole blame. Had he and his staff managed the final minute of the Ole Miss game with half a bit of intelligence, would there be complaints of a 10-2 season?

Sadly, the answer is yes.

I understand that through SEC play the past two seasons, LSU doesn’t have a winning record (8-8).

I understand that through SEC play the past two seasons, there have been close calls that have gone LSU’s way – and one or two that didn’t.

Still, what everyone must understand is the reality that no team is going to run the SEC gauntlet each season – and when you stumble, it doesn’t mean that you have fallen and can’t get up.

LSU will travel to Orlando in January as the third-place team in the SEC, where they will take their shot at a 10-win season against a formidable opponent. A victory would mark Miles’ fourth double-digit win season in his five years with the program.

Next season, LSU will have a chance to trim a loss or two from the schedule. If they do, it will likely mean a BCS berth – and possibly talk of both Atlanta and a National Championship game appearance.

Nothing is out of reach for a promising LSU side.

Ironically, Tiger fans think everything is out of reach – and the gap between here and there is widening.


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