Miles' motto

Most people would be thrilled to be known as "the defending national champ." Obviously, Les Miles isn't most people.

LSU's head football coach views the word "defending" with a disdain usually reserved for tax deadlines and root canals. That disdain was clearly evident during the recent SEC Media Days at Hoover, Ala.

Miles' logic is sound: You defend something that can be taken away – your home, your family, your life, your reputation, your freedom. You don't defend a title because the '07 BCS trophy will remain in the display case at Baton Rouge whether the 2008 Tigers go 14-0 or 0-12.

Rather than wait to be asked about the '07 championship, Miles lit into the topic during his opening remarks at Media Days.

"We're NOT defending," he said. "We're not dealing with rankings. This is a brand-new year. If we're defending, come see the trophy. We're not defending it; it's there."

Miles obviously has instilled this conviction in his players. Both of the Tigers he brought with him to Hoover emphasized that this is a new team, a new year and a new set of challenges.

Center Brett Helms concedes that winning the title was an unforgettable experience but insists that he and his teammates have put it behind them and shifted their entire focus toward 2008.

"You've got to," he said. "Some people are thinking the way we played in the Championship Game is going to carry over but it doesn't work that way. You've got to start over and forget it. You do the same things that got us there last year – work hard and stay focused."

Tennessee won a national title in 1998 and returned most of the key players for 1999. The '99 Vols were never as good as they imagined themselves to be, however, finishing 9-3. As head coach Phillip Fulmer routinely noted: "The name on the back of their jersey meant more to some of them than the T on their helmet."

Could the 2008 Tigers be similarly conceited, coming off their '07 title?

"I think maybe some of the young guys on the team got the big head and things like that," Helms said. "But, for the most part, no."

Star defensive lineman Tyson Jackson echoes those sentiments. He believes LSU's players are ready to move forward, having celebrated sufficiently the '07 championship.

"It's out of our system now," he said. "When we got our rings in June, Coach Miles told us to move on and put it behind us. It's really not hard to move forward if you have a team that is hungry like we are. We know what we have to do."

The Tigers know what they have to do because they've done it before. They know they must work hard in preseason. They know they must view each game as a challenge. They know they must rise above adversity and they must improve from the opener to the finale.

"The good news about this team is they've been through an experience that will allow them to continue to develop, to understand the work that needs to take place," Miles said. "I think we paid a tremendous price this summer."

Of course, you have to pay that price when you're defending ... uh, following a national championship.


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