I think it’s fair to say LSU fans as a whole are frustrated that since becoming the first school to win two BCS titles, the Tigers have been tied by Florida (and nearly Auburn) and surpassed by Alabama in the 6 seasons since then without adding to their total. But apart from that, the past four years have been among the best in LSU history. In fact, in terms of winning percentage, it is the best four-year stretch under a single head coach.
The only better four-year periods of time were 2003 to 2006 (half Miles, half Saban; all while Jimbo Fisher was OC) and 1894 to 1897 (but only 14 games were played altogether in those four years). LSU’s run under Paul Dietzel from 1958 to 1961 had been one of the gold standards at LSU. During that time, LSU won the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl, along with losing another Sugar Bowl (the infamous Jan. 1960 rematch with Ole Miss). But since there was a 5-4-1 season mixed in, it is still the lowest percentage of the four runs I mentioned.
This season was frustrating because the Tigers were only a couple of defensive stops from going into Tuscaloosa as an undefeated team as they had done in 2011. I don’t know it would have made a difference though. It’s problematic to try to beat Alabama the same way twice. In the 2011 regular season game, LSU was able to control the ball with a ground game, although they didn’t get many points on the board of course. But Jordan Jefferson and the running backs had no breathing room in the bowl game. LSU really should have beaten Alabama in 2012 when the Tide was not prepared for the kind of game Zach Mettenberger had. This time, the Tide was prepared, and on the other side of the ball, LSU didn’t have quite as good of a defense of its own. To use the example of another team, Alabama did dramatically better for most of the game on both sides of the ball against Texas A&M, with the Aggies only creeping back into the game when the Tide seemed to turn the pressure down.
That’s not to say that I’m not hopeful for next season. The Iowa game said a lot. Early on, next season might just be the defense trying to help the offense along again (the way it was before this season). Anyway, the final score of the bowl game was deceptive. The LSU defense actually dominated. Iowa’s touchdown drives were 4 yards (after a long kickoff return) and 1 yard (after an interception return). The Hawkeyes did have three drives of over 40 yards, but one ended in a missed field goal and two ended in interceptions. The defense also played particularly important roles in the wins over Florida and Texas A&M.
Since 2002, LSU has made a habit of starting out the regular season well, so I expect similar effort to go into the Wisconsin game as went into the Iowa game. I hope they work on special teams (something they struggled with at times this season, including in the opener against TCU), and I hope Anthony Jennings can have an improved performance from the bowl game.
After that, LSU should win 4 in a row. Then it will get interesting with games at Auburn and at Florida in back-to-back weeks. LSU barely won at Auburn in 2012 (before the team quit on Gene Chizik) and lost in their last trip to the Swamp. The Tigers SHOULD be able to take care of business the following two weeks at home against the Wildcats and Rebels.
On November 1, LSU will have a bye week, and you can probably guess what comes after that. Alabama comes to Baton Rouge. Then there is a pretty obvious potential trap game at Arkansas the next week. Everyone should see it coming, particularly after the scare against the Hogs this season, but still, it’s just not that easy to get up again after a big game like LSU-Alabama has been more often than not.
Then LSU has another bye week to prepare for the new end-of-season rival, Texas A&M. The game will be back in College Station, from which LSU escaped with a 24-19 win in 2012.
I’m not going to make any solid predictions right now, but I could definitely see the possibility of the Tigers keeping it down to one or two losses and competing for the new 4-team playoff. LSU has not had a breakthrough like Alabama has had with its recent run, but Les Miles does deserve credit for finding a way to be in the hunt fairly consistently. The only major exception was 2008 when the Tigers finished with a losing record in the SEC for the only time since 1999. In the two three-loss seasons before 2013 (2009 and 2012), the Tigers really weren’t out of it until losing their second game, to Alabama in both instances.
It seems that Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue are moving on to the NFL, but Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard apparently will be back. Also, Leonard Fournette, ESPN’s top prospect, has committed to LSU. Reminds me of Jon Gruden’s remark that if he returned to coaching it would be to coach the Tigers’ running backs.
I think the Tigers will continue to have a productive backfield. LSU is losing a lot of other quality players, but La’El Collins hasn’t announced yet. I’m hoping he stays to enable the offense line to keep up its standards of recent seasons. Jennings will need some protection. From what I can tell so far, he does have a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, which is not unusual for first-year starting quarterbacks.
I didn’t expect Ferguson, Beckham, or Landry to stay, so their announcements were just a formality to me. Guard Trai Turner and DT Anthony Johnson also announced for the draft.
I still have a few end-of-the-year things to write about, so hopefully I don’t go too long before I post again.