The Riverboat Gambler’s Final Hand

August 16, 2010

Is this the final season for LSU's Miles?

Three years removed from winning his first and only BCS National Championship, LSU skipper Les Miles could be entering his last season as head coach of the Tigers.

Miles assumed head coaching duties on January 3, 2005, when current Alabama head coach Nick Saban bolted Baton Rouge to try his hand in the NFL. Miles got off to a red-hot start by going 11-2 in his first season as head coach and earned a trip to Atlanta to represent the SEC West in the 2005 SEC Championship Game, which the Tigers lost 34-14 to the Georgia Bulldogs. However, the Tigers rebounded quickly and embarrassed the #9 Miami Hurricanes, beating them 40-3 in the 2005 Chic-fil-A Peach Bowl. Miles produced the same winning results during his sophomore effort in the 2006 season, by going 11-2, suffering conference losses at Auburn and Florida. The two conference losses kept the Tigers from returning to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game, but good fortune was on their side and their regular season efforts awarded them the chance to play Notre Dame in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Tigers thrashed the Brady Quinn-led Fightin’ Irish, beating them 41-14.

LSU entered the 2007 college football season ranked #2 in both the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and the pre-season AP poll and never looked backed. The team suffered two triple overtime losses at Kentucky and at home against the Arkansas Razorbacks, but still were able to back their way into the SEC Championship game and defeat the Tennessee Volunteers. Their reward was a BCS National Championship date with the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes were no match for the Tigers as they went on to win by a final score of 38-24. LSU’s win marked the first time in BCS history that a two-loss team won a National Championship.

Fast forward to 2010. The honeymoon is over and most of Miles’s luster has worn off. The Tigers have failed to return to the SEC Championship game since their ’07 visit, and they have not returned to a BCS bowl game since the ’07 season as well. The Tigers have suffered back-to-back losses to Ole Miss, last year’s loss being pointed to as the straw that potentially broke the proverbial camel’s back.  Last season, the Tigers averaged a meager 24 points a game in conference play, the lowest in 7 years, and finished dead last in the conference in total offense with a average of 304 YPG. Contrast this to their ’06 and ’07 seasons, where the Tigers averaged 401 YPG, and the worrying becomes more solidified. Another striking cause for alarm is LSU’s 8-8 conference record over the last two seasons. With only 10 returning starters from last season, it will be an uphill battle for LSU and Miles. The Tigers have a somewhat favorable schedule, but do travel to Florida (Oct. 9), Auburn (Oct. 23), and Arkansas (Nov. 27-Little Rock). Toss-up matches include North Carolina (Sept. 4-Atlanta), West Virginia (Sept. 25), and Ole Miss (Nov. 20).

“I’ve got to be honest with you; I’ve never operated with expectations.”– Les Miles. If Miles wants to stick around in Baton Rouge, he will be expected to have his team in contention for a run at the SEC West crown heading into the November 30th contest against ‘Bama. With Auburn and Arkansas becoming more of a threat in the West, fans in Baton Rouge want to know that the Tigers are on the right course and will not get left behind. Miles is well-known for his propensity to gamble with play-calling at what are seen as inopportune times in ballgames, thus earning him the nickname the Riverboat Gambler. He better have a few more tricks up his sleeve this season that he can dial-up or else Joe Alleva, LSU’s athletic director, will be searching for the school’s 33rd head coach by season’s end.

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