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SEC 2010 // LSU Hopes to Put it All Together

It sure has been an interesting five years for LSU.

You had the first three, "You-can't-spell-Les-Miles-without-two-Ls" seasons where the team seemed on the verge of greatness but couldn't quite figure out a way to not drop a game or two it shouldn't. Things culminated in a national championship in 2007, but it was the first ever for a two-loss team and took place in perhaps the most parity-stricken season ever in the sport as we know it.

Then things crashed in 2008, relatively speaking. The offense was mostly fine, though the Tigers could have done without all of Jarrett Lee's pick-sixes. It was the defense that failed them, giving up more than 30 points five times through the confusion of youth and co-coordinators. Detractors would say it's because the team ran out of Nick Saban recruits, but the reality is that Miles had been pulling in plenty of top-rated talent. It simply was the down year that comes for every coach as a result of transitional problems. Some have theirs in their third year; some (like Miles) have it in their fourth.

In 2009, the script flipped entirely. Miles scrapped the co-defensive coordinator experiment and picked up the suddenly free John Chavis, who had been marooned in the wake of Hurricane Lane's landfall Knoxville. The defense wasn't back up to its Saban-era heights, but it allowed 30 points just once and showed much improvement. Instead, the offense took a big step back. It appeared mired in indecision about who it wanted to be and never found its stride.

Trading questionable defense and good offense for the reverse can work in this league though, and LSU improved its record by a game. It might have even got to 10 wins if not for the slophole that was the Citrus Bowl field that turned the game into a stage of randomness. Or if not for the decision to try to spike the ball with one second on the clock against Ole Miss. You know, that too.

Miles is not on particularly thin ice, but offensive coordinator Gary Crowton sure is. Jordan Jefferson earned the title "most average quarterback in the world" for his work last season, seldom a good sign for a team with divisional title aspirations. Jefferson also got sacked more often than any other quarterback in SEC play. Furthermore, the Tigers inhabited the subtly defined basement of the conference in rushing yards with Arkansas and South Carolina but without the corresponding passing game success.

And yet for all that griping, again, LSU wasn't that far off from a great year. The loss to Florida was the only game where the Tigers weren't terribly competitive (due to an offense that basically was helpless on the day), and yet they were a broken play away from being in the lead or tied for almost the whole game. They had the eventual national champions on their heels for three quarters and could have had a chance to pull it out had Patrick Peterson's interception not been erroneously ruled out of bounds. Going for a field goal instead of the spike could have beat Ole Miss, and the Tigers were a minute away from winning the bowl.

I'm not saying that LSU could easily have been an undefeated or one loss team, because it did have plenty of close wins on its slate too (Mississippi State, Georgia, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas). What I am saying is that the team isn't that far off from where it wants to be, and the recruiting services think that the team has the ammo it needs to get there.

Barring an unexpected, outright collapse like what happened in Tommy Tuberville's or Phillip Fulmer's last seasons, Miles will be back in 2011. How the team manages to perform this season will determine whether Crowton is back with him. All the pieces they need are probably in Baton Rouge right now.

It's just a matter of creating enough square holes for the square pegs and remembering not to put the round pegs into them. The SEC slate is manageable with Vandy and Tennessee joining perma-rival Florida from the East and Alabama at home. Can they challenge Alabama for the SEC West title? Absolutely.

The main thing they have to do is to put it all together. Simple, right?