SEC preview: Miles' task at LSU simple: Win 'em all
By Dennis Dodd
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Dennis your opinion!
No pressure or anything, Les Miles, but it would be nice if you'd deliver an SEC title in your first season at LSU.
OK, a national championship wouldn't hurt either.
4. South Carolina
6. Mississippi State
Off. player of year:
Chris Leak, Florida
Def. player of year:
Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee
Coach of the year:
Urban Meyer, Florida
Like any coach jumping up a level, Miles wanted the fame, money and power that goes with coaching an SEC power. Now comes the reality. Nick Saban left Miles a load of talent.
And Miles cannot screw it up. No pressure or anything, Les, but the expectations are through the roof.
"I think I spoke on (a) Wednesday night and I got in the car," said the Tigers' new coach. "(A) guy talked about nine wins and then at the podium somebody mentioned 10 or 11, then a guy said, 'Well, you know 12 victories is probably just what we'd like, coach.'"
Yeah, no pressure.
Miles enters the House That Nick Built with the burden of Tiger Nation upon him. Being the first coach to lead Oklahoma State to three consecutive bowl games is one thing. Keeping Tiger Stadium rocking at an earthquake level is another.
Saban wasn't the most media-friendly guy in the world, but he did deliver two SEC titles and a national championship. That will earn him a lifetime spot in LSU hearts.
Saban recruited so well that the Tigers have averaged 10 victories the past four seasons. Seemingly the only way they can be dragged down this year is a still-questionable quarterback situation.
Les Miles hits Baton Rouge after leading Oklahoma State to back-to-back upsets of then-No. 1 Oklahoma. (AP)
Sophomore JaMarcus Russell has been slow to develop, but that doesn't mean he can't be this year's Jason Campbell. Besides, the Tigers are so loaded at defensive line, running back and receiver that it might not matter.
Right now, it certainly doesn't matter to LSU fans. LSU was an overwhelming pick to win the SEC West by the media. Six players were picked on the preseason all-conference teams. The run started by Saban is unprecedented in LSU history. It's up to Miles (28-21 at Oklahoma State) not to screw it up.
"The program is in great shape," he said. "There's arguably maybe no finer football program in the country being run."
What are LSU's chances? Pretty good. Miles runs a tight, efficient ship. His influences include Bo Schembechler. He has NFL experience. There has been a steady climb up the ladder. He basically has the job because of two upsets of Oklahoma while at Oklahoma State.
In Baton Rouge, he was wise enough to retain Jimbo Fisher as offensive coordinator and bring in the driven Bo Pelini as defensive coordinator.
Expect the Tigers to be more diverse on offense and just as aggressive on defense. Saban (and staff) refined a blitz scheme that could change a nanosecond before the snap. When it was working, the quarterback had no time to check off and didn't know where the blitz was coming from.
"Mostly, he is building on what coach Saban taught us," running back Joseph Addai said of Miles.
Big East Pac-10
Big Ten SEC
Big 12 Sun Belt
Rebuilding, then, is not an option.
Predicted order of finish:
1. Tennessee: Ladies and gentlemen, we present your 2005 SEC champions. Suspensions, injuries, court cases? Phil Fulmer laughs in the face of all of them. Now we get down to some actual football. This is Tennessee's best team since the '98 national champions. These Vols run the ball and play stout defense. What else do you need? Maybe a break from the schedule maker, who has the Vols playing back-to-back games at Florida and LSU.
2. Florida: Gators fans have fallen in love with Florida's Urban renewal. While Meyer will win an SEC title and compete for a national title while he's in Gainesville, it won't be this year. There are just too many holes. Chief among them is a tailback who can operate effectively in the spread option.
3. Georgia: D.J. Shockley's first year as a starter (as a senior) will be cushioned by an experienced offensive line, three tailbacks who have started and sure-handed receivers. No David Pollack and no David Greene, but the Bulldogs will still be expected to compete for the SEC title.
4. South Carolina: You can bet Fulmer, Meyer and Mark Richt are lining up waiting take their swats at the Spur Dog pinata. This is the year, because the Gamecocks will get better as long as Spurrier is around.
5. Kentucky: Rich Brooks will be the first coach fired this season.
6. Vanderbilt: You feel sorry for preseason All-SEC quarterback Jay Cutler, who returned for his senior season. He'll go out a loyal soldier with another 2-9 season.
1. LSU: This sounds weird, but the Tigers are in good shape even after the injury to running back Alley Broussard. LSU is deep at running back, where Justin Vincent -- MVP of both an SEC championship game and Sugar Bowl in his career -- will get more playing time. Joseph Addai and Shyrone Carey aren't too shabby either.
Who will win the SEC this year?
2. Auburn: Tommy T. thinks his Tigers won't lose a step. The truth is, Auburn will trip a time or two. Last year was a once-in-a-lifetime season. A quick, small defense will lead the way as Auburn wins at least eight games.
3. Alabama: If Brodie Croyle stays healthy, if Kenneth Darby can put up 1,000 yards again, if 'Bama can beat Auburn, if Mike Shula is an SEC-quality coach, then the Tide have a chance -- to finish second.
4. Arkansas: The SEC's chronic overachievers aren't going to surprise anyone this year. The Hogs will be a borderline bowl team. Robert Johnson is nothing special at quarterback, if only because he isn't Matt Jones. The secondary will be better after four new starters took their lumps last year.
5. Mississippi: If emotion were victories, the Rebels would be undefeated this season. New coach Ed Orgeron brings plenty of defensive smarts from USC. Ole Miss still needs bodies. It will take a couple of years to get back to the Cutcliffe-Manning stage again.
6. Mississippi State: Running back Jerious Norwood is one of the few bright spots for a program that will struggle to match last year's 3-8 record.