Most of the class of 2016 signees have reported to Baton Rouge, La., for summer classes.
After all, fall camp is nearing.
LSU is bracing for what is widely expected to be one of its most promising seasons in some time. That comes only seven months removed from head coach Les Miles sitting uncomfortably on the hot seat.
The Tigers have long been a national power under Miles’ lead, but last year frustration finally began to settle in. LSU raced out to a 7-0 start behind Heisman Trophy contender Leonard Fournette opening the season at a historic pace and Brandon Harris playing mistake-free football behind center.
That momentum came to a sudden halt in early November as tilts with Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss went awry. The eventual national champions flexed their muscles against LSU and Fournette in the comfort of Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Razorbacks pulled off the upset for the second meeting in a row, this time as the road team. Ole Miss added a finishing touch by running over LSU in Oxford, Miss., to turn whispers of Miles’ job security into legitimate conversations.
The LSU administration dispelled talks of a divorce by Thanksgiving after Miles coached LSU to a job-saving victory over Texas A&M. His offseason job status secure, Miles led the team to a Texas Bowl triumph against Texas Tech.
Now it’s time to carry that momentum into the 2016 season.
LSU will enter next year as one of the favorites to capture the SEC championship and vie for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Miles leaving has quickly turned into an afterthought … for now.
That discussion may have been quelled for months, but it’s not over just yet.
LSU wasn’t expected to the open last season 7-0, but it did, inflating expectations. Disappointment only settled in once 7-0 quickly transformed into 7-3, putting to rest any thoughts of the Tigers slipping into championship fray.
Miles was a victim of happenstance. The LSU brass needed a scapegoat to explain why the team suffered three consecutive losses at that stage in the season. Forgotten was the coach’s track record and championship history.
Expect 2016 to be a different type of situation. There is a lot riding on this upcoming year, and anything less than a dominant campaign should stimulate more job status talks.
Last year, a 7-0 start came as a bit of a shocker, but one that created hope for Louisiana’s team. This time, a strong start to the season should be the norm. Anything less would force those close to the program to begin to ask the difficult questions, and the future of Miles may be one of them.
LSU has a chance to the set the tone for the season as early as Sept. 3 with its important non-conference showdown against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field. And the truth is, the Tigers will have a chance to get on a roll beyond that matchup with games against Jacksonville State, Mississippi State, Auburn and Missouri before the first true road test at The Swamp.
Another 7-0 — or even an 8-0 — start would not surprise many, but in traditional fashion, the team’s greatest hurdles await LSU in the last chunk of the season.
LSU needs to take on the role of streak buster when November hits. It needs to snap a five-game losing skid against Alabama, and will have a chance to do so in Tiger Stadium. Another loss to their SEC West rival could be detrimental not only to their 2016 championship hopes, but Miles’ ability to show he’s worthy of holding onto his position.
Essentially, that Nov. 5 tilt against the Tide is the team’s only major hurdle to a successful 2016 season. LSU should be a superior team in most of its matchups, if the team plays up to its talent and the coaching is up to par.
Another loss to ‘Bama and, consequently, a wrench thrown in the team’s plans for the SEC and College Football Playoff, will restart the discussion about a potential splitting of ways between LSU and its longtime coach.
The Tigers need a coach that can win critical SEC games in which LSU has slipped the last few years. This year’s team should win those types of games, and opposed to last year, “should” win carries added weight.
Expectations meet consequences, good or bad. Considering the roller-coaster drama of last season and the promise of this current squad, it’s SEC championship or bust for LSU and Miles. Anything less will become déjà vu.