They say history is the best predictor of the future.
If so, this is a pretty interesting point in history for the LSU football program.
Despite whatever frustration and angst that may have resulted from the 2014 season, this remains the longest sustained period of success for LSU football ever.
The Tigers have had 15 straight winning seasons and been to 15 straight bowl games. That’s not something any other Southeastern Conference program can say.
Since this purple and gold age began, LSU has gone 8-5 three times: in 2002 under Nick Saban and in 2008 and now 2014 under Les Miles.
In that same span, LSU has played for the national championship every four years — 2003, 2007 and 2011 — winning twice.
The convergence of the twain brings us to this point for the first time, with LSU coming off an 8-5 season in 2014 and seeking a big, championship-caliber bounceback in 2015.
Is LSU’s six-year itch again the sign of bigger things on the horizon? Or is the program entering a period of insidious decline?
If 8-5 is the worst you’ve done, you’re doing pretty darned good. But there is something different about where LSU football is now, something that makes 2015 the most crucial campaign of Miles’ tenure in Baton Rouge.
When LSU went 8-5 in 2002, the Tigers were coming off an SEC championship season in 2001 and were poised to win their first BCS national championship in 2003. When LSU went 8-5 in 2008, the Tigers were coming off their second BCS title and bounced back to win nine games and play in the Capital One Bowl in 2009. In 2010, the Tigers again won 11 games before making their run at another BCS title in 2011 with an undefeated regular season.
That season ended, of course, with LSU’s 21-0 loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Though many LSU fans act as though it was the only time a highly regarded football team got blown out in a championship game — did anyone watch Denver in last year’s Super Bowl? — it did represent a turning point of sorts for the program.
First, it seems Miles could win another national championship and many LSU fans still wouldn’t forgive him for not playing Jarrett Lee against Bama that night (for the last time, yes; Lee should have played, but it wouldn’t have made a difference).
As bigger an issue is where the program has gone since then. Including that loss in the BCS final, LSU is 28-12 overall. The program has gone from 8-0 in the SEC to 6-2 to 5-3 to 4-4. LSU has lost three of its last four bowl games.
The relatively lateral move of defensive coordinator John Chavis from LSU to SEC West rival Texas A&M last week is another disturbing signpost for the program. There are sources who say Chavis was miffed by the “Miles clause” in his contract offer (he was to get only six months’ pay should Miles leave for any reason), though LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said Chavis told him it was simply time for him to move on.
Chavis’ comment once he arrived at A&M that he was “excited to play with a great offense” is easy to perceive as a dig against the Miles/Cam Cameron offensive brain trust. Does he think Kevin Sumlin and A&M would provide more job security? Perhaps more to the point, did Chavis feel he was seeing at LSU the sort of erosion he experienced at Tennessee under Phillip Fulmer?
The double whammy of the Tigers’ Music City Bowl loss Tuesday to Notre Dame and Chavis’ departure for College Station two days later made last week one of the darkest in recent memory for LSU. The decisions by linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Jalen Collins to leave LSU early for the NFL (fellow corner Jalen Mills is also reportedly considering an early departure) only added to the gloom.
Then, a ray of light. Friday, Warren Easton wide receiver Tyron Johnson, Louisiana’s No. 1-ranked prospect, committed to LSU at halftime of the Under Armour All-American Game.
Meanwhile, Miles is reportedly in Dallas, using his agent George Bass’ base of operations as a place to interview prospective defensive coordinators. Considering what LSU was willing to pay Chavis ($4 million over three years), it could be the toughest club in Big “D” to get into this side of Brook Hollow Golf Club.
Only a few miles away from Bass’ office, Ohio State and Oregon will play Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, for the national championship. A few miles in the other direction is the home of SMU’s once proud and now irrelevant program.
Which one will LSU gravitate toward? This 2015 season will tell a great deal.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.