History and geography suggest LSU will be a national championship contender in 2011:
•?2003: The Sugar Bowl is the setting for the BCS national championship game. LSU beats Oklahoma 21-14.
•?2007: The first BCS championship game to be played apart from the Sugar Bowl comes to the Superdome. Again, LSU is there, beating Ohio State 37-24.
•?2011: The national championship will again be decided in New Orleans on Jan. 9. Will LSU’s clocklike penchant for excellence strike again?
In his own unique style, LSU coach Les Miles doesn’t shy away from such talk.
If anything, he could get flagged for piling on.
“The want for this team to qualify to travel down there in a bus and again play in the national championship game is the goal,” Miles told a packed audience of more than 400 Rotary Club members Wednesday at Boudreaux’s. “It’s what it should be. It’s who we are. Let’s see if we can establish that legacy.
“When they play it in New Orleans, we’re coming.”
The preseason college football magazines have bought in to the championship fervor simmering on South Louisiana’s version of the hot stove league practically since the Tigers dusted Texas A&M on Jan. 7 in the BCS-like atmosphere of the Cotton Bowl.
“LSU’s 41-24 romp past Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl has whetted an already eternally famished fanbase’s hunger for what’s coming next,” writes Athlon, which ranks the Tigers No. 8. “The Tiger faithful are eager for another season that winds up down the road in New Orleans in the BCS National Championship Game.”
No preseason magazine is higher on LSU than The Sporting News, which ranks the Tigers as its No. 1.
“The schedule is brutal (Oregon, West Virginia, the SEC),” write TSN’s Matt Hayes and Dave Curtis, “but no team is more complete on both sides of the ball. After three years of inconsistency, look for quarterback Jordan Jefferson to figure it out and make it six straight national championships for the SEC.”
Miles is in agreement when it comes to both Jefferson and the schedule.
On the former, Miles has been consistently singing his praises since spring practice.
On the latter, well, Miles stated for the record that if the Tigers have one too many tough hurdles to climb, don’t blame him.
“We play six road games,” said Miles, whose Tigers start Sept. 3 against highly ranked Oregon in Arlington, Texas. “I want you to know I prefer to play eight home games every year.”
Phil Steele ranks LSU No. 7 going into 2011. For Steele, as for many other prognosticators, the linchpin to LSU’s hopes is the play of its senior quarterback.
“The Tigers are a legitimate National Title contender and last year got to 11-2 and #8 (in the final polls) despite spotty QB play,” Steele writes. “They figure to be much improved at QB.”
First-year offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe doesn’t shy away from the notion that a lot of the Tigers’ hopes rest on Jefferson’s shoulder pads.
“You’re going to go as far as your quarterback,” Kragthorpe said last week as he met reporters during LSU’s Tiger Tour stop at the Lod Cook Alumni Center. “Let’s not sugar coat it. That’s how it is. That’s the nature of this game and what it’s become, especially at a place like LSU where you’re going to play against great people every week.”
Lindy’s Sports Annuals rank the Tigers No. 4, though it’s with a bit of concern over a team that lost All-American cornerback Patrick Peterson, All-SEC linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and 1,000-yard rusher Stevan Ridley to the NFL.
“Replacing CB Patrick Peterson, LB Kelvin Sheppard and RB (Stevan) Ridley won’t be easy,” Lindy’s says, “but the Tigers’ perennially strong recruiting classes make for little concern. If victorious over Oregon in the opener, it could be party time on the bayou.”
LSU’s lofty preseason rankings come without the usual accompaniment of highly touted players.
Only one Tiger - junior cornerback Morris Claiborne - achieved preseason All-American status. He is a second-team pick by The Sporting News and a third-team pick by Phil Steele.
Athlon, rather inexplicably, left Claiborne off its first- or second-team All-SEC listings, though its second-team defense does include fellow cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Sam Montgomery.
Except for The Sporting News, the other three magazines label Alabama as a major road block for LSU’s championship hopes.
Athlon, Phil Steele and Lindy’s all pick the Crimson Tide to win the SEC West and rank Alabama No. 1, No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Oklahoma gets the top spot in Lindy’s preseason ranking.
“The SEC West title will likely come down to LSU’s trip to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5,” Lindy’s writes.
The expectations are much gloomier for Southern, which is picked by The Sporting News to finish fifth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division.
Hopes aren’t high for Louisiana-Lafayette either - the Ragin’ Cajuns aren’t picked higher than seventh in the Sun Belt Conference - but there is a lot of admiration for the Ragin’ Cajuns Ladarius Green.
The ULL tight end earned second team All-American honors from Athlon and fourth-team All-American honors from Phil Steele, while Lindy’s ranked him the third-best tight end in the nation.
Louisiana college players will report to their respective campuses this week. LSU and Southern will welcome back players on Wednesday and begin preseason practice Thursday.