Rece Davis, who is in his second year as host of ESPN's College GameDay, has developed a relationship with former LSU coach Les Miles.
Certainly, he's fond of Miles, even playfully mimicking Miles' signature "want for victory" phrase when he met with a group of reporters Friday.
But LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron's transformation — from his days coaching Ole Miss to leading the No. 15 Tigers into a matchup with No. 1 Alabama Saturday night in Tiger Stadium — has been impressive to him.
"I don't know that you can find a better embodiment of somebody who's changed than the Ed Orgeron that we saw at Ole Miss, who won 10 games in three years," Davis said. "He's always been a terrific recruiter and a terrific defensive line coach. But I think he learned some lessons, and he's put them to work. I think it's showing in the way both of the teams — both (Southern California) when he took over there (as interim coach) and LSU so far — have responded to him."
The Davis-led College GameDay will broadcast from The Quad on LSU's campus at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.
Here's more from Davis during his meeting with the media:
What do you think the national perception was of the way things went down (with) Les being fired four games in the season. What do you think the national perspective was?
"My perspective of it was — I won't judge for anyone else other than me — but my perspective of it was that they just waited for a more convenient time when it was more palatable to the fans. I always think we all serve at the pleasure of our employers. And if they want to fire Les — and I said this last fall — if you want to fire him, fire him. But don't treat him the way you treated him last fall, and he deserved better than that. So in my judgment it was one of those things where they probably wanted to make a move last year. Whatever perhaps the candidate that they thought they had lined up, they didn't have lined up.
"So they looked for a more convenient time. Certainly, LSU's poor play...I say poor play; Wisconsin is a really good team. But I still say, even so, that they probably didn't perform up to expectations. At that time, people didn't know how good Wisconsin was. So I think you just set the temperature and made it more palatable here to do it then."
Does this game still have the same cachet that it has over the past few years, or because Alabama has had this one is for, is some of the luster off this game?
"No, I don't think there's any question that it does. I think that during Saban's time at Alabama this rivalry has been the most significant one in college football because of the stakes and what both teams have had at stake. I think because of the way LSU finished the season last year, people sort of forget that they were the higher ranked team going into Tuscaloosa, and they certainly haven't forgotten that Leonard (Fournette) was the front runner for the Heisman. But LSU was the higher ranked team and it cost them a ton. The loser of this game has cost them a ton every time. Because of that, I don't think it's lost a lot.
"First two years of the College Football Playoff, a team has come one year from 15th and another year from 16th in the initial rankings and made it to the playoff. Who's in better shape than LSU? It may need a little help against Auburn in the (SEC) West. But if LSU wins this game, we're not that far away from having it two-loss team in the playoff, and LSU would set itself up to be at least within shouting distance of making that type of run, albeit certainly against a very difficult closing schedule."
You mentioned Fournette. Is the Heisman out of the picture for him? Or do you think, if he finishes strong these last four games, he can still make a push to be at least be in New York?
"I think he could make a push. I think the one thing that when people go back and evaluate the totality of the season, the missed games will count against him. Can he overcome that? If you run for 284 (yards) and three touchdowns against Alabama, then maybe nobody cares that you missed three games. So maybe something extraordinary, but I think just a strong closing push with a win and some more terrific performances as we saw against Ole Miss could certainly give him an opportunity. But honesty compels me to say that for him to actually win it, he would need to do something extraordinary and superhuman and would probably also need (Louisville quarterback) Lamar Jackson (and Clemson quarterback) Deshaun Watson to do something much less."
You guys were able to see (LSU) on GameDay Week 1. Now, you look at this team on the field the last couple weeks under Orgeron. How much different do they seem to you all from a national perspective this season?
"It's a little unfair, I think, because (after) first games, teams change. Everybody changes. Everybody is different from what they were on that first week. But as I said earlier, I think there is a certain influx of energy around the team and the program that's evident in the last few games. But they played much better teams. Wisconsin and Auburn are better than the teams they've played in the last three weeks. They just are.
"So it still remains to be seen, but I do think that it's very real and it's something that's been positive for LSU in terms of the energy. And I say that not trying to cast any criticism Les' way. They played really tough teams, both away from home, early in the season. It didn't go their way, made the change and now they seem to have generated some momentum."
How do you see the game playing out and what do you see it kind of hinging on?
"When you look at the stats that LSU defense has put and while Alabama's has been dynamic, (LSU's) has been stifling. And so I think you're going to see pretty much what we've come to expect in these games. I think during the streak (LSU) hasn't scored more than 17 points against Alabama, but Alabama hasn't exactly — I guess maybe the one exception is the one year in Tuscaloosa (in 2013) — they haven't really run out there and scored 40.
"So I think you're going to see the typical Alabama-LSU, grown-man game, albeit probably with a little more flair with LSU seemingly committed to throwing it around a little bit more than they might have seen in the past. Certainly Alabama's offense, stylistically, is different than it has been with with the addition of Jalen Hurts."
For you personally, what's it like to be able to come to Baton Rouge and see these fans?
"It's a tremendous atmosphere. One of the reasons we love what we do is because we had a great deal of love and respect and deep care for the well-being of the sport. And when you see people care as much as the LSU fans do, it makes it fun, and it makes it exciting to be here. You love to be part of something, and you're very gratified that they want to be part of the show, and show up on Saturday mornings. We never take that for granted. We're always extraordinarily grateful for that."
Do these fans stand out compared to others?
"I always hate to do that. I'll say this: there aren't any more enthusiastic. How about that? Everywhere you go, I think you're always impressed by the enthusiasm. I was pretty impressed at Utah last week when, for the second straight year, they had that whole hillside — in front of I think it's their president's building there — full and the sun wasn't even up yet. That was pretty impressive too. So everywhere we go I think the fans really, really show up and do a great job."
People talk about how Nick (Saban) has been able to change over the years. How do you think he's been able to do that and still maintain the level of success he's had?
"Because, simply put, I think he's the greatest college football coach of our generation. He's smart, and he knows that you can't always stand still and do it the way you've always done it. He's willing to make whatever changes necessary in order to have the greatest opportunity for success. I think a lot of coaches get stuck in their way, and it's not that their way is wrong. It's just the circumstances around them might make it easier to have success if you just adjust some things. He's done that consistently. It's not just this year, I don't think. They've changed the way they've played a lot. They changed the way they play when when he brought in Lane Kiffin, as opposed to some of the other guys who did great jobs.
"There was always this misconception, I think, about their offenses. But if you go back and look at a per-play basis, their offenses have compared favorably with Oregon's, in terms of yards per play. They've always been effective. They've just done it a different way. ... (Nick's) a smart, forward-thinking, cutting-edge kind of guy, who's still is able to maintain a foundation of fundamentals and discipline."
On the flip side, do you think that's why Les was fired — because he refused to change?
"I'm not going to get into that. But the product offensively needed to be more explosive. And, look, Les knows that. Les is out there talking now about how he plans to approach his next job. I think one thing — a lot of coaches have said this over the years. (Former Texas Tech coach) Spike Dykes, I think, said, 'Every year you stay at a place, you lose 10 percent of your support.' So after a while, people get tired of hearing you, and it's hard. Even for excellent coaches, which I judge Les to be, it's hard to maintain a high standard that a place like this demands.
"It's unfortunate that it happened that way. I haven't talked to him specifically about this, but I would imagine that if he had to do it over, maybe he would have made some different adjustments offensively. But let's not forget how good of a coach he was, how much he won here, how much excitement he brought to this place. Les is an excellent coach and accomplished a lot."
How impressed are you with Ed Orgeron and the job that he's done? Do you take on a grain of salt given the conference record of some of the opponents and things like that?
"No, I don't because I think there are a lot of schemes and a lot of ways to get things done. But the No. 1 thing is can get them to play? Can you get them to play with enthusiasm and energy and to play fast and to believe? And he's done it, and I think he deserves all the credit in the world for that. To diminish what he's done because maybe the opponents weren't of the elite caliber, I think is wrong. Because I'll tell you this: it doesn't matter who they've played, do think they think they can win Saturday night? I think they do.
"Not that they didn't before, didn't think they would win last year, I'm not suggesting that. I'm just saying that a lot of times when you get an interim coach, everybody checks out, especially the guys who are on their way to the league. That has not happened here. At least from what I've seen, that has not happened. I ran into Leonard last night, and it certainly doesn't seem that that he has checked out, looking to the next thing. The only thing he's looking to is Saturday night."
Is he the x-factor for this game?
"He's always the factor. He will be the most explosive offensive player on the field, with all due respect to Derrius Guice, who's pretty dang explosive himself. But Leonard is unique, and he's special. I think that when you have someone with that type of talent who has a nemesis, which he has had in his first two games against Alabama, then you know there's a certain drive that can really propel the great ones to have special performances. We'll see if he's able to do that. He won't be able to do it by himself. You can't do it by yourself against Alabama. So if he gets enough help, I think he has an opportunity to do something really special."
This is your second year with GameDay. What has this experience been like for you, being the host of GameDay?
"I've got the best job in television, man. There's nothing better than this, to be able to go across the country with a group of teammates who really love and care about the game and have great respect and dedication to a show. You don't always find a group of people who are as selfless in our industry, and I've got the best gig on TV. ... Plus, you get to see some of the great games every week, and I'm looking forward to that on Saturday night as well."