The devout LSU fan on your list really isn’t that hard to shop for this year.
Tiger-striped boxers? Already has them. Barbecue tongs that sing “Hold that Tiger” when you push a button? Not sure those are even real, sorry. JaMarcus Russell singing Christmas carols on your front lawn? That may be doable — we’re pretty sure his schedule isn’t that tight.
What they really, really want is for LSU to return to elite-level status as a college football program.
Being an elite program is like art. You’re not exactly sure what it is, but you darned sure know what it isn’t.
The Tigers certainly haven’t skidded off into velvet Elvis painting territory, but they’re not hanging LSU’s past few seasons in the Louvre, either. More like mass produced prints for rooms in three-star hotels.
The Tigers have flirted with greatness the past four years, such as being ranked No. 2 in this year’s initial College Football Rankings. They wound up No. 20 in the final rankings, which isn’t too far off from where LSU ranks historically as a football program.
LSU went into this season 12th in all-time victories among FBS programs (761 wins, now 769) and 13th in winning percentage (.649, now .650). That’s 8-4, 8-3 kind of football, which are the regular seasons the Tigers have had the past couple of years.
How does LSU climb out of the second 10 and back into the top 10? The Tigers could definitely start next season ranked that high, especially if they subdue Texas Tech on Dec. 29 in the Texas Bowl, a little push of positive momentum that would get LSU to 9-3.
The Tigers aspire to better than that, of course, in 2016. Here are three simple — yet hard to achieve — goals to help LSU get there:
1. Better quarterback play
Admittedly, this is a “water is wet, the sky is blue” kind of statement, but it bears a little dissection.
As Les Miles said after the Tigers beat Texas A&M, rather defensively, there’s nothing wrong with the “engine” of LSU’s offense going into this bowl game and into 2016. That power plant is the running game and the supercharged talents of one Leonard Fournette.
It would be foolish to diminish his contribution, just as it will be foolish to expect Miles to make wholesale changes to his offensive philosophy.
But there are times in modern college football when you have to throw the ball to win. Since Zach Mettenberger’s brief tenure ended in 2013, the Tigers haven’t been able to do that.
That isn’t to say Brandon Harris — or whoever else might be LSU’s starting quarterback in 2016 — needs to be Deshaun Watson. But it wouldn’t hurt if Harris could make the kind of leap that Brandon Allen did at Arkansas as an upperclassman.
He could. It’s possible. Or it’s possible the job could fall to someone else, like Purdue transfer Danny Etling, who will be eligible in the spring, or whomever Miles signs at quarterback in February (assuming he does).
But someone has to be more consistent at moving LSU through the air, or you can bank on two or three games in which the Tigers will automatically come up short.
2. Better defensive front 7
It’s a personal theory of mine that the Southeastern Conference won seven straight BCS national titles and played for an eighth not because of offensive talents like Cam Newton and Tim Tebow and Mark Ingram but because of defensive front-seven talents like Glenn Dorsey and Nick Fairley and current Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland. Think Ke-Ke Mingo chasing down a player like LaMichael James in the backfield in the 2011 LSU-Oregon game.
That’s the kind of play LSU has lacked from its front seven this year. They’ve certainly lacked the depth. Recruiting the front seven is a huge point of emphasis for the Tigers with their 2016 class and a big cornerstone on which to rebuild LSU’s national football fortunes.
3. Better special teams
It’s easy to pin blame on special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto, and he has deserved some criticism. But LSU’s depth issues on defense have translated to coverage team issues.
Another problem Peveto-wise is he has to split his time between coaching linebackers and coaching special teams. Former defensive coordinator John Chavis also was the position coach for linebackers. Current defensive coordinator Kevin Steele works with all the position groups but isn’t in charge of just one.
That’s fine, but this isn’t the NFL where you can have an unlimited number of assistant coaches. In the FBS, the NCAA limits you to nine full-time assistants to coach positions.
LSU, like many schools, has five assistants on offense and four on defense. It seems an appropriate adjustment to have Steele coach linebackers (as he did at Alabama) and have Peveto help with that position while spending more time with the special teams group.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter,@RabalaisAdv.