Not even recruits get to actually dine in LSU’s new locker room in Tiger Stadium. But there Les Miles was Thursday night, entertaining ESPN’s Rece Davis, Joey Galloway and Danny Kanell at a big round table, football talk and laughter ringing off the gleaming white jerseys arranged neatly in the lockers.
As football coaches go, Miles is great television. Heck, it isn’t hard to imagine that one day when Lee Corso hangs up his headgear for the final time that a retired Miles could join Davis, the new host of “College GameDay,” as the wacky yet insightful entertainment on the set.
So it bears the question that on this mad cross-country preseason college football tour, one that took Davis, Galloway and Kanell from Ohio State to Notre Dame, out to USC and UCLA, over to Baylor and TCU and on to Alabama late Thursday after their whistle stop in Baton Rouge, why they would visit LSU in the first place.
On the home front, there are plenty who are questioning whether Miles’ Tigers are still a national power after last year’s 8-5 record.
To the ESPN crew, though, no such question exists.
“Because Les has such a great personality, that’s one reason you can do something like this and make it fun television,” Davis said after the plates were cleared away. “But there are a lot of coaches and places that could have been entertaining in that setting.
“We chose here because of what he’s accomplished with the program. This is still a huge name-brand program. They certainly weren’t up to their usual standard last year, but there are a lot of weapons.”
For Kanell, LSU’s fortunes this season aren’t any harder to gauge than many other college teams.
“Trying to predict college football is the hardest thing to do,” he said. “There are so many unknowns. There are young freshmen who could come out and tear up the scene. There are quarterback issues, and that’s what LSU has right now.
“I want to see (Brandon) Harris get on the field,” Kanell said, not an endorsement of the sophomore in his battle with Anthony Jennings, but perhaps a bit of a prediction. “I want to see how he plays with the new offense.
“The defense has issues with a new defensive coordinator. Historically this team has been one that gets after the quarterback. Last year you didn’t see that. I think Kevin Steele will come up with some blitzes and find ways to put his athletes in the best position to make plays, so I wouldn’t expect that trend to continue.
“The best part about it is LSU’s offense is going to be ball control with Leonard Fournette. You can rest your defense then go after it every single play.”
Galloway said LSU’s quarterback dilemma make the Tigers fit right in with much of the rest of the Southeastern Conference.
“This season Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn are replacing quarterbacks,” he said. “LSU has quarterback issues. Georgia is replacing a quarterback. This could be a year where the running game is more important than anything.
“Nobody is expecting anyone to come out of the SEC undefeated, because there is so much turnover,” said Galloway, one of ESPN’s college football analysts.
Turnover is also a ripe subject at ESPN this year. Among them more prominent changes finds Davis replacing Chris Fowler as the ringmaster for “College GameDay” as Fowler concentrates primarily on prime-time college football play-by-play.
“I’m really excited about it, obviously,” said Davis, who previously hosted ESPN’s college football highlight show on Saturday nights. “It’s become the preeminent show in our sport. I like all sports, but there’s nothing I love more than college football.
“So to be part of this show and be part of this team that’s had such great success, I’m really fired up about it. Having a new challenge is always good. I still love the studio on Saturday, but it was time to do something different, whatever that path would have been.”
Meanwhile, Kanell is taking over from Scott Van Pelt to co-host ESPN’s popular afternoon radio show with Ryen Russillo. Van Pelt will have an expanded role on “SportsCenter.”
“I was a huge fan of SVP and Russillo and I’ve been able to get a pretty good rapport with Ryen,” Kanell said. “I’m just really thrilled about the opportunity. We get to kick back and talk about sports — I don’t think there’s a better job in the world.”
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.