HOOVER, Ala. — Eight is not nearly enough.
LSU fans know it after the Tigers went 8-5 last season, merely treading water at 4-4 in the SEC, then losing the Music City Bowl to Notre Dame.
LSU coach Les Miles and his players know it as well, and they made it a recurring theme of their appearance Thursday at SEC Media Days.
At Arkansas and Tennessee, last year’s 7-6 seasons may not be inspiring high-fives and cartwheels as South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier (also 7-6) suggested. But their victory-starved programs are viewing their seasons as launching points to renewed respectability.
At LSU, a 7-6 season would be the launching point to pins being stuck in little Les Miles voodoo dolls.
An 8-5 season? No high-fives or somersaults, either. Just indigestion. But that burning feeling in the Tigers’ gut is a desire to do better, significantly better, in 2015.
“For our team, eight wins is certainly not enough,” Miles said as he grasped the lectern in the main media room at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey. “We played some really good ballclubs in that eight-win season and played them very close.
“But our goal is the (College Football Playoff). Our goal is the SEC championship. We were shy of our goals, and we want more.”
Linebacker Kendell Beckwith was on board with Miles’ message. You have to believe this wasn’t the first time bettering last year’s record has been mentioned in the LSU camp since that frustrating loss to the Irish back in December.
“We’re going to use that 8-5 record as motivation,” Beckwith said, an undercurrent of determination in his words.
Some may question whether LSU football is sinking into a pattern of mediocrity, but the fact remains that won’t be tolerated by anyone who is concerned with the program — fans, players and coaches alike.
When you consider the bigger picture, compared to the rest of the SEC, an eight-win campaign isn’t all that much to grumble about.
LSU has enjoyed 15 straight winning seasons since 2000, the longest current streak in the SEC. Only four times in that span — 2000 and 2002 under Nick Saban, 2008 and 2014 under Miles — have the Tigers won as few as eight games. By that measure, it makes LSU the most consistently successful program in the conference.
But success can be fleeting. After going 8-0 in the SEC in 2011 before losing the 2012 BCS national championship game to Alabama, LSU has gone 6-2 in the SEC in 2012, 5-3 in 2013 and 4-4 in last season. It’s a disturbing slide for anyone who gives a flip about LSU football.
Contending for championships of course remains the perennial goal for the Tigers. But at least reversing that trend, getting back into a contender position in the SEC West, has to at least be the bedrock goal for the coming season.
Offensive tackle Vadal Alexander said the Tigers think they underachieved in 2014.
“We feel we were better than an 8-5 team,” he said. “We have a lot to improve.”
The shorthand assessment of the Tigers — who were picked to finish a respectable third in the SEC West by the voting media here — is that they have top-10 potential but must be better in the passing game.
“That’s my view,” Miles said. “Everyone has pieces they need to improve on. To do what we want to do, we need to have better quarterback play, be more consistent on special teams and force more turnovers on defense. If we can do all that, we should be pretty good.”
The offseason disquiet of having starting quarterback Anthony Jennings arrested on a charge of unauthorized entry along with two teammates would have to qualify as a major distraction for the Tigers. Miles said he’s optimistic Jennings will return, along with suspended defensive end Maquedius Bain and cornerback Dwayne Thomas, while backup quarterback Brandon Harris has been the No. 1 guy in summer 7-on-7 workouts during Jennings’ exile.
For LSU to move north of nine wins, it’s critical that the quarterback position settles out, with the passing game coalescing around either Jennings or Harris. My money is still on Jennings in the long run because of his experience, but Miles said Harris will get a chance in preseason camp to show what he’s got.
For LSU’s sake, one of them has to advance their game, not simply win by default. If not, the Tigers could well be here at SEC Media Days next year, lamenting another underwhelming season.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.