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Overflowing with talent

LSU has had more success in draft than on field

Posted: Monday April 30, 2007 12:47PM; Updated: Monday April 30, 2007 2:17PM
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Defensive end Tyson Jackson is one of several studs on a loaded LSU team in 2007.
Defensive end Tyson Jackson is one of several studs on a loaded LSU team in 2007.
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As it turns out, the most talented team in college football last season may not have been national champion Florida. Or regular-season No. 1 Ohio State. Or perennially dominant USC.

Over the weekend, NFL coaches and GMs seemed to confirm what many inside college football have believed for some time: That LSU is sitting on a gold mine.

Four former Tigers -- quarterback JaMarcus Russell, safety LaRon Landry and receivers Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis -- went in the first round on Saturday, with Russell and Landry landing in the top 10. That's as many first-rounders as the Buckeyes (two), Gators (two) and Trojans (none) had combined.

But that only tells part of the story. Another starter from that team, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, was another sure-fire first-rounder had he come out. And early projections for 2008 include at least three other Tigers -- defensive end Tyson Jackson, receiver Early Doucet and guard Will Arnold -- who, depending on how they do next season, could also wind up first-round picks.

Throw in recent first-rounders Joseph Addai (2006), Marcus Spears (2005) and Michael Clayton (2004) plus second-rounders Andrew Whitworth (2006), Corey Webster (2005), Deverey Henderson (2004) and Marquise Hill (2004), and it's clear Baton Rouge has suddenly become as rich an NFL breeding ground as any place in the country.

All of which leads to an obvious question: Why haven't the Tigers contended for a national title since 2003? More specifically, how did last year's obviously ultra-loaded squad -- a No. 1 QB and two first-round receivers -- lose two of its first six games?

LSU ended up having a fine season in '06, going 11-2, winning the Sugar Bowl and finishing No. 3 in the final polls, but Tigers must be kicking themselves even more now than they were then over that pair of strange, early-season losses to Auburn (7-3) and Florida (23-10). LSU lost those games despite out gaining both opponents. And both games were decided in part by costly turnovers, questionable officiating calls and, in the Florida game, a flat-out strange play (Tim Tebow's run-and-jump touchdown pass to Tate Casey).

A loss is a loss, but if just one of those two defeats had gone the other way, the Tigers would have at least had the opportunity to play for the SEC title and possibly would have had a rematch with the Gators for a shot at the national title.

Perhaps that's why there's such lingering skepticism out there about third-year LSU coach Les Miles despite the fact he's gone an impressive 22-4 his first two seasons. It's no secret Nick Saban left Miles an overflowing cupboard of talent (consensus top-three recruiting classes in 2001, '03 and '04) and Miles has only helped restock it with top-10 classes the past two years. With that in mind, there's a sense his teams -- despite their gaudy record -- actually underachieved the past two seasons.

All of which makes this coming season a crucial one for Miles. Despite losing Russell & Co., the 2007 Tigers will be his most talented yet. Former Peach Bowl MVP Matt Flynn takes over at quarterback, and the fact he remained neck-and-neck with Russell for the starting job as recently as last summer tells you the Tigers shouldn't suffer too much of a drop-off. Dorsey will headline another loaded defense, and there are weapons galore on offense in Doucet, Brandon LaFell, Trindon Holliday and tailbacks Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy.

Coming out of spring, I had LSU ranked No. 2 in the preseason behind USC, but the teams are almost interchangeable in my mind. Of course, if we were ranking the teams purely on pro potential, the Tigers might be the runaway No. 1.

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