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Better Les unsaid

LSU's Miles called out USC; now Tigers must deliver

Posted: Friday July 6, 2007 12:33PM; Updated: Friday July 6, 2007 3:12PM
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Les Miles is already sounding the trumpet for the SEC's strength -- and it's only July.
Les Miles is already sounding the trumpet for the SEC's strength -- and it's only July.
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OK, it's official. What once sounded amusingly intriguing has now become a critical necessity.

USC and LSU have to play for the national championship this season. It is no longer possible to envision any other satisfying conclusion.

The nation's strangest and most unlikely rivalry of the past four years -- one that has thus far played out entirely off the field -- reached a new level of bitterness this week when the Tigers' increasingly rambunctious coach, Les Miles, made some strange and derisive comments about the Trojans.

"I would like nothing better than to play USC for the [national] title," Miles reportedly said in a speech to a heavily pro-LSU gathering in New Orleans. "I can tell you this, that they have a much easier road to travel. They're going to play real knockdown drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford -- some real juggernauts -- and they're going to end up, it would be my guess, in some position so if they win a game or two, that they'll end up in the title [game].

"I would like that path for us. I think the SEC provides much stiffer competition."

Forget for a moment the numerous, logical flaws in Miles' diatribe (i.e., the fact the team he's bashing beat SEC West champion Arkansas 50-14 last season). Forget for a moment the seemingly arbitrary shots at innocent bystanders Washington and Stanford. (Is Pete Carroll out there dissing Vanderbilt and Mississippi State at his booster functions?)

The real question is, why is Miles so worked up in the first place about a school 2,000 miles away? The answer: because his fans are.

It's not uncommon this time of year for coaches to go on the booster-club caravan tour to drum up support for the coming season. And in playing to the crowd, it's not uncommon for said coaches to take a couple friendly jabs at one of their rivals. (Steve Spurrier was notorious for this during his time at Florida.)

Miles' barbs, however, weren't directed at Ole Miss or Alabama. They were aimed at a foe the Tigers haven't faced since 1984 and aren't scheduled to play in the near future. Without context, they seem to come completely out of left field.

Yet if you know anything about LSU fans, you know the only way Miles could have played to his audience any better is if he'd broken out a baseball bat and started busting open a Nick Saban piņata. (Miles, a surprisingly animated showman, reportedly told a similar crowd on Signing Day, "We have a new rival in f---ing Alabama!") Over the past four years, Tigers followers have become nearly as obsessed with the Trojans as they are their own team. One frequent message-board poster on the LSU fan site TigerRag even goes by the nickname "OverratedSC."

As you might guess, it all dates back to 2003, when the two schools both laid a claim to the national championship. USC, excluded from the Sugar Bowl, that year's BCS championship game, beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to finish No. 1 in the AP poll. LSU, by virtue of its victory over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, earned the top spot in the coaches poll.

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