Coach: Les Miles (first season) 2004 record: 9-3 (Lost to Iowa in Capital One Bowl) SEC West finish: 6-2 (2nd) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 20th (193.8 ypg) Passing: 72nd (201.8 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 7th (99.8 ypg) Passing: 5th (157.2 ypg)
at Mississippi State
at Ole Miss
Depth Chart: Offense
9 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
7 returning starters in red
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This was going to be Nick Saban's next great team. Instead, it's Les Miles' first great team.
Saban, who coached LSU to the 2003 BCS national title, bolted Baton Rouge for South Florida to take over the Miami Dolphins. He left Miles with one of the most talented teams in the nation.
The Tigers, 9-3 last year with two losses in the final moments, lose center Ben Wilkerson and quarterback Marcus Randall but bring back the bulk of the unit. LSU's offensive line, receivers and running backs could all end up being the class of the SEC.
LSU loses end Marcus Spears, linebacker Lionel Turner and cornerbacks Travis Daniels and Corey Webster from the defense, but Saban did his best recruiting on that side. The outgoing coach even gave Miles a personnel report on most of his players written in longhand.
Here's your team, Coach Miles. Your mission: Don't lose a game.
LSU welcomes back eight offensive starters from a 9-3 team that won the SEC rushing title with 193.8 yards per game. All the tailbacks are back, along with six offensive linemen who started five games or more in 2004. All the receivers return as well, and the potential exists for a much-improved passing game because of the talent at quarterback.
LSU has rarely had quarterbacks considered to be the best in the nation out of high school, but now the Tigers boast two elite signal-callers. JaMarcus Russell, among the nation's top quarterback prospects in the class of 2003, showed flashes of brilliance last season while sharing time with Randall. Russell will enter August practices as the starter but will be tested by sophomore Matt Flynn and incoming freshman Ryan Perrilloux, who spurned Texas to sign with the hometown Tigers.
LSU has options at tailback as well, with Alley Broussard, a bruiser along the lines of Jerome Bettis, the versatile Joseph Addai and the speedy Justin Vincent.
Miles came up through the ranks as an offensive line coach, and the guys up front usually perform well for him. That should be the case this fall once again. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth could have skipped his senior season and declared for the NFL Draft, but he opted to return for one more tour.
Spears will be missed, but three senior starters are back on the defensive line -- Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten at the tackles and Melvin Oliver at one end. Kirston Pittman, a rushing specialist through his first two years, will compete for a starting role at the other end. Chase Pittman, a junior transfer from Texas, could start at either end -- but he'll have to return from a summer suspension for an off-campus altercation.
Miles moved junior Cameron Vaughn from the outside to middle linebacker to replace senior Lionel Turner. Sophomore Ali Highsmith and seniors Kenneth Hollis and E.J. Kuale all started at times on the outside last year.
Webster and Daniels are gone from the cornerback spots, but there have been plenty of candidates waiting their turn, led by seniors Ronnie Prude and Mario Stevenson. Sophomore Chevis Jackson is already being compared to Webster for his excellent man-to-man coverage skills, and Colorado transfer Sammy Joseph will be in the mix, as well. Safeties LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels are among the best in the SEC.
Kickers tend to need a soft approach, and they'll get that more from Miles than they did from Saban. "Coach Miles is definitely better to work with," kicker/punter Chris Jackson said. "He doesn't get in your face all the time."
With a healthy ankle, Skyler Green could return to his 2003 form when he led the nation in punt returns with an 18.5-yard average.
LSU is loaded on both sides of the ball and will be the favorite to win the SEC West title. Miles' first order of business this fall is to pick a quarterback -- likely Russell -- and stick with him. Last year, the Tiger offense lacked continuity due to the revolving door at quarterback.
The schedule, as usual, is difficult, but the Tigers get three of their four most difficult SEC games -- Tennessee, Florida and Auburn -- at home.