Middle linebacker Treverance Faulk knew the fans cared, but he didn't know how much until the purple-and-gold-clad masses stormed the Tiger Stadium field last season after LSU's stirring wins over Tennessee and Alabama. "There were even old men running around," Faulk says. "They were hugging me, crying. It was unbelievable."
Not entirely. On Feb. 7 some of these same fans showed up, about 4,000 strong, at the Sheraton Atrium in Baton Rouge and stayed for 10 hours to cheer as the names of LSU's latest recruiting class were flashed across a big-screen television. With the Tigers coming off a surprising 8-4 season and buoyed by the return of 17 starters—not to mention a recruiting class ranked among the top three in the nation by most gurus—second-year coach Nick Saban needs to deal with runaway expectations.
"The challenge facing a lot of our guys, who didn't experience success until last year, is handling that success," Saban says. "Some horses run better from behind. We have to learn how to run from ahead."
Saban will be aided in that task by the 6'3", 225-pound Faulk, a junior who led LSU with 113 tackles last year and enters his second season as one of the team's captains. Faulk, whose cousin Kevin was an All-America for the Tigers in 1996 and plays running back for the New England Patriots, not only takes his teammates to task on the field but also chides those who miss a class or study hall. He leads a defense that has 10 starters back, including fellow junior linebacker Bradie James, who had 110 tackles and five sacks in 2000.
The offense is loaded at the skill positions. Senior quarterback Rohan Davey, who came off the bench to win offensive MVP honors in a 28-14 Peach Bowl win over Georgia Tech, has the starting job to himself with the early departure of Josh Booty to the NFL. Davey has the luxury of throwing to experienced receivers and handing off to a backfield topped by sophomore LaBrandon Toefield (682 yards).
The Tigers are no powerhouse—they outscored their SEC foes combined by a point last season (196-195)—but the fans' optimism over the program's direction isn't unfounded. Faulk and his mates hope to reward that passion. "They're nuts, but we love them," Faulk says. "Ed love to have a breakthrough season to give them a lot more to cheer for."