Billy: Well fellas, that's another season in the books. 10-2 (6-2 in conference), and waiting on a bowl invite. So what's the verdict?
Poseur: Do you even need to ask me?
This season is a resounding success (ok, it ended on a sour note, but that doesn't detract from what this team accomplished). Think back to the preseason. LSU was picked fourth in the SEC West. The standard chatter was whether Les Miles was on the hot seat. The talk was how this was a program on decline. The Delusional Optimism campaign kicked off the wild and crazy prediction that LSU would win 10 games and finish the season ranked right in the top ten.
And here we are. 10 wins. A bowl win away from finishing the season in the top ten. LSU beat Bama. LSU beat Ole Miss. LSU went unbeaten at home. LSU finished tied for second in the West Division, a division so tough that five of its teams are ranked in the top 25. This team went out and had a great year while playing one of the most difficult schedules in the country. At the end of the day, LSU simply lost two games on the road to top ten teams.
Just as important, this year was fun. The games were tight. Les Miles became the Mad Hatter again. Underclassmen not only played key roles this year, they excelled at them. This was one of the craziest years this team has had, and the team played with a chip on its shoulder. I hate the term "swagger," but this team got its swagger back. It was hard to follow this team and not love the players on it. Kelvin Sheppard is the defensive version of Jacob Hester, a guy who has maxed out his ability and is a leader through his sheer will and heart.
Not only was this year a success, but the program seems poised to do big things in the very short future. It's hard not to be excited.
Billy: I came into this season wanting to see signs that the trends of the last two years reversed, and I'm pretty comfortable saying that for the most part, that's what happened. I worried how a team this young would navigate a schedule like this, and 10-2 is a pretty damn good job.
The defense was an absolute joy to watch (big plays aside), especially with a great group of upperclassmen like Nevis, K-Shepp and Patrick Peterson. Our dear General Zod is going to go down on that list of LSU players I tell my grandkids about. Watching him accelerate in coverage or on a return was like watching a Ferrari shift gears.
This was just a fun season, even with the frustrations. The offense, for all its issues, rediscovered the running game with Stevan Ridley - and that's a spot that the future is bright at with Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and the other incoming freshmen we all know about. Even with all the passing game's struggles, watching Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson redeem themselves at different points in the season still felt great.
The frustrations found a way to balance out. Les Miles, for all the flack he (rightfully) took for the ending of the Tennessee game, navigated masterful endings against Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss that featured a fake field goal, a tight-end reverse and a go-ahead touchdown when the field goal was in his back pocket. You take the good with the bad with any coach, and whether people want to believe it or not, there was more good than bad with LSU's this season.
But like I said in the comments to the Arkansas post-game story, while this was a step in the right direction, it was just a first step.
PodKatt: I am also very pleased with the results. Anyone remember how concerned we were about Chavis's D in year 2? Remember when we all thought "Speed over Power" was just code for "we don't have the hosses, so they are going to be doing a lot of swarming to the ball?" With the exception of the key failures that led to our only losses, Chavis proved that this is more than just a last stop before retirement. He was tasked with molding a new D and was more than impressive. We lose key senior (and Zod) leadership in all 3 levels of the D next year, and I'm only slightly worried about it. Year 3 and 4 of The Chief are going to be spectacular to watch.
On the other hand, there are some things to temper the swagger party. As much credit as we got at the time for it, Florida fielded one of their worst squads in a while this season. Tennessee has proven themselves to be a better football team this year than many believed, but if not for T-Bob's preservation instincts, we lose that game. I know none of the 10 wins have asterisks by them, and none of them should, but life on the razor's edge can do a number on your health.
Who am I kidding? This has been the most entertaining set of games since '07, and one of those losses won't even be on the books in 2 years.
I'll say it was great, but still needs work. A little addition by subtraction would do us wonders. (/Sends15themailwithanoticeabouttheHCvacancyatUSLtoCrowton)
Paul: I'm trying to maintain perspective here. I think end of the season losses always hurt worse. After all, you can put away the early to midseason loss and replace it with a sweet memory from another game (yeah, losing to Auburn sucked, but hey, we beat Alabama!). But when you lose your last game of the regular season and don't play another game for a month, the sting lingers.
What's unfortunate about the Arkansas loss is that it reminds of the weaknesses we've been aware of for the past two seasons, particularly offensively. Regardless, when you honestly step back... LSU lost two games, both on the road to top 10 opponents (one of which is the best team in the country). The SEC is a big boy league. It's tough to go undefeated in (even the 2008 Florida team, that I think is the best of this decade, lost a game). Even further, we have 5 top 25 teams in our own damn division. If we played in the SEC East, we'd be playing for an SEC Championship this weekend. That's the reality of the situation.
I wrote a post about this prior to the Arkansas game, and I will stick to my guns. Enjoy the ride. This was a good season. If we win our bowl, we finish 11-2. That means four of Les' six seasons at LSU will have ended in 11 wins. Many may not like the way these came about, but the results are the results and the fact that this season's squad was entirely a group of Les Miles recruits, there's no way to write it off as anything other than a good coaching job.
Like Billy said, we're making steps in the positive directions. QB play hurt us badly this year. JJ regressed and Lee had his moments but then just kinda was there. The season was remarkably close to going one way or the other... close to be 12-0 right now, also close to being 8-4. Overall, I'm pleased. We're clawing our way back up the SEC standings, and we've seen improvement from 2008 to 2010.
Now, go out and make a couple coaching changes, and 2012 has the chance to be a special year.
Billy: So what do each of you think is the next step for the program?
Paul: Priority number one is to finish up this recruiting class. Zach Mettenberger is all set to commit and sign in the next week or so. I don't foresee any costly de-commits (maybe a guy like Dalton Botts or Stephen Rivers depending on how the chips fall). Get all those guys signed and on campus.
Next step is to evaluate the coaching staff and upgrade where necessary. The most obvious position to change is the offensive coordinator and I think the wheels are in motion for that. With Mettenberger coming in and having the opportunity to possibly start for three years, at worst two, a change of system may be in order. Mett is a classic pro-style QB, but the prevalence of spread offenses means we will likely stick to that. I'm okay with it, as long as we hire a guy who knows how to implement a strong spread passing attack. There are a few guys available that would definitely be on my call list. Mike Leach's name will get thrown around, and he's worth the call, but I'm not sure how realistic that is. If nothing else, talk to him about people he respects and admires from an X's and O's standpoint. Guys like Dana Holgorsen are obviously sexy picks, but probably unrealistic. So here's a few guys that could be had and I think would be good:
1) Steve Logan
Great track record with QBs. Likes spread passing offenses. Has worked with Miles (both assistants at Colorado). This is my personal top choice.
2) Al Borges
Not a sexy pick, but a good teacher and fundamentals guy. If Borges was hired, I suspect it would be a lot like the John Chavis hire. Fans would range from a small group that are excited, the large group that are lukewarm and then the contingent that bash everything needlessly. But I think Borges and Miles share the same fundamentals on football and we would see significant improvement offensively.
Those are two names that I think should get a serious look. Here's a couple other interesting ones to keep an eye on: Mike DeBord. He worked with Miles at Michigan in the early 90s, won a NC as a OC at Michigan in 1997. They brought him back in the mid 2000's and he lead some successful offenses with a young Chad Henne from 2004-2007. He's a TE coach for the Bears right now, and maybe he wants to stay in the NFL... but it's a guy to keep an eye on. Another name to throw in the hat is Cam Cameron, who isn't exactly fawned over in Baltimore. There were some rumblings of his release earlier this year. If that happens, he and Miles are close and while Cam has been a pure NFL guy since the mid 90s, he might opt to work with a friend as an OC rather than move back to positional coaching in the league (I put this in the highly unlikely category though).
The other guy to evaluate is Studrawa. He's an average recruiter and while the line improved this year, I still wouldn't say they've exhibited anything resembling dominance at any point in his tenure. Hell, if DeBord were hired, he could do both and it could free you up to bring Wilkerson on board as Co-OL coach. Also, there's some rumblings that Ensminger may move into an administrative role. If that happens, could see a guy like Derek Lewis (who I believe will be job hunting) come in and coach TEs and be a recruiting dynamo.
PodKatt: I feel like we've said this before, but it is the same priorities as last year: better QB play and a new OC. I want Jefferswag to succeed, I really do, but he's just so inconsistent. Combined occasionally with bad play-calling, receivers with the drops, and mediocre line play, and his bad days get magnified.
To Paul's point, I'm not sure Mettenberger would pass Jefferson (or even Lee) but we do need something as a future at QB. TC is being groomed into a coach, and Bailey is just living out the walk-on's dream. Rivers is by all accounts a project, so we need something that's ready to go. Mettenberger is the answer. (Geez, are we really going to have 6 active QB's on the roster? Somebody better be comfortable with running the practice squad)
As for OC, I think the replacement hire is already on staff. We didn't hire Billy Gonzales to be a "Passing Game Coordinator" (what passing game?) We know now that he didn't exactly leave UF on good terms, but I still believe we got him to come here as an OC, only we couldn't get rid of Crowton last year. Hopefully Miles can find Gary another job and Billy G gets that OC spot he's always wanted.
Poseur: We fire Gary Crowton. We should have fired him last year, and the mistake has haunted us all season. When you are the OC of an offense that ranks in the bottom quartile, you get fired. If you do it two straight years, you usually have to move out under cover darkness. There is simply no earthly reason to keep Crowton on the staff. This isn't personal, I'm sure he's a nice guy. But this level of performance, particularly given the talent available, is simply unacceptable. It would be unacceptable at Vanderbilt, much less LSU. I cannot say this strenuously enough:
GARY CROWTON MUST BE FIRED.
I'm actually onboard with firing most of the offensive staff, but Crowton for sure. Then we need to bring in a guy who knows how to teach quarterbacks. We can bring in QB's until the cows come home, but we need someone to teach them. Our QB's are simply not developing, and they need a coach who specializes in QB development. The light seems like it has come on for Jefferson, but it's not a brilliant flash, more of a dim burn. He needs to progress. It is on the coaches.
Other than that, the team is in good shape. We're going to say goodbye to some absolute studs (Zod, Nevis) and some incredible leaders (Sheppard). But this is a young, young team just bursting with talent. There are plenty of guys ready to step up. The future is incredibly bright. We just need someone to coach the players on offense.
Paul: I think that's something most LSU fans realize, and the source of most frustration. The next few years should be absolutely brilliant. We played something like 22 freshman in significant roles this season. We're re-stocking our lines, loading up our secondary and WRs, and now re-establishing the talent and depth at the QB position. The 2011 class will prove to be one of the most significant in the history of LSU and not just for talent level but because of unity and re-hammering the idea that LSU is the place to be for in-state athletes.
Here's how Miles has surpassed what Saban did recruiting wise (and Saban may have reached this point as well). Now, instead of being dependent upon the state of Louisiana to stock most of our class (yes, I acknowledge Saban did pull some OOS kids), we now get the pick of the litter in-state and go hunting OOS for top-tier athletes.
My whole point is that everyone realizes that if LSU gets an offense, the rest of the country better look out. Miles knows this as well, and good things are on the horizon.
Billy: Yeah, we're all in agreement that there has to be change on the offensive staff. I'm okay with keeping just about all of them except Crowton. There are a lot of theories around about why the offense has struggled, and the only thing that is abundantly clear is that the tipping point has been reached. If its not the play-calling, it's certainly the quarterback development. And in the end, there's just no identity to this offense.
I'm not opposed to promoting Gonzales, if that was part of the condition of hiring him last year. He's a bright young coach, and I liked a lot of what he's brought to the table in the past year. The Humanoids aren't happy with the receivers, but given the general suckiness factor of the entire passing game, I'm not willing to give Gonzales a full evaluation. A lot of people didn't think Brick Haley could coach a year ago when the defensive line sucked, either. A year and a talent-infusion later and that worm turned.
Mettenberger is clearly the future, even if he's not the starter in a year (and it would certainly be a mistake to name him such before he's set foot on a practice field - see Schaeffer, Brent) he has a clear path to the job in 2012 after Lee and Jefferson graduate. Personally, I'd rather go back to basics and bring in a coordinator with a background in fundamental, pro-style quarterback coaching. The offense can be basic and stodgy. If it's fundamentally sound and disciplined, talent will win out. We just saw that play out on defense with John Chavis. So my first choice would be Steve Logan. He's done great work with guys like Jeff Blake, David Garrard and Matt Ryan over the years, and his offenses have a reputation for being relatively plug-and-play, with solid concepts that can be easily taught and built upon. He's even worked with Miles before at the University of Colorado. The question is how much does he like coaching in the NFL?
On a final note, anybody have any bowl-game preferences?
Poseur: Yeah, the Sugar. Unfair? Surely. Possible? Not really. But it's still on the table. If you think about it, outside of the National Title game, bowls are just meaningless exhibitions designed to make the organizers as much money as possible. If you're the Sugar Bowl, you know that both Arkansas and LSU would sell out their ticket allotment, but which team gets you more national exposure? LSU's got a higher national profile. Also, the state of Louisiana has been keeping the Sugar Bowl afloat, and might look kindly on continuing to subsidize this enterprise if the Sugar Bowl shows some favorable treatment to the native team. If Auburn makes the title game, I think the Sugar Bowl would rather have LSU, they just haven't figured out the political cover for it yet (or ever). Also, it would be really funny to lose and still go to the Sugar Bowl.
More realistically, I want the Cotton. We should play A&M every year. They want to play us. We want to play them. Dallas likely wants us as well, as LSU has a huge Texas presence. This is, by far, my most preferred game.
PodKatt: At this point it seems almost certain that we are Cotton bowl bound. It doesn't matter to me much where we end up, just as long as it isn't the dump that is the Citrus Bowl. The high payout is the only thing that gives that game a high status.
Paul: I'm fairly certain we will be Cotton Bowl bound and renewing the old school rivalry with Texas A&M. To be honest, it's a matchup that scares me a bit. A&M has a high-powered offense with a dual-threat QB (exactly the types that burned us this year). As with most bowl matchups, we will have a sizable talent advantage. I'm just glad there's no Citrus bullshit for us this year. Everyone hates that stinker, and it's basically the bowl where SEC teams go to die.
Now if we could only have a new OC in place by then...
Billy: Looking more and more like the Cotton, which will be a little weird given LSU will be headed back there in August. What's funny to me is all the anti-Capital One Bowl rhetoric. Yeah, it's no fun to go to the same place two years in a row, but it's still sort of the official SEC #2 bowl slot. Besides, a Big 10 team like Michigan State is probably a better match-up for LSU than Texas A&M.
I do suppose that new after-New-Years' date makes the Cotton a little more attractive as well.