Before the 2010 season, popular wisdom was that The Decline had begun at LSU. The Tigers had failed to win 10 games in either of the past two seasons, and both Arkansas and Auburn had seen their win totals increase for the past two seasons. Of course, those win totals had never exceeded LSU's, but still. Miles was doomed and the LSU Golden Age was at its end.
Reflecting this opinion, the assembled media at SEC Media Days voted LSU to finish fourth in the West prior to the 2010 season. LSU had never finished fourth in the West under Les Miles, and this was a clear statement from the SEC media: the good times at LSU were at an end. The Decline was here.
That's when one lonely blogger predicted LSU would win 10 games in 2010, for the simple reason that LSU was loaded with talent and had a track record of success. He then gave the piece a tongue in cheek title: Delusional Optimism.
LSU won those ten games and finished second in the West, behind the eventual national champion Auburn Tigers. In 2011, the SEC media picked LSU to finish second in the West. LSU won the SEC title. In 2013, the SEC media picked LSU to finish third, and LSU finished secondin the West.
Okay, the media did pick LSU to win the West in 2012, but that was before Mathieu's suspension which caused the AP poll to re-vote and drop LSU from the top spot. LSU still finished second in the West, the only time Miles has failed to live up to the general media's expectations.
Since Delusional Optimism began, LSU has routinely outperformed the media's expectations. We haven't just been dreaming of some pie in the sky success, we've been right. The gloom and doom crowd hasn't just been wrong, they've been wrong and had a lot less fun. Hope and faith are difficult things, because it's scary that your faith won't be rewarded and your hope goes unfulfilled. How many times does Miles have to reward your faith before you finally believe?
A google search for "LSU football decline" yields over 6.4 million results. To put that in perspective, let's try that with some other programs:
We've been waiting for The Decline so long, Auburn has risen, fallen to ash, and risen again in the same period. If people keep predicting The Decline, eventually it will be true.*
*Like it was for USC. USC has 11,900,000 results, showing us that pretty much everyone hates the Trojans and has delighted on dancing on their grave.
But not today. Not this year.
This is the most glorious time of year. A time of hope, a time of belief, a time of anticipation of all of the future memories that are about to be created. The future's legends are built today. Blink, and you might miss it.
If these last few seasons has taught us anything, it is that you need to cherish the present. Before you know it, those players you are cheering for will be gone, and they will be just characters in the stories we tell. Tyrann Mathieu's star burned brightly and brilliantly. And in a year, it was gone. Did you miss it while worrying about the unknown future? The Mettensavior was the Future just two years ago, and now he's relegated to the Past. Time stops for no one.
We are not building for the future. We have built for the Now.
LSU has not finished fourth or lower in the SEC West standings once in this century. A Les Miles-coached LSU team has finished first or second in the SEC West seven of nine years. He has won ten games seven of nine years as well. This is like clockwork.*
*Edited, because I am a moron
So excuse me if I don't take any talk of The Decline seriously. This is not a rebuilding year, as the program has already been built. This is it. This is what the mountaintop looks like. I gotta say, the view is pretty great.
The expectations do not change: this team is going to win ten games and it will compete for the SEC title. And as always, we're going to have more fun than anyone else doing it. We don't set the bar lower and then call that success. We're not Ole Miss. We embrace high expectations. The bar doesn't say "Try!" It says "Win!"
Look, I've already spilled a ton of words on why LSU is going to be really good this year. You either believe me or you don't, at this point. Simply rehashing the points isn't going to make a lick of difference. However, I will make two arguments again, just because these cannot be repeated enough.
We've Found Our Identity Again
In the past two seasons, LSU has been a bit at war with itself. There's been a concerted effort by the program to remake its identity. Under Miles, LSU has been a power, ball-control offense with a terrific defense and special teams. LSU fancies itself both DBU and Defensive Line U. Hey, why not? The defense has been so good, we claim two positions.
However, in the past two seasons, particularly last year, we have relied on the offense to carry the team to wins. LSU won national titles with Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn as the QB, and made another BCSCG with the Two-Headed Dumpster Fire under center. All of a sudden, we were trying to win shootouts based on the big arm of Mettenberger throwing to two NFL wide receivers. It just didn't feel right, even to the coaching staff, who still called a more run-heavy offense than the national average.
The defense was good but not great, and LSU needed to outscore teams to win, instead of just bludgeoning them into submission. Part of that was the extended hangover of 2011. The more we tried to move on from the title game, the more it dominated everyone's thoughts. By trying to not repeat it, we kept reliving it.
Well, we're back to doing what we do best: running it down your throat and relying on the defense to make stops. The high roster turnover has one major positive: there's only three three-year lettermen on the roster. The BCSCG really is in the past. LSU goes back to being the team it has always been under Miles which, frankly, make me feel more comfortable. I know this team. I know this style of play. And I like it.
It's Simply More Fun to Believe
Football is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. You have 353 days out of the year to be realistic and play it safe. For those other twelve, those precious days with an LSU football game, it is just more fun to let yourself be overtaken by passion.
The meek may inherit the earth, but they will never win a national title. Timidly refusing to make a leap of faith in your team isn't a virtue, it's robbing yourself of the full experience of this wonderful and crazy thing we call college football. Realists don't make history, only those willing to take risks do. And faith is a risk. This team could break your heart. This could be the year that the media is right and the Decline begins. Believing in winning makes the losses hurt all the more.
Which is why we do this. It's worth all of the heartbreak and near misses, just to have a year like 2007. Or 2005 or 2011... or 2014.
Hey, I understand the desire to safeguard your emotions. Don't get your hopes up to high or else you'll feel like you did after the 2012 BCSCG. However, if you miss out on the lows, you're just robbing yourself of the highs. It is suffering through the losses, which let's face it have been pretty damn rare around these parts, that makes the wins so valuable. If you can't get your hopes up for a team that has so consistently rewarded your faith... you're missing the full value of the fan experience. If you aren't a Delusional Optimist...