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Les Miles and LSU's "Decline"

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Yeah, LSU ain't declining.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The decline is upon us. Just look at the numbers. 3 seasons worth of data.

28-11 overall
14-10 in the SEC
3-9 as an underdog
35.33 average ranking in offensive S&P+
91.66 average ranking in passing offense

This is what mediocrity looks like. LSU is heading for even worse seasons in the near future, if the predictive trends are any indication. That a vocal contingent of the fanbase stormed to Miles' support really means nothing when it comes to results on the football field. Yes, Les Miles will be the head coach of the football team next season, but more poor results are surely on the way.

In fact, if Les insists on running his tired old 1940's football plays, the recruiting well will dry up as players jump to play in more exciting brand of offenses at schools like Auburn, Texas A&M and Oregon. Recruits like Feleipe Franks are already bailing on what is obviously a sinking ship.

Some people are circling next season as the year LSU makes a run at the gold, but with QBs Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee returning, I don't really see it in the cards for this LSU team.

Wait, I seem to have misplaced my notes here.

Just a second.

It appears all of these stats are actually from 2008-2010 seasons. The three that preceded what wound up being the best team not just in Les Miles' tenure, but in LSU history, national title game be damned.

Look the comparison isn't direct here. 2008-2010, LSU did go 8-5, 9-4 and 11-2. There was an upward trajectory of success, while the latest three year span 10-3, 8-5 and now 8-3 (pending a bowl with a canceled game that would have been another W). But the similarities are too damned many to ignore. If LSU wins their bowl game, this should have been yet another 10-win campaign for Miles. This team is clearly better than the 2014 offering, even if there are still issues. People can throw out buzzwords like "decline" and "regression" all day long, however lacking they may be in facts.

The party line of people has been to cite this article from Jeff Duncan and Ron Higgins. Specifically, they cite this piece of data:

Since and including the 2011 BCS championship game, Miles is 0-for-10 in games as an underdog. Yet, in that span, his teams have managed to lose six games in which they were favored. This year it was Arkansas.

Wow, that's a pretty searing indictment of Miles' coaching. Except that it's both factually incorrect and intellectually dishonest. This took three minutes of googling to figure out.

Firstly, since 2011, LSU is 3-9 as an underdog. Duncan's quoted numbers are plainly incorrect and you can read it right here. So, he's lying to stoke the flames of some bullshit opinion piece. Normally, I can gloss over this type of shoddy work, except when a large segment of our fanbase is latching on to this false data to support their ungrounded opinions, it becomes a problem.

Secondly, Duncan is correct that LSU has lost 6 games as a favorite since 2011. At least we crossed that hurdle. The problem? Well, Duncan fails to put this data into any meaningful context. He drops it out of they sky, like an atom bomb indictment of poor coaching. Let's couch the data for him, shall we? Miles ranks 10th nationally in winning % as a favorite. 10th. Since 2011, Florida State has lost 5 games as a favorite. Alabama has lost 7. Ohio State has lost 7. Oregon has lost 9. There are only five P5 schools that rank ahead of LSU in winning % as a favorite: Clemson, Florida State, Mississippi State, Alabama, Kansas State.

Let's address the obvious point here: LSU is a favorite in almost every game they play. Naturally, when they lose, it will almost always come to an underdog. The same is true for FSU and Alabama. Not only does Les win as a favorite 88.5% of the time, he does it more than almost anyone in college football.

Has LSU been in "decline" since the loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS National Championship game? How do you define decline? If your definition of decline is "we are worse than we were in 2011" then every single season of LSU football in history would be defined as a "decline" next to that season. If you're citing a downward sloping trend, well, the actual mathematics ruins that for you. Three losses to five losses to back up to either three or four losses aren't exactly smooth data points. Oh, but Les simply isn't the man to fix the issues with the program? When you said that in 2010, did you believe it just as earnestly? If you're continuing to hitch your ride on fantasy scenarios to sell your viewpoint, there's probably no helping you, at this point.

Still, there are various and reasonable issues to address. There's really no need to go about inventing new ones just to toss gasoline on your flaming hot #taek. LSU needs new coordinators at all three levels: offense, defense, special teams. QB recruiting and development is still the most glaring weakness in Miles' tenure. His coordinator hires have been heavily disappointing, largely.

Speaking of, you know, the most common similarity between the 2008-2010 LSU teams and the 2013-2015 ones? Being forced into playing young QBs too early. In both 2014 and again in 2015, LSU threw two true sophomores to the wolves with National Title hopes. Predictably, both were chewed alive. No, LSU isn't in decline. They are just maturing before a national audience.

Imagine if the whole world got to watch you go through puberty and had an #opinion on all the things you did wrong. That's LSU football in 2015: still growing arm pit hair, but expected to proceed as an adult.