Dooley: LSU the "X factor"

LSU coach Les Miles moves from interview to interview during Day 3 of SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., on Thursday.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 3:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.

HOOVER, Ala. — Zach Mettenberger was in a good mood. He joked with the media surrounding his table, the same table he sat at a year ago when he was getting ready to get his feet wet.

“I'm more comfortable now,” he said. “Can't you tell?”

At an elite college football program, the pressure is never truly off. But there certainly is a lot less on this LSU team heading into this year.

In most cases, if a team lost 11 juniors to the NFL, we'd dismiss them as rebuilding. But this is LSU, where they seem to plug in players the way you plug in your iPad.

“I like us,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I like us in every game.”

You wouldn't feel comfortable betting against The Hat in any big game, but it's hard to believe LSU is going to replace so much talent and have a shot to be in Atlanta this year.

It's not just the defensive losses. Do you really trust Mettenberger? Does Miles trust him enough to cut him loose? Is the defense ready to handle a brutal schedule?

Just what will LSU be this year?

Right now, I know what the Tigers are.

The “X factor” in college football.

It's not that the Tigers will fall off the edge of the earth in the preseason rankings. On Thursday, one of the 243 voters in the media even picked LSU to win the national title.

But the media also voted LSU third in the SEC West behind Alabama and Texas A&M. When the legitimate polls come out (Associated Press and Coaches), the Tigers will likely be somewhere in the top 10.

“Excitement is not derived from where you're ranked,” Miles said. “It's derived from the youth of your team and what you need to coach.”

And you get the feeling Miles is eager to get started with this camp because he's replacing so many defensive starters.

“I love watching my kids,” he said of his summer, “but there's an itch that happens.”

To scratch that itch, Miles has a lot of work to do. He lost seven starters on defense and had no players voted to the All-SEC first team on offense Thursday. That sounds like the recipe for a disaster.

But Miles has also shown the ability to get the most from his players. He also brought in NFL veteran Cam Cameron to be his offensive coordinator.

And he's still the quirkiest coach in the conference, something that makes him endearing both to the media and his players.

Miles on social media Thursday: “We've got computers now. You carry them in your pocket. You hit a button, and you talk to people … We're trying to educate, not necessarily make it a yes-or-no thing. Can you imagine when they first had cars saying, ‘I don't want my player to drive cars! I like my old buggy.' I'll bet 20 years ago, nobody did the Harlem Shake.”

There are teams that don't handle the spotlight well, others that thrive in it. There are teams that are at their best when they fly under the radar, others that play down to expectations.

You just get the feeling that you had better not count LSU out as a national title contender, no matter how much sense it makes to do so.

“Everybody enjoys being the underdog,” said LSU receiver Jarvis Landry. “It just gives you extra incentive to practice harder.”

But it's not just the personnel. The schedule is ridiculous, and Miles has made sure everyone knows it. LSU plays Florida and Georgia in the East and has to open with TCU.

Thank you very little.

“It's our culture to say bring it on,” Miles said. “It's what we do.”

I don't know if LSU can have a special season that ends up with a national title berth. I don't know if it can represent the West in the SEC Championship Game. I don't know if it can win at Georgia or at Alabama or at home against Florida or Texas A&M.

I just know the “X factor” of this college football season is going to have a big impact on this season.

It's what they do.

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