SEC: Les Miles

Video: Les Miles on Tigers' youth

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
1:45
PM ET
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LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles talks about the loss of talent to the NFL draft, how he will replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his expectations for running back Leonard Fournette.
HOOVER, Ala. -- It's like SEC media days just started.

Well, not really. Four days of a nonstop influx of SEC information could knock Todd Gurley off his feet. It was a fun week, but now it's over, and it's time to shift our attention to fall practice. It's just a couple of weeks away!

As we inch closer to the regular season, let's take one last look at the week that was with five takeaways from what went down in Hoover:

1. Alabama has something to prove: Buried in some Texas-sized talk you'll find something else that gets under Nick Saban's skin: The way his team finished last season. After being picked by just about everyone to win the BCS title, the Alabama Crimson Tide lost its last two games of the season, including getting run out of New Orleans in a Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. So while Alabama was picked to win the West, this team is still hurting after how last season ended. "We have to reestablish our identity as a team at Alabama," Saban said. "It's going to take every player to have a tremendous amount of buy-in for us to be able to do that." The team has to do that for an entire season. It has to listen, and it sounds like that's happening so far. A Saban-coached team filled with five-star talents is hungry and upset? That bodes well for the rest of the league ...

2. Will Muschamp doesn't feel the heat: Months after coaching one of the worst seasons in Florida Gators history, Muschamp is ignoring the toxicity surrounding his program. When you go 4-8 at a school like Florida, your seat will be engulfed in flames, but Muschamp is keeping his cool and focusing on his team during a critical season for the program. "I think you combat the hot-seat talk with having a good team and winning games," Muschamp said. "Control the controllable is always what I've said. ... That's coaching our football team, developing our football team. There was never any time in my mind that I didn't think I would be retained." Muschamp, whose team is breaking in a new spread offense and getting healthier, added that he expects his team to have "an outstanding year."

3. Vandy and Kentucky don't lack confidence: The Vanderbilt Commodores are breaking in a new coach and the Kentucky Wildcats are looking to build for the long term in Year 2 with Mark Stoops. Both teams have a ton of questions entering the year, but representatives from both programs oozed confidence and even some bravado. "Our team is a team of probably no-name young men who have a chance to do something great," first-year Vandy coach Derek Mason said. "It's talented across the board. I think our opportunity to compete for an SEC East title is now." James Franklin who?

For Stoops, he isn't dwelling on the past because he's pretty amped about the present, and possibly the future. "I'm excited about this team," Stoops said. "This team has worked extremely hard. They've done everything we've asked them to do. ... Our players have put in the time. Our training staff has done a great job getting them prepared. We're physically better. Hopefully that will translate to more wins." Stoops isn't ready to say he has a bowl team, but he promises it doesn't lack any heart or fight.

4. Richt and Spurrier like their teams: While Saban scolded the media about its decision to pick his team to win the SEC, Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt wasn't thrilled about being ranked second in the SEC East. "Obviously, what's important is what happens at the end of the year. Earlier I got asked that question. I said, 'I'm not happy to be named No. 2. I'm not going to start cheering that 'We're No. 2.' I think in the end it's going to be Georgia."

And he wasn't kidding. He really likes returning an offense that averaged nearly 500 yards and 36.7 points per game that could only get better with some healthier components returning, and he thinks his defense will play smarter. The addition of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has Richt excited. And when Steve Spurrier comes out and praises his team within the first minute of his introductory news conference, that means he likes the guys he's coaching. South Carolina's offense is loaded, but the defense has questions in the secondary. Spurrier doesn't seem too concerned, though.

5. The future is now in Baton Rouge: One of the most talked-about players of the week wasn't even in the building. Heck, he hasn't even played a snap of college ball. But LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was compared to Michael Jordan and was said to have the talent to be the best player to ever play at LSU. Those are quite the compliments to pay a freshman, but Tigers coach Les Miles and Fournette's teammates believe he can live up to the hype. "He has been compared to Adrian Peterson," LSU running back Terrence Magee said. "To be honest, I think it's the only guy that's playing the running back position right now that you can compare [Fournette] to." He wasn't the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class for nothing, and Fournette should make an immediate impact in an offense looking for a bellcow back to replace Jeremy Hill.
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HOOVER, Ala. -- When you place a microphone in front of Les Miles, it's magical. You never know what the LSU head coach might say or which sound bite might go viral. The possibilities are seemingly endless for "The Mad Hatter."

Miles didn't disappoint when he stepped on the dais in Ballroom C of the Hyatt Regency Birmingham. His opening statement was more than 10 minutes long and more than 1,400 words. Here are the best quotes Miles provided.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
AP Photo/Butch DillLSU coach Les Miles is always good for a quote.
It's the gift that keeps on giving:

On the SEC Network: "I told commissioner [Mike] Slive in the last five minutes congratulations on Cox Cable picking up the SEC Network and the fact that there will be a bunch of people in Baton Rouge excited to watch the Tigers. I won't have to change my cable provider."

On his family vacation: "The Miles family, [daughter and Texas student] Smacker Miles, I took a vacation. I went to Austin, took my three children with me, so we had six, two parents and four children on that campus. It was miserable. I hated it. But it was great fun. I mean, it was not a beach, it was not sand, but it was my family, and that was the best. Manny is my eldest son. He's pitching and playing football. FIFA was on TV. He decided to pick up a soccer ball, called up a couple buddies, he was in a soccer game for four hours. Think about that, right? My [youngest daughter] Macy Miles is pitching in fast-pitch softball in Orlando, Florida, at the World Series. Certainly there's a lot of media there, as well. She's in a 10-and-under league. She has a 4-0 win as a pitcher, no hit. A very quality smasher's club that she faced this morning."

On why he disliked Austin: "Oh, no, no, no. It was just not vacation. I loved it. My daughter's doing wonderfully there. I enjoy the experience she's having, OK? But it was not a beach. There was no hotel that I walked out and jumped into the surf. But the great news is, as a family, we did some things we never would have done. I'm glad you asked this question [laughter]. Example: We rented bikes. It just happened to rain like hell. There was a bunch of hills down there. I want you to know something. As a father, I'm watching my kids going down this hill. I promise you, some of the experiences I had there, I'll not have again [laughter]."

On LSU's outlook this year: "I like us. I like us in every game."

On losing players early to the NFL draft: "Yeah, we'd like to have those guys back. I keep approaching the NFL on an opportunity for us to draft back some of our players that they take. Patrick Peterson, he'd have come back [smiling]."

On true freshman tailback Leonard Fournette: "I think it's exactly where he needs to be. He expects himself to be something very special. I think if you look at Michael Jordan, he could not have been coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan accepted the role of expecting him to be better than any." (You can read more on the high praise for Fournette here.)

On the College Football Playoff: "I think it's a quality attempt. I think the playoffs will eventually at some point in time expand. I think that the playoff will be equally kind to the SEC. The reason I say that is because there's just such quality competition here. The teams week in and week out are so prepared, so capable and talented. For them not to include one and possibly more in that playoff would be, I don't know, maybe shortsighted."

On recruiting the state of Texas as an SEC coach: "I think our conference is a conference of choice. I think there's an opportunity for the very best players to want to play in this conference. I'm also a coach that coached in the Big 12 Conference and recognized the great advantages of Texas, recognized the great advantages of the OUs in that conference. But you look at a high school athlete, you want to play against the very best; we can make that argument at the SEC."
Auburn is the favorite to win every game this season except the Iron Bowl, but the Tigers have only the fourth-best odds of winning the SEC title for a second straight season. This according to the preseason projections that ESPN’s Stats and Information team released on Tuesday.

Using its preseason Football Power Index as a guide, the Stats and Information group’s projections covered a wide range of categories including likelihood of going undefeated, odds of winning conference and division titles, likelihood of winning individual games and projected win totals.

The data showed Florida State as a heavy favorite to repeat as the national champion, with the Seminoles having a 40 percent chance of going undefeated and at least an 87 percent chance of winning each of its games. The next-closest team, Oregon, has a 13 percent chance of going undefeated.

At the other end of the spectrum, Kansas (projection of 3.3 wins), Purdue (3.6), Wake Forest (3.6) and California (3.8) are the teams from the Big Five conferences that are projected to win the fewest games.

The projections covered every FBS program, but we’re here to discuss the SEC, where -- surprise, surprise -- Alabama is the favorite to hoist the conference championship trophy in Atlanta. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has a 23 percent chance to win the conference title according to ESPN’s projections, leading South Carolina (17 percent), Georgia (17) and Auburn (16), which was certainly a much bigger underdog at this point a season ago.

Obviously Gus Malzahn's 2013 club proved that things can change a great deal between July and December -- and the Stats and Information group’s projections will be updated throughout the season -- but here’s where each SEC team sits for now, a little less than a month away from the start of preseason practice.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide is projected to win 9.9 games and has a 4 percent chance of going undefeated. In addition to its 22.6 percent chance of winning the SEC, Alabama has a 38 percent chance of winning the SEC West. Alabama is the favorite in every game and has at least a 64.5 percent chance of winning all but the LSU (57.5) and Auburn (57.8) games.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks play the SEC’s toughest schedule (No. 4 in the nation) and are projected to win 4.9 games. They have a 0 percent chance to win the conference title and a 0.01 percent chance of winning the West. In individual games, however, Arkansas is favored to win only against UAB (96.8 percent chance of a win), Nicholls State (96.7) and Northern Illinois (71.7).

Auburn: The only other team in the nation’s top 10 in strength of schedule (the Tigers are 10th), Auburn is projected to win 9.2 games. They have a 1 percent chance of going undefeated, a 16.3 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 26.7 percent chance of winning the West. The Tigers have at least a 60 percent chance to win every game except Alabama (42.2) and Georgia (54.4).

Florida: Projected to win 7.6 games, Florida has a 6.2 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 16.3 percent chance of winning the SEC East. The Gators are favored in seven games and underdogs against LSU (49.9), South Carolina (45.6), Georgia (35.7), Alabama (20.7) and Florida State (8.9).

Georgia: Oddly enough, while South Carolina has a slightly better chance of winning the SEC according to ESPN’s projections, Georgia has a small edge over the Gamecocks with a projection of 9.1 wins. The Bulldogs have a 17.1 percent chance of winning the conference and a 37.5 percent chance of winning the East. They have at least at 63.4 percent chance of beating every opponent except South Carolina (41.1) and Auburn (45.6).

Kentucky: ESPN’s projections have Kentucky making a step forward in Year 2 under Mark Stoops, winning 5.5 games this fall. The Wildcats have a 0.03 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.09 percent chance of winning the East. They are favored to beat Tennessee-Martin, Ohio, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Monroe, but there next-best chance of winning is 37.9 percent against Tennessee.

LSU: Les Miles’ Tigers are projected to win 8.0 games, with a 4.6 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 9.5 percent chance of winning the West. However, the Tigers are favored in nine games -- all but Auburn (26.8), Texas A&M (38.0) and Alabama (42.5).

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are projected to win 8.5 games, with a 4.7 percent chance of winning the conference and 9.7 percent chance of winning the West. Mississippi State is favored in eight games -- all but Ole Miss (47.0), Auburn (40.0), LSU (39.7) and Alabama (25.5).

Missouri: Projected to win 7.0 games, Missouri has a 2.3 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 7.1 percent chance of representing the East in Atlanta for a second straight season. The Tigers are favored in eight games and underdogs against Georgia (36.6), Florida (32.3), Texas A&M (22.2) and South Carolina (21.9).

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze’s club is projected to win 7.7 games and has a 2.9 percent chance of winning the conference and a 6.5 percent chance of winning the West. The Rebels are favored in eight games and are underdogs against Alabama (35.5), Auburn (35.0), LSU (34.7) and Texas A&M (31.2).

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are projected to win 8.9 games, have a 17.9 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 37.2 percent chance of winning the East. South Carolina is favored in all games except Clemson (47.5) and Auburn (30.4).

Tennessee: Projected to win 5.4 games, Butch Jones’ Volunteers have a 0.02 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.1 percent chance of winning the East. The Vols are favored to win five games: Utah State, Arkansas State, Chattanooga, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Texas A&M: The Aggies are projected to win 8.3 games and have a 4.8 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 9.5 percent chance of winning the West. Texas A&M is favored in eight games and is an underdog against Mississippi State (47.6), South Carolina (41.4), Alabama (30.5) and Auburn (30.1).

Vanderbilt: The James Franklin-less Commodores are projected to drop to 4.9 wins under first-year coach Derek Mason. They have a 0 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.02 percent chance of winning the East. Vandy is favored against UMass, Charleston Southern, Temple and Old Dominion.

If you’re just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

So far we’ve been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint footprint in locals such as Houston and Norman, Oklahoma.

We’ve knocked out 10 weeks of trips in all, which means we’ve got only four more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.

So without further pause, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 10:

Nov. 8
Alabama at LSU
Texas A&M at Auburn
Florida at Vanderbilt
Georgia at Kentucky
Presbyterian at Ole Miss
UT Martin at Mississippi State

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Alabama at LSU

This game sells itself. The fact that it’s in Death Valley this year only makes it more appealing.

When you think of the SEC, you think of physical, smash-mouth football. And Alabama-LSU is routinely an exhibition of those principles. It’s the one game where offenses truly take a back seat to the defense. It’s the one game where big uglies such as Booger McFarland, Terrence Cody and Glenn Dorsey can steal the show. Sure, the quarterbacks have been good at times, but this is a game for defensive backs such as Mark Barron, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid.

Alabama-LSU has become arguably the most competitive rivalry in all of college football, with only one game decided by double digits since 2007. It’s determined perfect seasons, SEC West championships, and even a national title. It’s showcased countless future NFL draft picks and two of the most successful coaches in the game.

Les Miles versus Nick Saban. That alone is worth the price of admission.

This year’s game has the chance to be another instant classic. The combined talent these two programs have on the defensive line is jaw-dropping. At the same time, the number of gifted running backs on the field will be something to see. And with two first-year starting quarterbacks projected under center, it should be fun to see a heavy dose of the running game for a show of strength versus strength.

Sam Khan's pick: Texas A&M at Auburn

Let's be honest -- the only right answer here is Alabama vs. LSU. Given how often the two are in SEC title (and national title) contention, the amount of talent the two teams have on their rosters, and the personality of the two head coaches, that's the game everyone has their eyes on.

But in the interest of making this diverse and offering a quality alternative option, I offer up the Aggies and the Tigers.

Remember, last season's battle between these two teams was quite intriguing. Auburn ran the ball up and down the field and Texas A&M was proficient itself offensively, led by the always-entertaining Johnny Manziel.

Manziel got injured early in the fourth quarter, adding quite a bit of drama to the proceedings, but was able to re-enter in time to lead a potential game-winning drive. Auburn defense came up with a huge stop though -- capped by a Dee Ford sack -- to secure a 45-41 road win, one that proved crucial in the Tigers' ascent from worst-to-first in the SEC West, which eventually netted them the SEC title and a BCS title game appearance.

Ford and Manziel are among the key players that have moved on to greener pastures in the NFL, but there should still be plenty on the line when these two meet on Nov. 8.

Many feel Auburn is poised for another run at the division and conference titles, so should the Tigers live up to those expectations, every game at this late stage in the regular season will carry significant meaning with the coveted spots to the College Football Playoff up for grabs.

The Aggies, who have said goodbye to their three best offensive players via the NFL draft, won't carry the lofty expectations the Tigers will, but they should still be good enough offensively to make this a competitive and compelling game. If you like offense, this is the game for you, with two of the country's brightest offensive head coaching minds -- Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin. Talents such as Auburn's Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates, Texas A&M's Ricky Seals-Jones and a handful of quality running backs between the two teams could equate another high-scoring affair.

And for any players who were on the Auburn roster back in 2012, there could be yet another score to settle. The Aggies came in and embarrassed Auburn 63-21 in their last trip to The Plains on Oct. 27, 2012, in the midst of a forgettable 3-9 season. So if defending home turf and everything else mentioned above isn't motivation enough for Auburn, that's an added bit of incentive for any young Tigers who were part of or witnessed that showing.
Editor's note: We're taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown
2013 overall record: 10-3
2013 SEC record: 5-3, third in the Western Division
Record all time against Alabama: 25-48-5
Last meeting: Lost 38-17 in 2013

Starters returning
Offense: 5; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
RB Terrence McGee, OT La'el Collins, WR Travin Dural, S Ronald Martin, OL Vadal Alexander, S Jalen Mills, DL Jamauria Rasco

Key losses
QB Zach Mettenberger, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham Jr., OL Trai Turner, S Craig Loston, RB Jeremy Hill, LB Lamin Barrow, DL Anthony Johnson, FB J.C. Copeland, DL Ego Ferguson

2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jeremy Hill (1,401 yards)
Passing: Zach Mettenberger (3,082 yards, 22 TD, 8 INT)
Receiving: Jarvis Landry (1,193 yards)
Tackles: Lamin Barrow (91)
Sacks: Jamauria Rasco* (4)
Interceptions: Jalen Mills*, Craig Loston (3)

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAnthony Jennings is expected to compete for LSU's starting quarterback job.
What they're saying:
“We're going to let competition play out. We think we'll have a guy — or two — who can compete at a very high level. I think we'll be fine. Anthony Jennings will continue to improve, and Brandon Harris is coming in, and in a position to compete for the job,” said LSU coach Les Miles.

Three things to watch:

1. Another QB battle: The good news for LSU fans is that Les Miles has been through plenty of quarterback competitions before in his nine seasons in Baton Rouge. Another source of comfort is that Miles has a couple of options to choose from. Anthony Jennings, who got his feet wet as a freshman last year against Arkansas before starting against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, should have a good handle on the offense by now. If he falters, Brandon Harris, a true freshman who enrolled in January, could put himself in position to steal the starting job. Harris, the No. 2 ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country, according to ESPN, could bring an added dimension to the offense scrambling and picking up yards with his feet.

2. Early impact expectations: There's no grace period for LSU's 2014 signing class. With so many impact players gone from a season ago, expectations are that a bunch of true freshmen will play right away. The two most obvious rookies likely to get the nod are Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupree. Fournette, the unanimous No. 1 overall recruit in the country, is as talented a running back as we've seen coming out of high school since Adrian Peterson in 2004. If he can grasp the playbook, he could take significant reps from Day 1. The same could be said of Dupree, a five-star prospect and the No. 1 receiver in his class. With Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. both gone, it's a wide open race at the top of the depth chart, one the 6-foot-3, 187-pound rookie could win.

3. A return to form: Last season, LSU's defense ranked 15th in the country in yards per game. But don't let that seemingly solid finish fool you. That wasn't the kind of defense we've become accustomed to under coordinator John Chavis. The defensive line wasn't as dominant and harassing as we've come to expect, and the secondary lacked the playmakers of years past. Some of that was a result of inexperience, and some of that was the result of a league packed with talented, veteran quarterbacks. This year will be different. AJ McCarron & Co. are gone from under center, and LSU has some pieces at cornerback (Tre'Davious White, Rashard Robinson) that have coaches excited. If Jalen Mills can stay on the field, the secondary could be a real strength. Meanwhile, the defensive line looks to be in good shape with Jamauria Rasco anchoring a promising group of pass-rushers that includes Danielle Hunter and Tashawn Bower.
Les Miles never ceases to amaze, well, anyone.

His quirky antics and enthusiasm bring a smile to your face, while you can't help but be impressed by some of the ways he and his teams pull out victories. There is no exact science to Miles, but love him or hate him, he's entertaining.

Now, apparently, he's a baller in the miniature golf world.

We've seen plenty of celebrations by LSU's national championship-winning coach, but this one deserves a spot atop Miles' list.


And let's not act like that was an easy putt for the Mad Hatter. There were distractions all around Miles, from the Madonna song playing in the background to him being asked question after question before he can even try to sink what looks like a putt that's a little more than a yard from the hole. Somehow he concentrates on the hole while talking about how Tiger Woods is his favorite golfer and he even checks the direction of the wind.

I'm no world-class golfer, but I don't think you need to know wind direction when it comes to sinking a short putt-putt ... putt. But the whole thing is glorious, and so is Miles. It's hard to hear and understand everything Miles is saying during the video, but there's a reference to his grip and someone makes fun of how slow he's playing. He really does pull a Sergio Garcia with his stalling and practice shots.

But in the end, he sinks the putt and drops his immaculate putter to the sound of cheers, while raising his Popeye arms and modestly chanting, "I can't help it. I can't help it."

Miles really has never been able to help it, and for that, we love him. We also love all these other classic and glorious videos Miles and been a part of.

How about his emotional postgame rant about the importance of his seniors after LSU's thrilling 41-35 win over rival Ole Miss in 2012? He gushes over them, calls his own college career "a flop," curses, and tells people to hug his seniors and "give them a big kiss on the mouth, if you're a girl." In a word: Brilliant.


Remember when he wasn't happy about the "hammer and nail" analogy used after last year's win over Florida? Of course you do.

Miles also wants tough quarterbacks at his school.

Last spring, he helped start one of the best Harlem Shake videos of all time with some amazing dance moves. If you were trying to forget those things, I'm so sorry, but this is just too magnificent.



This spring, he kissed a pig ...


He also wants you to know that Columbus Day and St. Patty's Day are two different days.

But with Miles, it always comes back to his, uh, taste in grass ...


We salute you, Les Miles.
BATON ROUGE, La. – At his national signing day press conference, LSU coach Les Miles ran down a list of names on a sheet of paper, rattling off details about each of the Tigers’ signees. But when he got to the new defensive tackle from San Antonio, Miles grinned and had to pause.

“I better call him Trey L. this minute,” Miles chuckled while struggling to pronounce Trey Lealaimatafao's last name. “It will take me several years to get to that. And I want you to know something, he’s a wonderful man and I pray that he’ll be forgiving my inability.”

Miles predicted it would probably take “a couple years” before he clears that verbal obstacle, adding that his struggles will provide reporters with fodder “to throw at me just about any point in time that you need to.”

I can’t make any guarantees, but I’d imagine the kid will cut Miles some slack. Sure, questions and jokes about your name might get annoying from time to time, but you definitely get used to it. Continuing to get angry about it won’t do any good and would only mean you’d walk around in an irritable state most of the time.

Mr. L. seems to share that perspective. Just this week, he tweeted instructions on how to pronounce it for those who understandably need some assistance.



Simple, right?

[+] EnlargeTrey Lealaimatafao
Tom Hauck for Student SportsHis last name isn't the only big thing about Trey Lealaimatafao's (left) game.
Anyway, once he becomes a legit LSU letterman, Lealaimatafao will tie for the longest last name in Tigers football history. I know because I looked it up myself.

These are the things you do when you’re a bored college football writer during the summer months. You get a wild hair and comb through the list of lettermen in the media guide, checking to see if the new signee actually has the longest name among the six pages and hundreds of lettermen listed from more than 120 years of Tigers football.

In case you were wondering -- and I know you were -- Lealaimatafao’s 13-letter last name ties with 1939 letterman W.H. Froechtenicht for the top spot on this important list. They edge former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (12 letters), among others, by a single character.

Among some of the notable long names on the list: Ricky Jean-Francois (should hyphenated names count?) and All-SEC honorees Robbie Hucklebridge and Godfrey Zaunbrecher.

Ideally, Lealaimatafao will perform well enough at LSU that he eventually becomes a household name, not one that gives announcers nightmares.

At the very same introductory press conference, Miles compared him to a former Tiger who earned such “household name” distinction among LSU fans a few years back.

“What he would remind you of is Drake Nevis,” said Miles, referring to the Tigers’ former All-SEC defensive lineman. “He’s maybe a little taller, a little wider, maybe a little faster, but he has a very high motor and real acceleration on the field.”

For now, Lealaimatafao’s claim to fame will remain his difficult-to-pronounce last name, but that could change soon enough. If Miles’ comparison holds water, the transition might just occur sooner rather than later.

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Safety already ranked among the most unproven positions on LSU’s roster. Jalen Mills' arrest and indefinite suspension on Wednesday only adds to the uncertainty.

Mills was arrested early Wednesday and charged with second-degree battery in connection with an incident last month in which he allegedly punched a woman in the mouth at a Baton Rouge apartment complex. Certainly, Tigers coach Les Miles will allow the legal process to play out before determining Mills’ long-term punishment -- if punishment is necessary once all the facts are in -- but this summer just became enormously important for LSU’s crop of young safeties.

[+] EnlargeJalen Mills
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe suspension of junior safety Jalen Mills means a talented but unproven freshman DB class might have to make a significant impact for LSU this fall.
Jamal Adams -- ESPN’s No. 2 safety and No. 18 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class -- is the name most LSU fans have circled as the Tigers’ next great safety. Adams, fellow ESPN 300 prospect Devin Voorhies and three-star signee John Battle will attempt to learn the ropes at a position that has plenty of candidates, but little on-field production.

Even during spring practice, Miles was unwilling to name a starter at the position because of the talent who had yet to join the roster.

“I don’t think that decision will be made until the freshman class comes in. We’ll be in two-a-days and kind of decide who the best guys are,” Miles said in March.

Mills led LSU’s defensive backs with 67 tackles and three interceptions last season and has started all 26 games of his college career. The rising junior shifted to safety at the end of the 2013 season to address depth issues that arose when the Tigers suffered a spate of injuries at the position.

The good news for LSU is that those injured safeties -- senior Ronald Martin (38 tackles, one INT) and junior Corey Thompson (23 tackles) -- should be back when the Tigers open camp in August.

Martin started seven games last season and seemed to be in line to reclaim a starting job during spring practice. Thompson -- who started five of his last six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Texas A&M -- missed the spring while recovering from the injury.

Sophomore Rickey Jefferson (six tackles) will also figure into the competition after getting a crash course at the position late last fall.

Everyone expected Mills to provide some stability at safety after 2013 senior Craig Loston left the roster. Perhaps Mills will still do that, depending on what happens with his legal case. But since his future remains cloudy for now, veterans like Martin and Thompson have to take charge and be prepared to possibly take over starting jobs while the freshmen settle into their new surroundings.

“It’ll be interesting to see the young guys come in, make a name for themselves,” Thompson said during the spring. “It’ll be fine. We’ll all get together and work out, do some drills together and get into fall camp, teach the young guys how to do it and they’ll be good from there.”
Now the real fun begins.

Mid-October is a time when teams start to separate themselves. Heading into Week 7 last season, Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida were all in the top 20 of the AP poll. Then Georgia and Florida lost, starting a downward trend that neither could reverse. Meanwhile, Auburn improved to 5-1 and didn’t lose another game until the BCS National Championship.

What will happen on Oct. 11 of this year? Where should fans go to see the season-defining games?

If you’re just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting our top destinations for each week of the season. So far, we’ve been to Athens, Auburn, Starkville, Tuscaloosa, Houston, Nashville and Norman, Okla. We’ve got six weeks down and eight to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 7:

Oct. 11
Alabama at Arkansas
Auburn at Mississippi State
LSU at Florida
Georgia at Missouri
Louisiana-Monroe at Kentucky
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Chattanooga at Tennessee
Charleston Southern at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Ole Miss at Texas A&M

This week’s pick comes with purely selfish reasons. I missed out on experiencing the old Kyle Field, so I figure I need to visit the new one. Hopefully the press box will still sway along with the Aggie War Hymn. Whatever happens during the actual game is a bonus, pure and simple.

And what a bonus it should be. This game should be an offensive connoisseur’s dream. The officials can shut off the play clock. No defense required here.

Even with Johnny Manziel gone, I expect Texas A&M’s offense to be quite potent. People forget that Kevin Sumlin was a highly regarded offensive mind before Johnny Football. Nick Saban tried to hire him at LSU. Plus, Sumlin has plenty to work with this season, starting with the young wide receiver tandem of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil. With Josh Reynolds and Kyrion Parker also in the mix, the Aggies have quite the formidable group of pass catchers. Throw in a running back group that goes three deep with Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams, and whoever starts under center should be in a good position to move the chains.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, has the same potential on offense, with a seasoned quarterback to lean on. Bo Wallace is the most experienced passer in the SEC today, and with Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram to throw to, he is primed for a big senior season. An offensive line minus three starters from a season ago is cause for concern, but by Week 7, there should be some chemistry there.

Therefore, even though I like Ole Miss’ defense with the Nkemdiche brothers, Cody Prewitt and Serderius Bryant, I’m looking for an offensive shootout come Oct. 11. If I’m going to the Lone Star State, I expect no less.

Greg Ostendorf’s pick: LSU at Florida

Alex, you can have your shootout. I’d rather see a knock-down, drag-out fight in which the final score is 9-6. Call me old school. I love defense, and this year’s LSU-Florida game features two of the better defenses in the conference and a handful of potential first-round draft picks, including Dante Fowler Jr., Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Mills.

The two permanent cross-division rivals have not scored more than 23 points combined in their last two meetings, and this one should be no different.

The Gators will be battle-tested after back-to-back road games at Alabama and at Tennessee, but if they can get out of that with a split and start the season 4-1, you'd better believe that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be rocking. And why have it any other way in our first trip to the Swamp?

Can you imagine if Brandon Harris wins the job at LSU? That means the Tigers could have a true freshman quarterback and a true freshman running back, Leonard Fournette, starting in their backfield. Those two alone could be worth the price of admission, especially to see how they react to the raucous atmosphere. I guess that’s why you sign up to play in the SEC.

And if she’s not in Fayetteville, Ark., we might even see April Justin at the game. She’s the mother of Alabama star Landon Collins and Florida freshman Gerald Willis III, but deep down, she’s a die-hard LSU fan. Remember how happy she was when Willis picked the Gators on national TV? Exactly.

But let’s get back to the game. I expect both offenses to struggle. I expect there to be plenty of turnovers, and I expect it to come down to a last-minute field goal or a fake field goal, depending on how Les Miles is feeling that day. What more could you ask for?

SEC's lunch links

June, 3, 2014
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Suddenly my groom's cake designed like an indoor practice facility is looking a bit shabby.

Schedule analysis: LSU

May, 29, 2014
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Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)
Aug. 30: Wisconsin (9-4) in Houston
Sept. 6: Sam Houston State (9-5)
Sept. 13: Louisiana-Monroe (6-6)
Sept. 27: New Mexico State (2-10)

SEC home games
Sept. 20: Mississippi State (7-6)
Oct. 18: Kentucky (2-10)
Oct. 25: Ole Miss (8-5)
Nov. 8: Alabama (11-2)

SEC road games
Oct. 4: Auburn (12-2)
Oct. 11: Florida (4-8)
Nov. 15: Arkansas (3-9)
Nov. 27: Texas A&M (9-4)

Gut-check time: As with any season lately, LSU’s No. 1 gut check comes Nov. 8, when Alabama visits Tiger Stadium on senior day. These are two programs that simply don’t like one another, and former LSU coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has had the upper hand lately. Alabama has won three straight in the series, most notably the 2011 BCS championship game where the Tide humiliated the Tigers 21-0 after LSU had beaten Alabama in overtime during the regular season.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLes Miles' young team has an interesting opener against Big Ten power Wisconsin.
Trap game: Calling the opener against Wisconsin a “trap game” might seem a bit dismissive toward Wisconsin. Maybe it is. But LSU has been outstanding in season openers under Les Miles, posting a 9-0 record and beating teams such as Oregon, TCU, Arizona State, Washington and North Carolina. This is a dangerous game for the Tigers, though, because Wisconsin is a rock-solid program and LSU will be breaking in a bunch of new starters -- including either Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings at quarterback. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both teams attempt to grind out a victory on the ground in this one.

Snoozer: Take your pick. Either of the games between the opener against Wisconsin and LSU’s SEC opener against Mississippi State -- the visits from FCS Sam Houston State on Sept. 6 or Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 13 -- figure to be cakewalks for the Tigers. LSU has played Louisiana-Monroe twice and won by 49-7 in 2003 and 51-0 in 2010. The Tigers haven’t played Sam Houston State, but the Bearkats lost 65-28 last season to Texas A&M, a team that LSU later blasted by 24 points.

Telltale stretch: If all goes according to plan, LSU will be 5-0 when it enters the key stretch of its season -- back-to-back road trips to Auburn and Florida in early October. LSU handed Auburn its only loss of the regular season in 2013, but that was early in the season before Auburn truly began to take off under first-year coach Gus Malzahn. LSU’s trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium figures to be a huge challenge this time around. If Miles’ Tigers manage to escape Auburn with a win, a visit to Florida will pose another big challenge. Sure the Gators stunk up the joint in an injury-filled 2013, but there is too much talent on hand in Gainesville to expect Florida to flounder again this fall. LSU is 1-3 in its last four visits to the Swamp.

Final analysis: This is a challenging schedule for what should be a young LSU club, but it’s perfectly manageable. Nowhere on the schedule is there a stretch where the Tigers will play more than two consecutive games against teams that finished with winning records last season. Wisconsin and an improved Mississippi State club could create problems in the first month. Then the trips to Auburn and Florida create a second hurdle. Then the Tigers finish with home dates against Ole Miss and Alabama -- both of which defeated LSU last season -- and road trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M. There are a bunch of teams on that list that will be capable of beating LSU this season, particularly if the Tigers’ freshmen are slow to progress. LSU is riding a school-record streak of four straight seasons with at least 10 victories. That streak might continue in 2014, but it won’t be easy.
The SEC football coaches, proud purveyors of oversigning and other honorable recruiting practices, have banded together in the name of integrity. Take a bow, (good ol') boys. You deserve it.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittSEC coaches aren't thrilled with Penn State coach James Franklin's decision to have summer camps in their territory.
Apparently the SEC coaches aren't too pleased with a plan hatched by one of their former colleagues, James Franklin. The new Penn State coach, formerly at Vanderbilt, and his assistants will guest coach next month at summer camps in the heart of SEC country, at Georgia State and Stetson. It means the Penn State staff can evaluate prospects from in and around Atlanta and DeLand, Fla., two SEC recruiting hotbeds.

Although NCAA rules limit programs from running high school camps more than 50 miles from their campus, coaches are allowed to work at camps outside of the radius as long as they don't run the events.

"The Big Ten and NCAA rules allow you to do these things," Franklin recently told reporters during a Coaches Caravan stop in King of Prussia, Pa. "We wanted to not only have camps on our campus, which we're going to have a bunch of them, but also be able to maybe take the Penn State brand and be able to take it to part of the country that maybe young men and families wouldn't be able to make it to our place, take it to them.

"And I'm fired up about it."

But Franklin's former SEC brethren aren't fired up. Unlike the morally reprehensible Big Ten, the SEC prohibits coaches from working at camps beyond 50 miles from campus. Again, it's all about integrity in that league.

So SEC coaches have complained to their commissioner, Mike Slive, to step in and try to stop Franklin and his attempt to enter their sacred ground.
"It's that kind of thing that gets us to think about our rules," Slive said. "They [SEC coaches] like our rule; they don't like the so-called satellite camps. They see it as a loophole and asked us to see what we can do about that."

Slive said the SEC would have to approach the NCAA about closing the loophole.

You go and do that, Commissioner Slive. March yourself to Indianapolis. By golly, someone needs to stand up for doing things the right way. And if the NCAA asks about oversigning, just show them your championship rings. So sparkly!

The truth is other programs are capitalizing on the same loophole. As colleagues Brett McMurphy and Edward Aschoff report, coaches from Oklahoma State and New Mexico plan to work several camps in Texas this summer. While Florida and Georgia are among the highest-producing states for FBS prospects, Texas tops the list.

So Franklin isn't the only one. But his plan to extend the recruiting reach for a Penn State program that has largely ignored the fertile South in recent years is brilliant. Everyone asks me how the Big Ten can close the gap with the SEC. The answer is to spend more time in its territory.

"This thing that James Franklin did with Georgia State, that’s a stroke of genius," Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at LSU and Vanderbilt, told me. "If Penn State continues to do that, and other Big Ten schools continue to have an agreement with these smaller Southern schools and you can officially visit a prospect in May and June, it will be the most significant move in favor of Big Ten football in my lifetime."

Just wait until more Big Ten coaches begin stumping for earlier official visits, which would help their cause tremendously. Michigan's Brady Hoke is on board. So are many others in the league.

It'll be fun to see how the SEC reacts to that campaign.

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork offered this gem at SEC spring meetings when asked about Franklin's summer Southern migration. By the way, arguably no SEC program has a more storied oversigning tradition than Ole Miss.

"That's our backyard, so anytime those things happen, your eyes and ears perk up to say, What do we need to address [the issue] if that's a hindrance?" Bjork said. "If it's a competitive disadvantage, then we need to look at it."

Competitive disadvantage! Sound the alarms! The Big Ten is gonna get us!

To quote the other Björk:
You're all right
There's nothing wrong
Self-sufficience please!
And get to work
And if you complain once more
You'll meet an army of me

The SEC should stop complaining about, of all things, a potential challenge to its recruiting hegemony. Better yet, it should change its policy and come on up to Big Ten country. Nick Saban loves Ohio. Les Miles is a Michigan guy. Kevin Sumlin went to Purdue.

How could Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater turn down a chance to bring back favorite son Bret Bielema to America's dairyland?

But maybe it's better that the SEC coaches dig in on this issue. Remember, they're all about fairness and honor in recruiting.

And 37-man recruiting classes.


DESTIN, Fla.-- James Franklin is heading back to SEC country this summer, and that isn’t sitting well with the conference’s coaches.

Penn State’s new coach and his staff are making their way back to familiar territory -- and fertile recruiting grounds -- by working at football camps at Georgia State University in Atlanta and Stetson University in Deland, Florida.

Now, there’s a reason SEC coaches aren’t happy: They can’t do the same thing because SEC rules say conference coaches can’t guest coach more than 50 miles from their campuses. However, schools outside the SEC have every right to guest coach at what are essentially “satellite camps.”

What SEC coaches want is for commissioner Mike Slive, one of the most power men in college athletics, to help put an end to this.

“I want you to know that it’s not the right thing,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

But maybe the SEC should consider conforming. This is something the NCAA allows, and it’s a great way for bigger schools to enlarge their recruiting footprint. It almost makes too much sense, and changing the rules could be a good thing for the SEC. You're telling me the SEC wouldn't take another opportunity to expand its brand?

Give Will Muschamp or Nick Saban the opportunity to work with a slew of prospects in Atlanta. Send Mark Richt and Kevin Sumlin to Southern California to help coach recruits.

That’s not appealing?

Here’s a snippet from ESPN College Football Insider Brett McMurphy’s story on how this works:

Seven years ago, the NCAA passed Rule 13.12.1.2, limiting where football programs can run high school camps -- basically any out-of-state location that sits more than 50 miles from campus. However, a loophole allows coaching staffs to work at -- but not hold -- other camps outside the 50-mile radius.
[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittJames Franklin coaching at camps in Georgia and Florida is a hot topic among SEC coaches.
I know the SEC doesn’t want to open the flood gates for the rest of the country to sink its teeth into the SEC’s recruiting ground, but why not push away from your own, seemingly outdated rule and take advantage yourself? Why not push for repeal and see if you can reap your own benefits?

“We all would if we could,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We’re all going to do what you’d let us. Our point is where does it end? I don’t want to speak for everyone in the room, but from what I heard in there, most of our coaches would be in favor of at least being on an even playing field. We’d prefer to tighten up that loophole to not allow you to do camps off your campus.”

And that loophole is upsetting SEC coaches, who want to either have a nationwide rule that bans guest coaching by Power Five staffs or for the league to change its own rule and join the fun.

“It would be beneficial for everybody, if everybody could do that, or nobody should do it,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “There shouldn’t be any loopholes or anything else like that. The intent of the rule was to keep an institution’s camp on the institution’s campus, and now that’s not the case.”

I understand where the SEC is coming from. The coaches, who have the geographical advantage of calling such a recruiting hotbed home, want to keep outsiders away from their product. They want to limit the contact between the other Power Five players as much as possible.

This is their land -- or as Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork puts it, their “home turf” -- and they don’t want people trespassing with camps that will introduce them to a plethora of athletes.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing stopping other Power Five institutions from taking this further. The Big Ten has discussed whether this should continue within the conference -- Iowa's coaches are heading to Chicago to work at Lake Forest College this summer -- but where’s the incentive to stop? Just working at these camps broadcasts your product to a large group of prospects (that you really want to impress) in a relatively foreign area.

Slive has made an effort to keep the SEC ahead of the curve, and this is another chance for the SEC to evolve for the good. With autonomy such a big issue with the Power Five, it’s going to be hard for Slive to convince other commissioners to side with the SEC on this one. This is something the SEC can get out in front on and capitalize on before more schools take advantage at the SEC’s expense.

“Whatever it is, it has to be a national rule that allows us all to operate the same,” Miles said.

LSU embraces playing freshmen

May, 28, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles has never been afraid to play a true freshman -- LSU’s sports information department reports that the Tigers have played 87 first-year freshmen in Miles’ nine seasons -- but it has become one of the program’s trademarks only in recent years.

The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.

It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTyrann Mathieu is one of many LSU players in recent years who've had a chance to contribute as true freshmen.
“I think kids like that about LSU,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They like our style, they like Coach Miles’ philosophy that young guys are going to play early, which we do. I think we’ve averaged maybe ... at least 15 freshmen a year playing. And so all that plays into recruiting.

“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”

Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.

“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of [2010], it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”

Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.

All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.

LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.

“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”

Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.

LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.

“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”

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