Miles, LSU players vow to learn from BCS loss
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
One of the finest seasons LSU has ever had ended with coach Les Miles sitting somberly on a podium, his head tipped down slightly so the bill of the cap he wears on game days cast a shadow over his eyes.
The 2011 season will long be remembered as one in which LSU came within a victory of going down as one of the greatest college football teams.
The dream ended with the program's most lopsided loss in several years in a stadium and city the Tigers have long considered a second home.
The Tigers knew Alabama was good enough to beat them. But they never expected to lose 21-0 after the extraordinary season they had leading up to the BCS title game in New Orleans.
''I told my team that it should hurt,'' Miles said. ''We fight like hell and we finished second. ... It's supposed to be painful.
''The good news is that there will be more resolve,'' Miles added. ''We've had a nice run here. We won a lot of games. ... You cannot enjoy it any more than we have. In the same vein, it was painful as anything we've been through.''
LSU (13-1) has much to be proud of, holding a No. 1 ranking much of the season while winning the Southeastern Conference championship.
With the exception of the Tigers' 9-6 overtime victory at Alabama on Nov. 5, all of their other wins came by at least 13 points.
Heading into their rematch with the Crimson Tide, the Tigers were averaging 38.5 points and giving up 10.5.
At that point, it was the most dominating season many around LSU could remember.
Most of their victories were so overwhelming that receiver Rueben Randle was confident the 2011 team would always have a special place in LSU history.
''I'm pretty sure we're still going to considered one of the best,'' Randle said. ''We left some things out there, but we fought hard.''
LSU overcame its share of distractions and won impressively while playing a schedule full of ranked opponents.
Jordan Jefferson's early season suspension stemming from his arrest in a late-August bar fight was mitigated by consistent and largely mistake-free play by Jarrett Lee through LSU's first eight games.
When Lee faltered against Alabama, throwing two interceptions, Jefferson returned to help LSU win that first meeting with the Tide. Jefferson then started in four more wins after that.
Lee never complained publicly, saying he understood the needs of the team came first and that he would not question the coaches' decisions.
Miles, however, opened himself to questions about his decision to marginalize Lee, particularly when Jefferson struggled in the first half of the SEC title game against Georgia and throughout Monday night's BCS title game.
Miles did not want the accomplishments of his players to get lost in the Tigers' season-ending setback.
LSU beat five teams that finished the season ranked inside the top 20 in the AP Poll, including three in the top five: Alabama, Oregon and Arkansas.
''We think we had a great year; that this football team had as quality a run as there is in this country,'' Miles said. ''This team accomplished a lot.''
Miles and many of his players echoed the idea that the loss to Alabama would be a learning experience, which it very well could be for a team full of standout sophomores and freshmen.
The big loss from the defensive backfield likely will be star cornerback Morris Claiborne, a widely projected top 10 draft pick.
There is also a lot of returning depth on LSU's defensive line, even if end Sam Montgomery, the team's sack leader and a redshirt sophomore, decides to turn pro, though that appears unlikely.
The strength of LSU's offense, a running game that averaged more than 200 yards, should return fully intact.
There are also high expectations on quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a former Georgia recruit who overcame trouble with the law to make it back to the SEC as a junior college transfer.
He spent his sophomore season learning behind seniors Jefferson and Lee with the expectation of taking over in 2012.
If he does, he'll have a receiving group that is expected to feature Odell Beckham Jr., who shined as a true freshman, along with Russell Shepard, who'll be a senior, and Jarvis Landry, who is expected to compete for a starting job as a sophomore.
There won't be many big holes to fill across the lineup, while the consistently high ratings of Miles' recruiting classes makes it likely that new standouts will emerge at several positions.