LSU's prospects uncertain as Miles enters 11th campaign
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Les Miles heads into his second decade as LSU's coach under more pressure than usual.
The Tigers weren't close to contending for a Southeastern Conference title last season, going 4-4 in the league. Then they were upset by Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, marking LSU's second loss in a non-BCS bowl in three seasons.
During public appearances in Louisiana this offseason, Miles didn't try to sugar coat last season's 8-5 overall record.
''Eight wins is not enough for us,'' Miles said.
Players, likewise, associate 2014 with failure.
''Last season bothered me a lot,'' senior safety Jalen Mills said. ''After the season, you think about it a lot. You wish you could snap your finger and next season would be here. You are ready to eliminate every mistake you made. But, you have to go through the process.''
The Tigers expect this season to be better. But there remains some uncertainty, particularly at quarterback, where Miles has yet to name a starter. That job is open to competition between junior Anthony Jennings and sophomore Brandon Harris, who struggled with consistency last season.
The defense is also under new direction, following coordinator John Chavis' departure for Texas A&M. Kevin Steele is the new coordinator, while Ed Orgeron is the new defensive line coach.
Still, the Tigers always seem to have NFL prospects across the roster, and this season is no exception. It starts with sophomore running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette. Receivers Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre; linebacker Kendell Beckwith; and cornerback Tre'Davious White could all wind up as finalists for national awards.
Miles asserts his team can be a contender again, as long as he and his staff play to their roster's strengths.
Some prominent LSU story lines in 2015:
FANTASTIC FOURNETTE: In his freshman season, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Fournette rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also had a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown against Notre Dame. Miles has often favored a running-back-by-committee approach, rarely giving one back as many as 20 carries a game. But Miles said Fournette could very well be an exception. For his part, Fournette appears more mature, focused and team-oriented, even downplaying his preseason hype. ''I am much more patient this year than last year. I understand the game more. I am helping other people out,'' Fournette said. ''I have no goals this year. I am just trying to get ready for the first game.''
SEC SLATE: The first two SEC games on LSU's schedule come in the first three weeks - at Mississippi State (Sept. 12) and home against Auburn (Sept. 19). Losses in those games could be ruinous, but victories in both would give LSU an early leg up in the SEC Western Division. The Tigers' regular season opener is a non-conference home game against McNeese State on Sept. 5.
QB QUESTIONS: LSU averaged only 163 yards passing last season. Jennings started all but two games last season, but Harris has been getting more first-team snaps in camp. Coaches are optimistic that the offense will be in good hands with either of them. ''Both quarterbacks are better because of experience and maturity,'' offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. ''There is so much riding on every game in college. The playoffs start in Week 1. ... That puts a lot on young quarterbacks. Both of them are more ready to handle that.''
ROUTE RUNNING: Dural and Dupre were LSU's top receivers last season. Sophomores John Diarse, D.J. Chark and Trey Quinn are all in the mix to contribute as well. Meanwhile, tight end DeSean Smith, who had four catches in last season's Music City Bowl, is expected to rotate in as a receiving target regularly this season.
DBU: LSU's tradition of fielding elite defensive backs should continue. White and Mills are joined by safety Jamal Adams, who was named to the SEC All-Freshman team last season. Sophomore Ed Paris could emerge as a new starting cornerback, while safeties Rickey Jefferson and Dwayne Thomas provide depth, along with freshman Kevin Toliver, who was among the nation's most coveted cornerback recruits.