The predicted order of finish by media attending SEC media days (including first-place votes):
Tennessee (225) 2167
Florida (57) 1891
Georgia (45) 1860
Vanderbilt (2) 810
South Carolina (2) 800
Alabama (246) 2220
LSU (76) 1984
Ole Miss (5) 1479
Texas A&M (3) 1130
Arkansas (1) 1047
Mississippi State 518
Ole Miss 4
Texas A&M 1
South Carolina 1
HOOVER, Ala. — With Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt no longer coaching in the Southeastern Conference, the new dean in the league's football ranks is LSU's Les Miles.
"I think being called a dean, I should probably get a robe," Miles said Thursday, "and maybe a hat that sits to the side. That would be nice."
Miles made his 12th appearance at SEC media days — but just barely.
After reeling off seven straight wins to open last season and reaching No. 2 in the national rankings, LSU lost 30-16 at Alabama in early November and could not recover. The Tigers were thumped 31-14 at home by Arkansas and were not competitive in a 38-17 defeat at Ole Miss, which suddenly led to reports that Miles would be fired at the end of the regular season.
The Tigers concluded their regular season with a 19-7 win over Texas A&M at Tiger Stadium, which was followed by Miles being carried off the field by his players. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva met with the media after that game to announce that Miles was the right man to continue leading the Tigers, which was welcome news in the locker room.
"Man, November for us was tough," junior tailback Leonard Fournette said. "We had to come together as a team, because we were challenged not just as players but as men to face adversity, and I think we handled it by doing a good job. Everybody was so happy after we won the last game and celebrated and Coach Miles did the dab (dance move).
"Everything kind of fell into place."
LSU concluded its 9-3 season — the Tigers had their opener against McNeese State scratched due to inclement weather — with a 56-27 demolishing of Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl. Fournette shredded the Red Raiders for 212 yards on 29 carries and tallied five touchdowns to cap a sophomore year in which he amassed 1,953 rushing yards and averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
Fournette is among 10 offensive starters returning for Miles, who is 112-32 through 11 seasons and guided the Tigers to the 2007 national championship. Among those starters are veteran center Ethan Pocic, receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, and quarterback Brandon Harris.
Harris completed 149 of 277 passes (53.8 percent) for 2,165 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, and he must improve those numbers for LSU to return to the sport's elite.
"Brandon Harris is our quarterback, and certainly our play there will be significant," Miles said. "He shows more poise and more comfort. He's more ambitious, and the more you accomplish, the more you want to accomplish."
Eight starters return for a potentially lethal LSU defense that has pass-rushing menace Arden Key, senior inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith and a loaded secondary with the likes of safety Jamal Adams and cornerbacks Kevin Tolliver and Tre'Davious White.
LSU's home schedule this year includes Ole Miss and Alabama, with an open date between those showdowns. The Tigers must travel to Arkansas, Florida and Auburn, where they were ambushed 41-7 two years ago, and their season starts Sept. 3 against Wisconsin at historic Lambeau Field.
"Our football team is challenged, and they've recognized that," Miles said. "One thing that this football team has done historically is that when they know that they are going to play a very quality football team to open, they prepare well. I think that they've had a very good summer to this point."
A summer that once seemed unlikely to have Miles still in charge.
"That was definitely weird," White said. "That's the guy who came in my living room and sat down in front of my mom's face and said he was going to be here the whole time I was here. It was definitely a difficult situation for me, because that's the only guy I would want to play for.
"I guess I can understand it just knowing the tradition we have. We're expected to win every game, and we want that pressure."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.