Having trouble waiting until the start of college football season?
For the next several Sundays, the Times Free Press will provide top-three lists on various Southeastern Conference topics. Today's list contains the 2010 season's most notable image makeovers.
1. LSU coach Les Miles
Miles entered last season viewed as a bumbling buffoon who blew a 2009 loss at Ole Miss with horrific clock management and as a coach who no longer could win 10 games a year with loads of talent. Making matters worse in Baton Rouge was that former LSU coach Nick Saban guided Alabama to the '09 BCS championship.
A second-chance victory over Tennessee and a bounce pass on a fake field-goal attempt that helped upset Florida in the Swamp enabled Miles to inch up to lucky-buffoon status last October. Then came Nov. 6, when his Tigers upset Saban's Crimson Tide, 24-21, ending Alabama's bid for a third straight SEC West crown.
"When he beat Alabama last year, you could definitely sense the turnaround as far as the perception of him," said Scott Rabalais of the Baton Rouge Advocate, who has covered LSU football for 20 years. "There is definitely a re-appreciation of Les. Fans here think he is still nutty and unconventional, and he doesn't do it the way other coaches do it, but he's getting the results."
LSU's go-ahead score came after an end-around by DeAngelo Peterson on fourth-and-1 that gained 23 yards to Alabama's 3-yard line, a sequence that was followed by Miles reaching down and eating some of the Tiger Stadium turf. That triumph has been hailed as his biggest in the regular season and his second biggest overall, trailing the 38-24 victory over Ohio State at the 2007 BCS championship game in New Orleans.
Miles went 11-2 last season and is entering his seventh year at LSU with a 62-17 record, a 5-1 bowl mark and a team that should start out in the nation's top five.
"People look at Nick as the man," Rabalais said. "He's the symbol of cool, efficiency and organization, but Les likes to run those trick plays. Does he get lucky sometimes? Sure he does.
"But he went 3-3 against Urban Meyer, and he's 2-2 against Nick, so he's definitely holding his own against coaches that people consider the best in the conference."
2. South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia
Garcia temporarily put his checkered career behind him when he completed at least 62 percent of his passes in each of the first seven games, including a dazzling 17-for-20 showing in the 35-21 upset of top-ranked Alabama. He forced a costly interception the following week at Kentucky but still had hard-to-please coach Steve Spurrier in his corner.
"He's played his best football since he's been here," Spurrier said during the stretch run to the program's first SEC East title. "He has progressed pretty well. He's had a few errant plays, but Stephen has got a lot of good players around him."
Garcia used those players, namely tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery, to close the regular season with 22-point road routs of Florida and Clemson.
It has been a downhill trek since, however, as Garcia threw three interceptions in a Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Florida State and was suspended twice during spring practice. He was allowed back this past Monday on a probationary basis.
3. Auburn coach Gene Chizik
Chizik would be No. 1 on this list had Auburn's BCS title season not been accompanied by the Cam Newton investigation, which has been overshadowed recently by Ohio State's chaos but has yet to close.
After his hiring was mocked because of his 5-19 record at Iowa State, Chizik has proven to be a capable CEO by blending Gus Malzahn's creativity with Trooper Taylor's energy and Ted Roof's experience. And as the distractions mounted as last season progressed, Chizik maintained a focus that carried over this spring when four players were arrested on armed robbery charges and promptly booted.
The most amazing example of that focus took place last November at Alabama, where the Tigers fell behind 24-0 but rallied for a 28-27 win.
"I put my head on the pillow every night knowing we're doing our best to do everything right," Chizik said this past week at the SEC spring meetings.