Miles: LSU made the 'right turn' heading into the offseason
LSU heads into the offseason looking a lot more stable and competitive than it did a little more than a month ago.
As coach Les Miles looks toward what will be his 12th season with the Tigers, he'll be able to plan around the return of star running back Leonard Fournette and a host of other key players.
He might even get more production from quarterback Brandon Harris, if the Tigers' 56-27 Texas Bowl victory over Texas Tech on Tuesday night was any indication.
''He took a stride, certainly,'' Miles said about Harris' performance. ''That is what we needed to have him to do.''
However, Miles will have to find his third defensive coordinator in three years after Kevin Steele agreed to take a similar job at Auburn.
The good news for Miles is that a lot of talent is coming back on that side of the ball as well - from safety Jamal Adams to defensive end Arden Key and cornerback Kevin Toliver - so the Tigers' new coordinator vacancy should be an attractive one.
Not to mention the Tigers are coming off a 9-3 season that likely would have finished 10-3 if not for a game against heavy underdog McNeese State of the second-tier Football Championship subdivision being called off by persistent lightning.
In late November, the vibe surrounding LSU was a lot less positive. Speculation that Miles could lose his job at LSU was so rampant that well-wishing fans chanted his name before and after the Tigers' final home game - a victory over Texas A&M. The result snapped a three-game losing streak - all by double digits - which derailed a season that had begun 7-0 and caused all the unrest in Baton Rouge.
It took an announcement by athletic director Joe Alleva after the victory over A&M to solidify Miles' status.
Now the bowl victory has given LSU some momentum heading into the offseason, which the Tigers can only hope will strengthen recruits' confidence in the program.
''When you start the offseason with a victory, what happens is, No. 1, we will recruit well,'' Miles said. ''What will happen in spring ball and in our offseason, it will start pointing toward that College Playoffs, which is really where we want to be.
''This is the right turn,'' Miles added. ''Certainly you can see the program itself is being manned by real quality young men and that they're looking for the kind of success they had tonight in a bountiful way and by numbers.''
Certainly, LSU will have among the most formidable running games in the country next season, led by Fournette, who finished with 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns rushing after his 212-yard, four-TD performance on the ground in the bowl game. Fournette also added a receiving TD against Texas Tech, his first of the season.
Asked about his goals for next season, Fournette avoided discussing individual goals.
''Win a championship with the team,'' Fournette said. ''I haven't won a championship since my `park ball' days. I was 7 or 8 years old.''
Fournette's backup, Derrius Guice, looks capable of piling up yards as well.
The passing game will have top receiver Malachi Dupre back. Second-leading receiver Travin Dural, who missed LSU's last two games with a torn hamstring, also is expected to return.
The big question is at quarterback. Harris was inconsistent and struggled with accuracy, particularly during LSU's losses, but accounted for a lot of offense in the bowl game.
Harris passed for 254 yards and a TD and also rushed for 41 yards and a score. He came through with several clutch completions of more than 20 yards, with a long of 46.
One key change Miles made - at Harris' request - was to bring offensive coordinator Cam Cameron from the booth to the sideline so he could provide immediate feedback, even while the offense was on the field. That could continue to be the case if Cameron's contract is extended.
''Cam being down was exactly the right thing,'' Miles said. ''The synergy and the things he did on the sideline were very probably the difference.''