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Miles may enjoy circus atmosphere, but Tigers likely getting serious

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HOOVER, Ala. -- Despite the size (1,200 media members) and impact of SEC Media Days, there is a certain sameness to the comments of the 14 coaches.

All of the coaches remind us that:

 Last season's success/disappointment has no bearing on this season's team. It is always "a brand new team."

 The perception of a team's strengths must be reinforced and the very real weaknesses can only be improved with hard work.

 Above all, each team will play "one game at a time."

By the final day of the 72-hour marathon, all of us "media boys," as Steve Spurrier likes to call us, are getting pretty numb to it all.

But then there is Les Miles, the football coach at LSU.

In the course of a couple of hours on Thursday, Miles:

 Tells us why he rappelled the side of a tall building for charity. "I can promise you I never looked down," he told me when we watched the tape together. "It was for a good cause and it is something I hadn't done before."

 Tells why he agreed to do the Harlem Shake with his team and post it on his website, LesMiles.com.

"Actually it was his idea," wide receiver Jarvis Landry said.

 Expounded on his communications issues with his last two punters, who have both been from Australia.

"Well, Australians have a higher voice."

He attempts an Australian accent and mangles it pretty badly.

"When you just speak regular English, it doesn't quite get across. Of course, we've had experience with our Australians, so we're pretty comfortable with adjusting our dialect so that it fits the ability to communicate."

You get the picture.

"I love playing for Coach Miles," senior safety Craig Loston said. "He's a good dude, good dad and good coach. To be around him every day is great."

If Les Miles was coaching in a conference that did not have Nick Saban and Alabama, which has won three of the last four national championships and will be favored to win another in 2013, LSU would have already built a statue for him.

Here are the facts:

 In the past eight seasons at LSU he has won 85 games, more than any other SEC team in that same stretch.

 He has played in two BCS championship games, winning one and losing one (to Alabama).

 In eight years he has five top-10 finishes.

 Last season LSU finished 10-3, losing at Florida 14-6 and losing to Alabama, the eventual national champion, 21-17 with 51 seconds left. The Tigers lost to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl 25-24 on a field goal at the buzzer. The season was considered a disaster.

 In that eight-year stretch 51 LSU players have gone to the NFL. A total of 11 juniors from LSU entered the 2013 NFL Draft.

"I like the position of the program," Miles said. "I kind of think we've made our mark over time."

Despite that track record, the 2013 LSU team is flying so far under the radar that it hardly registers a blip. On Thursday the media cast 243 ballots to project the division winners. In the SEC West, Alabama got 225 votes, Texas A&M 11 and LSU only seven. Alabama was also picked to win the SEC championship.

It's an unusual spot for LSU and no doubt the loss of all those talented juniors and a schedule that includes top-10 teams Georgia and Florida from the SEC East make people skeptical about the Tigers.

"You know, it's interesting. The excitement -- it's not derived from where you're ranked or how people perceive you," Miles said. "It's the youth of your team, what you have to get coached, how you approach a practice. I think that each team has its own potential, its own high-side opportunities."

The LSU players, however, like the fact that they aren't getting a lot of love in the preseason.

"We can only control what we can control," said Landry. "We will see that great Tuscaloosa team. We're going to see that team in Georgia and Florida. I think that gives us the opportunity to not only make a statement, but if they're the number one team, we'll see."

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was made aware that the media have been wrong in their preseason predictions of the SEC champion in 17 of the last 21 years.

"You guys are funny with the preseason rankings," Mettenberger said. "Last I checked, none of you have gotten a preseason ranking right. It's something we can't focus on. We'll just take it one game at a time."

Now we should point out that not everything Les Miles is doing at LSU has received universal acclaim. The LSU coach is getting significant criticism for his handling of running back Jeremy Hill. Hill, LSU's leading rusher from a year ago, is currently not on the team after an April arrest for an altercation where he knocked a man unconscious. He pleaded guilty to simple battery, received a fine, community service and probation.

The problem is that Hill was already on probation for a previous arrest that included "carnal knowledge" with an underage girl.

He has a hearing on the violation of his first probation on Aug. 16. If the judge revokes the probation, Hill could be looking at jail time.

On Thursday Miles called Hill's situation a "legal entanglement" and indicated he would let the system run its course before deciding Hill's status as a player. A number of writers, like our Gregg Doyel, believe Miles is coddling a violent predator who should be let go now.

Miles received criticism for his handling of defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, the "Honey Badger," who was finally kicked out of school after multiple drug infractions.

"I have a track record with really disciplining my team," Miles said. "We go through the same process that all of my guys will go through. Frankly, you know, we're gathering information as we go. So he's been separated from his team and teammates for the summer."

This team will certainly be better with the addition of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. LSU has not had a coherent offensive strategy for several seasons, and it probably cost the Tigers a national championship when they lost to Alabama in the BCS title game in 2011. John Chavis remains one of the best defensive minds of our generation and he will rebuild the defense with very talented players -- and LSU has a lot of them.

LSU may drop to "only" nine wins this season because of the amount of rebuilding that has to be done. But this much we know: It's going to be entertaining. The man who once ate a piece of Tiger Stadium grass before a key play against Alabama is a lot of very complex things. But one of them is not boring.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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