LSU’s Dark Days

These are not good times for LSU fans. We”re not even 90 days removed from the last great moment in Tiger sports – the thrashing of Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl – and good news is rare in South Baton Rouge. Men”s basketball wasn”t even invited to the NIT a year after reaching the Final Four. Women”s hoops opens the NCAA tourney today under the weight of Pokey Chatman”s sex-scandal resignation. Baseball began SEC play yesterday – getting shut out by South Carolina – unranked and having dropped series to the powerhouse programs that are Stetson and Lipscomb.

And the man in the middle – Skip Bertman – is under fire for his handling of the Pokey situation, the state of the baseball program and increasingly his general management of the athletic department. Sure, all those new buildings and Tiger Stadium expansions are nice, but Tiger fans aren”t really happy with the old baseball coach, who”ll be stepping aside no more than a year from this summer. Especially in the wake of the sex scandal, more pressure may be put on Bertman to go ahead and retire when his current contract ends June 30.

Given the problems with hoops and baseball, the shining light of LSU sports is clearly football. And the brightest light in the program is about to be an Oakland Raider.

To say the 2007 football season is important for LSU sports is like saying Jessica Simpson”s tits are important to her career. Obvious and a huge understatement.

The expectations for Leslie are huge. LSU may start the season ranked higher than any year since 1959, when we debuted at No. 1 coming off our first national championship (we started at No. 4 in 2004 and No. 5 in 2005). The schedule – so brutal in 2006 – favors LSU, with South Carolina, Florida, Auburn and Arkansas all coming to Baton Rouge (along with Virginia Tech), and the clear expectation is an SEC West title and another shot at the BCS.

Really rabid Tiger fans expect nothing less than another national championship this season, but the sane among us realize the BCS is too much of a crap shoot to project any team into the title game before late November (unless you”re talking about USC, of course). SEC teams shoot for no more than one loss – to a good team – a division title and an SEC Championship Game win. How things fall beyond that are in the hands of the football gods.

That”s Leslie”s expectation this year. Stay in the top 5 and win the west. And, by the way, you”d better beat Fonzie in Tuscaloosa to satisfy the Saban=Satan crowd.

Of course, there will be no JaMarcus Russell this year; no Dwayne Bowe; no LaRon Landry and no Jessie Daniels. The staff, like the players, is less Saban-influenced and the program clearly will carry Miles” mark from here on. This is the season Leslie shows his worth – the influence and the expectations are all his now.

With so much of the LSU sports program in disarray, football success is critical. Big wins in Tiger Stadium do wonders to take attention away from problems elsewhere. And when football is down, there needs to be success elsewhere to keep LSU hope alive (see LSU Baseball: 1989 – 2000). With football expectations so high and problems elsewhere so troubling, the importance of football success is magnified even more.

LSU football is on the brink of “elite” status. Winning the SEC and getting back to the BCS this year would get us there. Faltering and winding up 8-4 or worse would just toss another log on the fire of LSU”s athletic woes.

I”ll be rooting hard for Leslie this fall.

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