Dig Baton Rouge

Coach O: Year One

If a fortune teller could have spoken to the LSU fan base in July and told them that the Tigers would go 9-3 in the 2017 season, almost every fan would have been satisfied with that record given the team’s youth and the program’s transitioning from Les Miles to new coach Ed Orgeron.

But if that fortune teller would have also told fans that a loss to Troy would be involved, as well as a 30-point loss at Mississippi State, then maybe a few more questions would have been asked about the team’s future.

As it stands, LSU finished the regular season strong, posting a 6-2 record, which earned the Tigers a spot in a bowl game on New Year’s Day against Notre Dame. Despite the Tigers’ loss to the Irish, we believe Orgeron’s first season at LSU was a favorable one—especially given how others have fared in their first years on the job.

“It was a good season,” Orgeron said. “Not great, but it was very good. And we’re hungry for more.”

The common theme among recent first-year LSU coaches is that there are moments of steep highs and lows.

In 2005, Miles’ Tigers went 11-2, but were far from an unblemished monster. That LSU team nearly lost at Arizona State to open the season and blew a 20-point lead at home to Tennessee.

Of course, the high moments were great. The Tigers also beat everyone in the SEC West that year and made it to the SEC Championship Game.

But the lowest low came in that SEC Championship game when LSU was crushed by Georgia. For Nick Saban, his first season in Baton Rouge in 2000 was almost a mirror image of Orgeron’s ride.

Saban, too, had a “Troy” moment. His Tigers lost to the University of Alabama-Birmingham 13-10. They also had a “Mississippi State blowout” moment, too, losing 41-9 at Florida.

But like the 2017 Tigers, Saban’s inaugural team rebounded from the early-season embarrassments and finished with a bang. LSU won five out of six games to close the 2000 season and won a New Year’s Day bowl game, beating Georgia Tech 28-14 in the Peach Bowl to finish 8-4 and well inside of the final Top 25 rankings.

Going back even more, we see that Gerry DiNardo’s first season at LSU was no walk in the park, either. The Tigers struggled mightily early in the season, going 4-4-1 in their first nine games, including losses against Texas A&M, Florida and Kentucky and a tie against South Carolina.

But the Tigers cruised in the final stretches of the year, crushing Ole Miss, Arkansas and Michigan State to post three-straight wins to end the season with a 7-4-1 record.

So where does it go from here?

For Orgeron, he hopes that his year two is similar to that of all three of the coaches before him. DiNardo, Saban and Miles all overcame the up-and-down first seasons and had much smoother rides in their second years, which bodes well for the Tigers’ future, assuming history repeats.

In DiNardo’s second season, LSU posted a 10-2 record and finished in the Top 15. The Tigers soundly beat Auburn, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Arkansas among their many victories in the year.

Saban’s year two was also better than year one. The Tigers won the SEC Western Division, then the SEC Championship in 2001. At the time, it was the first such SEC Title for LSU since 1988. LSU beat Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game, avenging a loss the Tigers sustained in the regular season against the Volunteers. They then made it to the Sugar Bowl and walloped Illinois 47-34 in the biggest win of Saban’s career at the time.

For Miles, his second year was the same in terms of record, but undoubtedly the Tigers were a better football team in 2006 than they were in 2005.

The 2006 LSU team was a wrecking ball that won six games by 30 or more points, including seven-straight wins to close the year. The Tigers won the Sugar Bowl 41-14 over Notre Dame and many analysts said after the game that LSU was playing the best football of anyone in the sport as the season ended. That LSU team saw four players get drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, including two players in the Top 6 picks.

So for Orgeron, he hopes that his 2018 mirrors the second seasons of his predecessors, but there are countless challenges which stand in the way.

On the schedule, LSU will be tested severely in 2018. The Tigers will face Miami and Auburn in the first three weeks of the season—neither game in Tiger Stadium. LSU will also face Florida and Georgia in addition to the usual SEC grind.

Personnel-wise, the Tigers will return NFL-level talent on both sides of the football, but there will be inexperience at quarterback, halfback and along the defensive line and in the secondary.

That’s not usually a good recipe. But if history repeats, it looks like 2018 might be a good year as the pieces come together for the Tigers.

“We want to compete for championships,” Orgeron said. “We will stop nothing short of that.”

Image: Sean Gasser

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