LSU has separated itself from the rest of the country’s title contenders during the course of the regular season.
Every other contender has naysayers. A few say Alabama should have won its own division, Oklahoma State lost a game it should have won, Houston’s schedule has been too weak, and a whole mess of teams have lost twice.
But it’s hard to argue against the veracity of LSU.
The Tigers beat Oregon at a neutral site, blasted West Virginia in its own back yard, outlasted Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium and finished the regular season undefeated.
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Every other week, it seems, LSU has been winning on a national stage.
“I’ve always heard it said that you only have so many of those games per season, but what’s happened to us is that we started that way,” Miles said.
LSU has played six games away from its friendly confines in Baton Rouge, La. Four were against ranked teams, including then-No.3 Oregon and No. 2 Alabama.
Now the Tigers have to travel to a packed Georgia Dome that will probably be decidedly in favor of the home-state Georgia Bulldogs for Saturday’s SEC championship game.
LSU thrives off of that kind of pressure.
Miles has seen it all season long. When the Tigers got off of the plane to take on West Virginia in Morgantown, his team looked a little dead, a little tired from its grueling early season slate.
But when the Tigers walked into the stadium, the team’s whole demeanor changed.
“Our guys had just come to life,” Miles said. “I guess what I’m saying is, we’re used to playing in that environment. We’re used to being on the big stage.”
Miles started to see a big-game ability from his team at the end of the 2010 season. LSU dropped a pair of close losses to Auburn and Arkansas on the road, but the Tigers also outlasted Alabama and blasted Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl to finish 11-2.
Miles already has won a national title, and he knew his team had the makings of coming up with another run.
“I felt like during the season last year that our football team was really, really catching speed,” Miles said. “As we went through the back end of that year, we felt like we were going to have a very, very good fall.”
LSU has overcome every obstacle on the schedule, but the Tigers have faced their fair share of off-the-field distractions in addition to all of the national-title hype surrounding the team.
Before the season began, Jordan Jefferson was involved in a bar fight, and Miles suspended the quarterback for the first four games of the season. And then, before LSU played Auburn, Miles suspended Tyrann Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon for reportedly failing a drug test.
All four players served their suspensions, came back and are expected to play big roles Saturday.
“I think there’s a point in time where once they have served, like your son in your family, you point them in the right direction,” Miles said. “And if they take guidance, they’re back.”
All of the adversity LSU has faced has produced a hardened, tough team that doesn’t back down in big moments.
In the final game of the regular season, then-No. 3 Arkansas took a 14-0 lead on a fumble return early in the game. It was the kind of big play that tends to drive upsets.
LSU responded by crushing Arkansas the rest of the way.
“There’s a real competitive energy, if you will, that really just starts early with my team,” Miles said. “Different spots in these games, it just appears to show.”