The meme that "LSU has underachieved with Miles as the head coach" is really starting to gain currency. Stewart Mandel recently wrote on it, as had Paul Finebaum.
So, in a sense, Les Miles' moment of triumph in having so many of his players considered good enough to draft so high has become a double-edged sword. "Why couldn't you do better than 22-4 with all that great talent, Les?"
The more insulting way to put it is, "Les Miles has won with Nick Saban's players." And yes, Les Miles was definitely handed the keys to a race car when he was hired as LSU's head coach after the 2004 season, but let's look at it a little closer.
First, let's examine the 2004 season, the year after we won the championship. The starting lineup on defense included two future first round picks in Marcus Spears and Laron Landry. It had two All-American cornerbacks in Corey Webster and Travis Daniels, who would be drafted in the 2nd and 4th rounds, respectively. The other starting safety was Jessie Daniels, who was part of the 2005 and 2006 teams. It had Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten at defensive tackle, both who would be middle-round draft picks. Glenn Dorsey was their primary backup, and he will likely be a high first round pick next year. Melvin Oliver was the other starting DE, and he managed to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent. The linebacking corp included current starter Ali Highsmith, along with E.J. Kuale, Ken Hollis, and Cameron Vaughn. The linebacking corp may not have been great
That defense was stacked. While the linebacking corp may have been only OK, the defensive line and the secondary was filled with NFL talent.
The offense had Jamarcus Russell battling with Marcus Randall for the QB spot. The wide receivers were Skyler Green, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis, Bennie Brazell, Early Doucet, and Xavier Carter. All but Carter will end up being drafted, and Carter will end up in the Olympics (as did Brazell). Alley Broussard averaged 6 yards per carry, and he started at running back over Joe Addai, who was a first round pick. The offensive line included NFLer Andrew Whitworth. There was NFL talent all over the offense as well.
That team lost three games, including an embarrassing 45-16 loss to Georgia in mid-season, and failed to make the SEC Championship Game. This team was entirely "Saban's talent", and was at least arguably more talented than subsequent teams. Yet, when people say, "Les Miles is underachieving with Saban's talent", the disappointing 2004 season is ignored.
That was Saban's last season. He would leave for Miami, and we would hire Les Miles. Now let's look at what happened next.
Miles took over a team with very high expectations. Once again, the talent level was very high. We lost the great cornerbacks and Marcus Spears, but not a lot more, and the quarterback situation stabilized.
The first blow was the loss of Alley Broussard, who was coming off a monster 2004 season in which he averaged 6 yards per carry. Tiger Nation hoped he'd challenge for the Heisman Trophy in 2005. Instead, he blew out his knee in Fall practice and did not play a down.
The second blow was Hurricane Katrina, which disrupted preparations, disrupted the schedule, and wore out the players to the point that the team lost an average of 7 pounds per person before the ill-fated game with Tennessee. We lost that game after we wore down in the 4th quarter. It was the most forgivable loss by any top team all season.
We then played 11 straight weeks, a streak began, mind you, with a team that was not in proper physical condition. We played strong, but ended the regular season on a weak note with a 19-17 victory over a middling Arkansas team. The team was clearly worn down, and the next week in the SECCG it showed, with a big loss to Georgia again. We then stomped Miami in the Peach Bowl.
That 2005 team did not underachieve. Under the circumstances, that was one of the most accomplished teams in LSU history, under the direction of Les Miles.
The 2006 season was a little more conventional. We had a very tough road schedule against 4 good teams and we won two of them.
People are saying that we were immensely talented last season, and that our 2-loss record represented an underachievement. And maybe they have a point. We really should have beaten Auburn, and we should not have let Alabama and Ole Miss play us so closely.
However, let's look at that talent gap. Those who say there was a talent gap are defining "talent" as "first round NFL draft picks." This is convenient for them because it fits the meme. However, you get a more complex picture if you look a little deeper.
LSU had four first round picks, but only one other draft pick in the other six rounds. Florida had two first round draft picks, and 9 total draft picks, and had two others who could have been drafted in Earl Everette and Chris Leak. Tennessee also had two other first round draft picks, and seven drafted overall. Auburn had one first rounder, and five drafted overall. Arkansas had three picked on the first day, and four drafted overall. And oh yeah, they had Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
We played those four teams ON THE ROAD. If there was a talent gap, it wasn't a particularly big one. And we really should have beaten Auburn. I think if that team had played Auburn 10 times, we would have won 8. We were better, and played better, but it didn't show on the scoreboard.
Credit Auburn and credit Tuberville, but I don't think it means we underachieved. We just didn't get the breaks you need to beat a talented team on the road.
So anyway, I think the argument that we underachieved is bunk, but it's an argument that is gaining a lot of currency. I think the only way to defeat it is to have a championship season, and we have a real shot at it again this year.