LSU fans were all set to name part of Tiger Stadium after Nick Saban. Two years ago, in his second season in Baton Rouge, Saban led LSU to its first SEC championship in 15 years. He had restored the LSU program to the prominence it had enjoyed before the up and down years of Gerry Dinardo, and the just plain down years of Curley Hallman.
Then last year, after trouncing Florida in the Swamp, LSU brought a 6-game winning streak to Auburn and left with a 31-7 loss. A few weeks later, the Bengal Tigers were shut out at home by Alabama. Losing 4 out of 6 to end the season left fans in "Cajun Country" wondering if 5-3 in the SEC, while not bad, is the best Saban can do.
But while Auburn is getting all of the hype in the SEC West, you can make a strong case for LSU. Start with the line, where games are won and lost. LSU returns all but one starter on the offensive and defensive line.
"I do think we have a chance to have a good team. We have some spots that we have to get corrected. I like our offense. I like our offensive line. I like our receivers, and the quarterbacks are playing better. Defensively, I think we have to get a little stronger at linebacker and at safety, and if we can solve those problems, maybe we can be pretty good," says Coach Nick Saban.
Quarterback Matt Mauck, the hero of that 2001 SEC championship is healthy again. His foot injury last season coincided with LSU's second-half slide. True freshman, #4 Jamarcus Russell from Mobile, is being groomed to take over in 2005.
#14 Michael Clayton might be one of the most valuable players in the SEC. A hometown hero from Baton Rouge, he's already setting receiving records in his first two seasons. Now he's playing offense and defense. At 6-foot-4, he's the perfect size for a safety.
The big question is at running back. Joseph Addai gets a chance to take over for Dominick Davis and Labrandon Toefield.