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Saban and Miles brought life to Death Valley
If we’re all being honest, the best time to be an LSU fan is a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
But we’re going to look beyond the three or four hours of a night game in Death Valley and all the “preparation” involved to take a bigger view.
After all, for most of LSU’s history, night games at Tiger Stadium haven’t always been those of national importance. Before the 2000s, LSU football had its ups and downs, with the late ‘50s as the high water mark before Nick Saban returned the Bayou Bengals to national prominence. Les Miles continued the run with a second BCS title and six 10-win seasons in eight years.
These days are be the best times to root for LSU, but not the only time it’s been a worthy cause. Here are the highlights and lowlights for LSU fandom.
BEST TIMES TO BE AN LSU FAN
National championships: 2
Coaches: Nick Saban/Les Miles
Notable players: Glenn Dorsey, LaRon Landry, Josh Reed, Chad Lavalais, Ben Wilkerson, Marcus Spears, Matt Mauck, Michael Clayton, Corey Webster, Matt Flynn
The two seasons before Nick Saban arrived in Baton Rouge, LSU had gone a combined 3-13 in the SEC, but LSU’s mediocrity went deeper. Before the 21st century, LSU had pockets of success, including a national championship, but few other banner seasons. All the while the Tigers had been something of a sleeping giant with an in-state talent base and rabid fan support. The underachiever label was shed by the turn of the century. In 2001, LSU won eight of its last nine games, including an upset of Tennessee in the SEC championship game followed by a win in the Sugar Bowl to announce its return to the national scene. The 2003 squad became the first LSU team since 1958 to win a national title, defeating Oklahoma for the BCS championship (USC won the AP title, to the ire of LSU fans). Saban left for the Miami Dolphins after 2004, but the Tigers kept the program momentum they have lacked throughout their history. A wild, upset-filled 2007 season ended with LSU making the title game with two losses — yet undefeated in regulation, the observation first noted by Miles’ wife. Through Saban and Miles, LSU had the fourth-most wins in the country during this span.
National championships: 1
Coach: Paul Dietzel
Notable players: Billy Cannon (right), Bo Strange
Unorthodox thinking at LSU didn’t start with Les Miles. After a 5-5 season, Paul Dietzel utilized a three-platoon system that included two-way players (the White Team, led by Billy Cannon) and offense-only group (the Go Team) and a defense-only group (the Chinese Bandits, named after characters in a comic strip Dietzel had read). During an 18-game win streak that extended into the 1959 season, LSU outscored opponents by a combined score of 392-62, including eight shutouts. Cannon claimed LSU’s only Heisman trophy at the end of the 1959 season.
WORST TIMES TO BE AN LSU FAN
Coaches: Bernie Moore, Gus Tinsley, Paul Dietzel
LSU managed to go 8-3 and reach the Sugar Bowl in 1949, presumably raising hopes for the Gus Tinsley era. LSU won two or fewer SEC games eight times in 10 years. That includes a 9-21-4 stretch in the conference from 1952-56.
Coaches: Mike Archer, Curley Hallman
LSU was just starting to get used to winning going from 8-3-1 in 1984 to 10-1-1 in 1987. The trend came crashing down in 1989 when the Tigers endured six consecutive losing seasons and a 14-31 stretch in SEC play.