Like many football coaches, Nick Saban loves his aphorisms and
metaphors. His latest exhortation to his players is the catchy,
"Last year is history, next year is a mystery." He also likes to
compare the coming season to climbing a mountain. Last season LSU
reached an unprecedented peak, upsetting Tennessee 31-20 to win
the SEC Championship Game for the first time since the game was
instituted in 1992. To Saban, that makes this year's ascent
trickier than ever. "The mountain just got bigger," he says.
"It's even more treacherous and harder to climb."
If repeat SEC championships are unfamiliar on the Bayou--LSU's
only back-to-back titles came in 1935 and '36--so too is all this
talk about mountains. The state's highest point is 535 feet above
The play of senior linebacker Bradie James, a Louisiana native,
is a big reason LSU can expect to rise above most rivals. The
6'3", 238-pound senior has had more than 110 tackles in each of
the past two seasons. This year he moves from the outside to the
middle. His job will be much easier if massive sophomore
defensive ends Marcus Spears (6'5", 280) and Marquise Hill (6'7",
285) live up to the promise they showed as high school
The defense may need to hold the fort as the offense searches for
a new identity. With strong-armed quarterback Rohan Davey and
Biletnikoff Award winner Josh Reed gone to the NFL, the Tigers
will likely rely more on the run this year. Sophomore quarterback
Matt Mauck terrorized Tennessee with the quarterback draw when he
replaced an injured Davey in the SEC title game, but he needs to
be more consistent as a passer. The Tigers are banking on the
return of junior tailback LaBrandon Toefield, who has recovered
from the torn left ACL he suffered in the conference championship
game. The 6-foot, 225-pound Toefield, who rushed for 992 yards
and an SEC-record-tying 19 TDs in '01, brings some much-needed
toughness to the Tigers. "He just pounds and pounds," James says.
"After a while teams get tired of hitting him. He's a relentless
That's an attitude LSU will need in abundance if it expects to
reach the heights of last season. --P.M.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL BREAKING AWAY Toefield left a trail of battered foes in his wake last year, rushing for 992 yards and an SEC-record-tying 19 TDs.
2001 RECORD: 10-3 (5-3, 1st in SEC West)
FINAL RANKING: No. 7 AP, No. 8 coaches' poll
Seasons in the 108 years of LSU football in which the Tigers have
won at least 10 games; no two such seasons have been consecutive.
An opposing coach's view
The Tigers boast a solid quarterback and an able D
"Quarterback Matt Mauck is poised and mature, but I'm not sure
he's got the arm needed to make plays. He's got the feet, though,
and is more of a runner than Rohan Davey was.... Their defense is
good, but I don't think it's great. At end, Marcus Spears is a
280-pound guy who can get up the field. He'll give them a speed
rush.... Linebacker Bradie James is a heat-seeking missile....
They're very talented in the secondary, but they gave up a lot of
big plays last year by being a little too aggressive."
Sept. 1 at Virginia Tech
7 THE CITADEL
14 MIAMI (OHIO)
28 MISSISSIPPI STATE
Oct. 5 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
12 at Florida
19 SOUTH CAROLINA
26 at Auburn
Nov. 9 at Kentucky
30 at Arkansas