Published September 26, 2011
BATON ROUGE, La. – Now that LSU has proved it can overcome off-the-field distractions and win impressively enough to climb to the top of the rankings, the Tigers have to see how they'll handle success.
The Tigers faced a challenging September schedule that included three ranked teams away from home — Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia.
That is over and LSU finds itself perched as the No. 1 team in the country after four comfortable victories.
"We take it as a compliment to our program and a compliment to our team," LSU coach Les Miles said Monday. "Being No. 1 is no burden. There is no extra target on our back. Every time LSU goes to play, the other team is trying to beat us. We want to achieve. I know we haven't arrived. We are not perfect."
The tribulations were many for LSU just prior to its season-opening game against Oregon in Dallas.
Projected starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns were suspended indefinitely after felony second-degree arrests stemming from a fight in a bar parking lot on Aug. 19.
Starting wide receiver Russell Shepard was suspended for the first three games of the season after he spoke to a teammate about being questioned by investigators in the NCAA's probe of several schools' relationships with scouting service provider and purported street agent Willie Lyles.
In hindsight, Miles said, what took place in August seems to have strengthened the resolve of his team.
"The off-the-field incidents were so uncharacteristic of this team and these guys," Miles said. "We all were embarrassed. Some things which we have talked about were suddenly emphasized again.
"The players on this team are committed to each other. This is a close-knit group. They are ambitious. They understand that there are going to be obstacles and adversity all the time. There is one every year. It just so happened this year it was in the preseason."
By contrast, there has been little adversity on the field for LSU. Both Oregon and Mississippi State were beaten by 13 points. Last Saturday, LSU knocked off West Virginia 47-21.
LSU will return home for the first time in three weeks Saturday when they take on Kentucky. Ironically, the Tigers took on Kentucky after reaching the No. 1 spot in the country in 2007. LSU was upset by the Wildcats in triple overtime in Lexington.
"I remember when we played a Florida team in Tiger Stadium," Miles said. "If we beat that team, we're No. 1 and we did. Kentucky was right behind (Florida). Kentucky humbled a very talented team. We want to improve. ... We hold the No. 1 spot in college football today, but that it not the final achievement."
Senior quarterback Jarrett Lee has performed well in Jefferson's absence, completing 64 percent of his passes (56 of 87) for 624 yards and six touchdowns. He has thrown just one interception. LSU is scoring 38.8 points per game.
A decision on Jefferson's legal status may be known Wednesday, when an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury is expected to make a decision on whether Jefferson and Johns will be indicted. Miles has said he would welcome the players back to the team if they were cleared, but has been vague about what their roles would be.
"We'd reintroduce them to the team at the appropriate time," Miles said. "They would fall in to their expected contributions on the team. At this time, it's speculation. Hopefully, it will be short speculation."