Don't look now, but the man known as the Mad Hatter has catapulted his LSU Tigers into the national title discussion.
Les Miles has been mocked and ridiculed by every media pundit, including yours truly, for his clock-management miscues and incomprehensible coachspeak, but it's time to give the devil his due.
All Miles' Tigers have done is win. In fact, the ninth-ranked Tigers (6-0, 4-0) have defeated three top-25 opponents in UNC, WVU and Florida, and are undefeated in the juggernaut known as the SEC.
For those who don't think it's possible that a coach who has made so many mistakes could still have his team in contention, here are five reasons to account for the fact the Mad Hatter may have fooled us all.
The Tigers defense is the top unit in the SEC. They lead the league in total defense (246.0 ypg), rushing defense (80.7 ypg) and sacks (19).
The defense is also third in scoring defense (15.2 ppg), third in pass defense (165.3 ypg) and interceptions (7).
The Tigers defense has, in fact, allowed more than 14 points in only two games (UNC and Florida), and both of those scores were misleading.
Against UNC, the Tigers pulled the majority of their defensive backfield in order for the talented group of freshmen to gain experience. So far the plan has worked well, as CB Tyrann Mathieu and DB Eric Reid are proving to be extensive playmakers.
Against the Gators, the defense was forced to suffer due to turnovers and costly penalties, not to mention Florida's kickoff return for a touchdown.
The loss of DE Sam Montgomery was a sting, but the Tigers line is loaded with talent. DT Drake Nevis is having numbers that rank significantly with last year's No. 2 overall NFL draft pick, Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh.
The Tigers defense is proving week in and week out that they are a unit to be reckoned with, as the meat of the SEC schedule is now beginning.
During the game against Florida, the Tigers offense finally came alive, thanks in part to QB Jarrett Lee's increased playing time and QB Jordan Jefferson's effective red-zone running.
Jefferson, although struggling throughout the year, rushed for two scores against the Gators, including an impressive impromptu three-yard touchdown run on a broken play.
Lee, on the other hand, is proving to be the QB who can make the offense run effectively. Lee's 9-for-11, two-touchdown performance against the Gators, along with engineering back-to-back game-winning drives, is further entrenching him as the clear motor of the offense.
If Lee's and Jefferson's performances continue to improve, the Tigers offense will be a formidable foe for any team. Combine improved offensive production with a championship-caliber defense, and the Tigers could be looking at a trip to Glendale.
RB Stevan Ridley
Alabama's Trent Richardson/Mark Ingram combo and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore might make the highlight reels, but LSU RB Stevan Ridley tops the SEC in rushing yards among running backs.
Ridley's 640 yards and 5.1 ypc average have been the key to running down the clock and picking up tough yards for the Tigers.
The Tigers also feature a talented stable of backs who are helping to give Ridley some rest. RB Michael Ford (6.0 ypa) and RB Alfred Blue (5.0 ypa) are beginning to receive more and more playing time down the stretch.
They may not be fixtures on the SEC's highlight reels yet, but they are no doubt a talented stable of backs who are moving the chains for the Tigers.
Fresh off a victory over the then-14th-ranked Florida Gators in "The Swamp," the Tigers are in the midst of preparing for their first true cupcake in McNeese State.
While other SEC schools have been feeding off of the likes of Duke, ULM, Tennessee Tech and San Jose State, the Tigers have faced North Carolina and West Virginia. Now with McNeese State coming to Tiger Stadium, LSU gets to work on some new offensive "wrinkles" to install before traveling to Auburn.
After what is sure to be another "must-watch" thriller in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers get a much-needed bye week to get healthy and prepare for Alabama's return to "Death Valley."
Following the Crimson Tide, the Tigers face off against the likes of ULM and Ole Miss in succession to end a three-game home stretch.
The Tigers then travel to Little Rock to finish the season against Ryan Mallett and the Arkansas Razorbacks in what has become an increasingly intense rivalry.
The schedule is not perfect by any means, but being an SEC schedule with four home games out of the final six is a clear advantage for the Tigers.
We can make all the jokes possible about Miles, but his record speaks impressively for itself:
- First first-year coach in SEC history to lead a team to the SEC Title game.
- First LSU team to defeat Alabama, Auburn and Florida in the same season.
- Nine victories over coaches who have won a national championship.
- Twenty-one wins versus the top 25.
- Eight wins versus Top 10 teams.
- Fifteen come-from-behind victories.
Miles' record versus the remaining SEC schedule:
- vs Auburn (4-1)
- vs Alabama (3-2)
- vs Ole Miss (3-3)
- vs Arkansas (3-2)
If the Mad Hatter can continue the magic his Tigers are producing this season, Coach Miles could find himself with two more accolades on his resume—spelled SEC and BCS.