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Les Miles isn't departing from his plan: Louisiana State will contend

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Les Miles says Louisiana State will be strong, despite losing 18 players early to the pros the last two years
LSU is ranked No. 13 in The Times' Super 16 rankings

Acknowledging that college football's new four-team playoff could some day inch toward a larger basketball-style tournament, we continue our Super Sweet 16 countdown with No. 13 Louisiana State:

Les Miles has the makings of another terrific team this year ... in the National Football League.

Eighteen Louisiana State players, with remaining eligibility, have left for the pros in just the last two years.

"Yeah," Miles said at Southeastern Conference media days, "we'd like to have those guys back."

LSU is the only program with a sign posted outside its football building that reads: "The white zone is for loading and unloading of players only."

Miles joked with reporters that he leads the nation in "three and outs." No wonder the Tigers had to play 29 freshmen the last two years.

It might be a problem at a school where the coach was a lousy recruiter who failed to factor for anticipated losses.

Miles is not that guy. While it sometimes looks like Miles manages a game using a pocket-sized roulette wheel, he has few peers in talent procurement.

Star players ooze in, and then out, of Baton Rouge.

In other words, put LSU down for another 10 wins.

The high turnover rate makes it harder to compete for national titles, with Miles constantly taking stock of his inventory. LSU got rocked at Alabama last year, 38-17, and also lost to Georgia and Mississippi.

Miles has an almost inexplicable inner confidence, though, and remains indefatigable in his core football beliefs.

This year he must replace a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers, yet he can look reporters in the eye and say, "I like us. I like us in every game."

That would include a first game against formidable Wisconsin in neutral-site Houston. It's mid-August, though, and Miles doesn't even know who will start at quarterback.

Miles lost a good one in pocket-steady Zach Mettenberger, and must now decide between sophomores Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris.

Here's guessing the bake-off winner will be good. We already know he'll be fortress-protected by a stunningly good offensive line led by left tackle La'el Collins.

The cookie in Miles' back pocket is freshman Leonard Fournette, the nation's top-ranked running back who rushed for 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns down the road at St. Augustine High in New Orleans.

Fournette is already being touted by some as the next Adrian Peterson, while Miles says he has the persona of a young Michael Jordan.

All Fournette has to do now is take his first carry.

"I have thought about my first touchdown a thousand times," Fournette said at LSU's team media day in early August. "Seeing the crowd cheer for your first touchdown, it is exciting. Hopefully, it will be in the first game."

Miles knows LSU doesn't just have talent — it has SEC talent.

The defense has taken a lot of early departure hits, but is led by one of the nation's best coordinators in John Chavis.

The trick for LSU is trying to change on the fly in the SEC West, where it resides with ever-present Alabama, Auburn and now an emerging Mississippi.

Losing the likes of Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. would cripple many programs.

For Miles, it's the price you pay for success. LSU, if it defeats Wisconsin, gets a month on relative cruise control — Sam Houston State, Louisiana Monroe, Mississippi State, New Mexico State — before defining trips to Auburn and Florida in early October.

Don't be shocked if the Nov. 8 meeting against Alabama, in Baton Rouge, becomes an elimination game for the four-team playoff.

The countdown so far: No. 16. Notre Dame, No. 15. Mississippi, No. 14. Stanford.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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