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July 16, 2014

LSU is looking to be this year's Auburn

Very little buzz has been attached to the LSU football program during Southeastern Conference Media Days this week at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover (Ala.).

LSU will certainly be picked to finish no higher than third place in the SEC West when the poll of media members is announced Thursday. Few Tigers players have been named to preseason watch lists for national awards.

However, LSU coach Les Miles recalled what happened a year ago in the SEC. An Auburn team, which won no conference games in 2012, rebounded to win the league title and lose a three-point game to Florida State for the national championship.

"I would be willing to bet that not many (people) picked Auburn a year ago," said Miles at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. "So, our position is don't bother us. We don't care. We just want to work. We want to improve.

"We understand we're not in the immediate talk. But, if we want continue to do the things we've done in the past, we'll earn our way. I like us. I like us in every game."

LSU finds itself in this low-profile position because of another year of early departures to the NFL. The Tigers lost six underclassmen last spring - wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, guard Trai Turner, running back Jeremy Hill and defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson.

"We'd like to have those guys back," Miles said. "There's a responsibility that the coaching staff has to see a void that will potentially occur and we have to recruit to that void.

"We have to make sure that our style of recruiting gets us an athlete that has a want to be something special. Then, that guy steps in and plays as a true freshman. Although not optimal, it's certainly something we've done."

This season, the primary rebuilding job falls on offense. The Tigers lost a 3,000-yard passer (Zach Mettenberger), a 1,000-yard rusher (Hill) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Beckham and Landry). True freshmen could replace all four of those players.

Brandon Harris is competing with sophomore Anthony Jennings for the starting quarterback job. Leonard Fournette will be trying to get carries along with seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn could be in the receiver rotation with sophomore Travin Dural.

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Miles intends for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to observe the quarterback race in August before deciding upon a starter for the season-opener against Wisconsin in Houston.

"Quarterback will be a very competitive event from start to finish," Miles said. "Cam Cameron has made a career mentoring quarterbacks. He will do the exactly right things with those guys. You will see how well a freshman can execute at quarterback."

Jennings has two wins under his belt - a come-from-behind victory against Arkansas and a less-than-impressive triumph against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. After Jennings endured a poor spring game, a lot of the chatter began to involve Harris.

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"Harris really throws the ball well," Miles said. "He is a guy with real strength. He is innately accurate. Harris has great footwork. He can extend a play, move around and get out of the pocket.

"The best thing about Harris is that he anticipates that great play. He has the opportunity to see it and the arm to get it there. There are some real advantages with him."

Fournette was the No. 1 recruit in LSU's 2014 class. The Tigers need Fournette to make a huge impact in his first season. Miles praised Fournette for his work during the summer.

"Leonard Fournette is doing exactly what he should be doing," Miles said. "He's getting in great shape. He is pursuing the classroom. He's quiet and not assuming. He is humble in his approach. Leonard is exactly where he needs to be. He expects himself to be something very special.

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"If you look at Michael Jordan, he could not have been coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan accepted the role of expecting himself to be better than anybody. Leonard has a quiet confidence that will benefit him."

For the fourth time in the past five years, the Tigers will begin the season with a neutral-site game - Wisconsin in Houston. LSU is 3-0 in such games with victories against North Carolina in Atlanta and Oregon and TCU in Arlington (Tex.).

"Our program has taken the challenges of these games," Miles said. "It's an opportunity for us to raise our level of play. We really expect the freshmen and those underclassmen that are now being counted upon to show they can play big roles for the Tigers. They have to be ready to do so in the first game."

Miles will be beginning his tenth season as LSU coach. The Tigers have 95 victories, three SEC West titles, two SEC championships and one national crown in Miles' first nine years.

"I recognize how fortunate I've been to be at LSU for this length of time," Miles said. "I honor the young men I've coached. I recognize the advantages that we have. If you're a guy that doesn't spend time on where you are ranked and spends time on how to make the players better, that's an advantage."

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