BATON ROUGE, La. -- Arkansas was supposed to be a top-10 team this season, but then the Bobby Petrino incident happened, the wheels came off and the Razorbacks now come into their season finale Friday against LSU a mere 4-7.
USC was also supposed to be loaded but instead is struggling at 7-4.
LSU, meanwhile, has had players kicked off the team, and huge injuries, but the Tigers will go to Arkansas playing for a 10-2 season. A victory would give coach Les Miles his sixth season of double-digit wins through eight seasons at LSU, making the Tigers the most consistent team during that stretch in reaching that benchmark in the SEC.
While other programs have had peaks and valleys, LSU has been remarkably consistent with Miles. Alabama is the only other program in the SEC to have reached 10 wins in six of the last eight seasons. The Tigers can join the Crimson Tide on Friday.
"It's very positive that you win 10," Miles said. "I wish it were 12."
The Tigers are actually pretty close to 12. They blew a 6-0 halftime lead en route to a 14-6 loss to Florida at a time when the Tigers' depleted offensive line was at a low point. Then there was Alabama's 21-17 win Nov. 3 -- take away the late drive engineered by Tide quarterback AJ McCarron for a last-minute touchdown and LSU, not Alabama, would be at No. 2 in the BCS standings this week.
Coping with adversity
That LSU was playing for what might eventually prove to be a spot in the BCS title game was a testament to the resolve and competitive spirit of Miles' team. These Tigers had enough off-field issues to derail a season well before Nov. 3.
LSU's most noteworthy player, returning Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu, was kicked off the team in August and another starter, linebacker Tahj Jones, was lost to an academic issue in August.
After the season opener, LSU lost left tackle Chris Faulk, a projected first-round NFL draft pick, for the season to a torn ACL. A couple of weeks later, it was running back Alfred Blue. Then starting right tackle Alex Hurst left the team in the middle of the season, and right guard Josh Williford has been out for most of SEC play because of a head injury. Two linebackers who replaced Jones, Luke Muncie and Kwon Alexander, have missed extensive time with illness and injury.
That sounds like a disaster. Instead, LSU still has realistic shot at a BCS bowl despite having gone with an all-freshman right side to the offensive line and despite having had four different starters at strongside linebacker since August camp and losing six of its original starters for the season.
'This is our culture'
How is Miles able to get this kind of result from this team when other programs might go off the rail?
Josh Dworaczyk, who has excelled since replacing Faulk at left tackle, tried to explain it with a story from the hours before LSU escaped Tiger Stadium with a 41-35 win over Ole Miss on Saturday.
"Coach Miles made everybody laugh in his pregame speech at the [team] hotel," Dworacyk said. "He has this board and he always writes pretty much exactly the same thing. He said, one day you'll look back and you're going to think, 'This dumb head coach isn't stupid and he isn't just writing the same stuff over and over again for nothing. It has some meaning.'
"And the meaning behind it is: This is our culture, this is what we do."
And what did Miles write on the board?
"The last thing it says on there," Dworaczyk said, "is 'Fight for victory.' "
Hardly unique, but it's the way it's embraced that sets LSU apart from most.
Against Ole Miss, LSU was not at its best. The Rebels took it to LSU on Senior Day, taking an eight-point lead to the fourth quarter. Then Odell Beckham returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown. A defense that had struggled most of the day put together back-to-back sacks, setting the offense up to drive the length of the field for the winning touchdown.
Afterward, Miles opened the postgame news conference with a new-famous rant, defending a senior he said was characterized as "a flop" by a media report.
"There is no such thing as a flop that takes the field for our football team," he fumed.
The rant made it back to the players.
"It really means a lot just because because he's got our back," quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. "Sometimes, when he's down on us and we're screwing up on the field, we know he still loves us and cares for us."
Maybe that's what makes his teams so willing to take the cliché on the pregame board to heart, time and again, more consistently than just about any team in the country.