BATON ROUGE, La. -- For all the criticism Les Miles has endured lately, LSU could finish with double-digit wins for the fourth time in the coach's five seasons with the Tigers.
LSU moved up to 15th in the AP poll following a 33-30 overtime victory against visiting Arkansas on Saturday night. If the Tigers can win their bowl game, they'll improve to 10-3.
Two of their losses have come against Alabama and Florida, the top two teams in the country.
Miles hopes a strong finish can make LSU's late-game implosion in its only other loss at Ole Miss a little more forgivable, if not forgettable.
"The opportunity to be one of the elite teams in this conference is clearly what we want to be," Miles said. "I don't think we've played our best football yet. ... I still think we're a capable team that will eventually be very, very good."
The Tigers wound up this season at 5-3 in the SEC, second in the league's Western Division behind Alabama.
After going 3-5 in the SEC in 2008, with their struggles blamed largely on a lack of experience at quarterback, the Tigers appear to be headed back in the right direction under first-year starter Jordan Jefferson, though perhaps not as quickly as they would like.
Two weeks ago at Ole Miss, Jefferson's performance was a mixed bag. With LSU trailing 25-17 in the final minutes, Jefferson marched LSU downfield and hit Rueben Randle for a potential game-tying touchdown. A lot went wrong after that. The Tigers failed to convert a 2-point try, despite an Ole Miss penalty giving them two chances.
After LSU recovered an onside kick and got into field goal range, Jefferson took a sack, then Miles allowed precious seconds to tick down before calling his final timeout. That led to a frantic finish in which Jefferson's long heave to Terrance Toliver at the Ole Miss 5 went for naught as time ran out before LSU could get off another play.
Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton were berated for their play-calling and clock management. Miles said he took the criticism to heart and recognized the need to improve.
When LSU fell behind against Arkansas with little more than a minute to go on Saturday night, Jefferson led an efficient 2-minute drill.
He marched the Tigers 41 yards to set up a game-tying field goal, completing quick and decisive throws of 10 yards to Randle, 11 yards to tight end Richard Dickson, and a couple of 8-yarders to running back Stevan Ridley.
"We worked all week on that type of drive," Jefferson said. "To be able to convert on that type of drive this week was special. Almost kind of a relief. ... I was looking forward to that drive and the opportunity to go out there and get the job done."
Miles said this year's squad might have been good enough to beat Alabama and win its division if not for several untimely injuries to key players.
Versatile tailback Richard Murphy was lost to a season-ending knee injury back in September. Jefferson and starting running back Charles Scott both were hurt in the second half of LSU's loss at Alabama, a game the Tigers led 15-10 before falling 24-15.
Scott's broken collarbone put him out for the season, and senior running back Keiland Williams broke his ankle two games later against Mississippi.
"This team is a very, very good team and has overcome some real adversity, (some) difficult personnel issues," Miles said.
Last winter, Miles brought in new defensive coordinator John Chavis and the Tigers have since improved on that side of the ball. Meanwhile, more scrutiny has been directed at the offense and Crowton. In 2007, with senior Matt Flynn under center, Crowton's playcalling was good enough for LSU to win a national championship.
The past two seasons, with Crowton sending in plays to young quarterbacks, LSU has gone 8-8 in the SEC.
Miles could be under pressure to replace Crowton, but also could make an argument for keeping him.
LSU's performance in its bowl game could very well influence that decision.