Miles hoping to make return trip to New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — The LSU Tiger Tour made its annual stop here Sunday, and arriving at the Hilton Riverside brought back fond memories for football coach Les Miles.

“Every time we come down this road, we talk about what it’s like to load the team into a bus and take a bowl trip on a bus trip that was very significant, to play for a national championship, and this is the hotel we stayed in,” Miles said, recalling the Tigers’ visit to New Orleans during which it won the BCS Championship Game against Ohio State after the 2007 season.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl’s and New Orleans’ opportunity to host the title game in the four-city rotation comes again after this coming season. LSU has won the title the last two times it has been decided in the Crescent City, having beaten Oklahoma after the 2003 season.

The Tigers were ranked eighth after the bowls last season and are hanging at or very near the top spot in preseason polls. So the members of the various LSU support groups involved in the Tiger Tour, as well as LSU fans everywhere, are hopeful that a return trip down Interstate 10 could be looming shortly after New Year’s 2012.

“Our football team recognizes that this would be the place to play in any postseason play,” Miles said. “I told my wife (Kathy) as we were driving in that this is what we’re preparing for.”

Though the anticipation for this season is perhaps even higher than LSU’s usual standards, Miles said supporters on the Tiger Tour haven’t said they “expect” to be back in the Superdome on Jan. 9.

“Expect is probably too strong a word,” Miles said. “I think the hope and the want and the capable of are all there. It’s much more likely that our football team would expect to be back.”

The Tigers begin preparations in earnest on Aug. 4 for their highly anticipated opener against Oregon on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas. Along with the dream of returning to New Orleans for the BCS title game, another hot topic this summer is senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Miles has praised Jefferson’s improvement during the offseason and some national commentators have also spoken highly of Jefferson.

“His mechanics are much improved,” Miles said. “He’s looking for ward to having a great year, and I think his want to be the leader of our football team is just as important as how well he throws it. I think he has improved in both areas.”

If Jefferson is improved over last season, when the Tigers finished 11-2 despite one of the lower-ranked passing offenses in the country, another January trip here would become very realistic.

“I think the expectations are something that we always enjoy here,” Miles said. “Certainly at LSU we look to play to those expectations. This has the potential to be a very big year. I think it’s an opportunity to achieve greatness.”

Miles called the NCAA’s interviews with the Tigers coaching staff last week regarding the football program’s relationship with Will Lyles “fundamental” and “necessary.” Lyles’ scouting service’s relationship with the Oregon program was the first to draw the NCAA’s attention.

“We’re going to comply, and we’re cooperating,” Miles said. “That’s all I can say.”

Certainly the expectations figure to be lower for coach Trent Johnson’s men’s basketball team, but the Crescent City also looms in that team’s future. The SEC tournament will be held in New Orleans Arena, just a month before the Final Four is played in the Superdome next April.

Johnson, whose team has finished last in the SEC the last two seasons, said he didn’t read anything into the LSU Board of Supervisors decision last week not to take up his proposed one-year contract extension. Johnson has three years remaining on his contract.

New women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell joined Johnson and Miles on the New Orleans stop. Baseball coach Paul Mainieri had to cancel his scheduled appearance for personal reasons.