Rabalais: These Tigers should relish the underdog role

Here’s a little fact that you probably already knew, but this just confirms it:

We “media experts” aren’t so expert a lot of the time.

The Southeastern Conference will release the media’s preseason all-conference team and predicted order of finish Thursday from the writers and broadcasters attending SEC media days.

Since the SEC went to 12 teams and inaugurated its championship game in 1992, the media has picked the eventual conference champ all of four times. The last time was in 2007, when LSU proved the pundits right.

You won’t see LSU picked to win the SEC this year, that’s for sure. In fact, the Tigers are likely to be slotted somewhere between third and fifth in the Western Division.

But what do we know? You think any of us Jimmy the Greeks saw Auburn versus Missouri coming?

There are legitimate reasons LSU will be picked down the list. The Tigers have about an hour and a half of game experience at quarterback between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. The wide receiver corps is so green that its carbon footprint could win environmental awareness awards. And tell me you could name three LSU defensive tackles if I spotted you Christian LaCouture and Greg Gilmore.

But let other teams shoulder the backbreaking weight of lofty expectations. The Tigers should be happy to be discounted, overlooked and dismissed.

That doesn’t happen very often anymore.

It should be almost impossible for a program that has had LSU’s amount of recent success — 44 wins in four straight seasons of 10 wins or more and 35 players taken in the NFL draft since 2010 — to tiptoe into a campaign. But here the Tigers come into 2014, mounted atop quite the dark horse.

For coach Les Miles, though, nothing changes within the walls of his football complex in terms of expectations.

“We want to be in that (SEC) championship game, in that last game,” he said, referring to college football’s new playoff final. “That’s always our goal.”

But Miles can take his team’s modest expectations and do the loaves and fishes thing with them in terms of motivation for his Tigers. To hear him talk Wednesday, he seemed to be relishing the underdog’s role.

“What generally seems to be our position is, ‘Don’t bother us. We don’t care.’ We just want to work. We want to improve,” he said. “We have advantages.”

If you want to look at this season from a glass-half-full perspective, perhaps even LSU’s disadvantages have advantages.

For example: The Tigers are one of eight teams that lost their starting quarterback from 2013. There may not be a better year to be breaking in a new man behind center.

Three of LSU’s more grizzled vets — offensive tackle La’el Collins, running back Terrence Magee and linebacker D.J. Welter, seniors all — accompanied Miles to media days.

All were on the team as freshmen back in 2011, when LSU last won the SEC and played for the national title.

When you’re a player that young, you think you have football figured out, that every season will be that championship season. Then you start to collect hard knocks and disappointments and realize how tough it really is.

“Sometimes we go back and watch on film how well that (2011) team worked together,” Welter said. “It makes us strive to be like that this year.”

When you’re surrounded by as much talent as LSU’s players are, there is always an almost unshakable self-confidence.

“Nothing is different,” Collins said. “The expectations are always there.”

The measure of a man can be a result of the faith he has in himself. And the LSU Tigers have enjoyed plenty enough success to believe they can overcome their inexperience, make an end run on their shortcomings and even be one of those teams whose names will be called Dec. 7 for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

“We want to be one of those four teams in the playoff,” Magee said. “If we can do that, we’ll be etched in history forever.”

Virtually no one covering media days sees that coming.

Maybe that’s the best reason to think LSU can.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.