Curley Hallman knows better than to say it publicly, but his thoughts are written all over LSU's lineup.
A true freshman at quarterback? A true freshman at tailback? Nine freshmen and sophomores in his starting lineup? It seems to say this about Hallman: If the Tigers are going to lose, they might as well lose with an eye toward the future.
"I've heard questions like that around here," Hallman said. "I'm interested in putting the best players on the field right now. That's it."
Those questions didn't appear necessary earlier in the season. LSU opened with a strong showing, despite losing 31-22 to No. 5 Texas A&M. The Tigers came back a week later with an upset victory over Mississippi State, which is ranked 18th.
Since then, LSU has dropped three in a row and Hallman has begun fiddling with the lineup.
He used three starting quarterbacks in the first four games before settling on freshman Jamie Howard. Juniors Chad Loup and Jesse Daigle, who have been rotating starters for two years, are out of the picture. Daigle is playing wide receiver and Loup is now third string.
Howard, a second-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves as a right-handed pitcher, looked marvelous in a relief role against Auburn three weeks ago but struggled the past two weeks in losses to Colorado State and Tennessee.
Howard is completing less than 44 percent of his passes and has thrown three interceptions in 58 attempts. Still, Hallman is committed to Howard rather than the more-experienced quarterbacks. Howard has had the flu this week but still should start.
"If we can get Jamie healthy, we're going to go with him," Hallman said. "He is our quarterback."
While Howard is struggling to find his form in his debut season, tailback Robert Davis has hit the turf running. Davis, a heralded recruit from Birmingham, Ala., is seventh in the SEC in rushing with 301 yards and a 4.9-yard average per carry.
The rest of the squad has been inconsistent. The offense scored three late touchdowns against Auburn but has scored just two total in the past two weeks. The defense held Mississippi State to three points, then gave up 30 the following week to Auburn.
Nearing the season's halfway point, LSU is in danger of a fourth consecutive losing record _ which would be a first in the 100-year history of the program.