FISCHER: Outside the Box
A 10-2 season looks much better now than it would have in August
As Fall Camp was wrapping up back in August, I sent out the following Roundtable question in Tiger Rag Magazine:
Does LSU need to win the national championship for the 2012 season to be considered a success?
Four of the five responses, although reluctantly, confirmed that a national title would be the only thing that would satisfy Tigers fans - as well as the players and coaches - in 2012.
After all, LSU was fresh off the most dominant regular season in the history of college football, and they were to have their nemesis, Alabama, in Death Valley. January vacations to South Beach were already being made.
But only Derek Ponamsky kept a level head and submitted the following response.
“Absolutely not. There is no doubt that expectations around LSU football have risen in the last decade, but to say that a season that does not end with a national championship is not successful is outrageous.”
That was short, sweet and to the point. It took up less than half the space allotted to him. That’s all he needed.
Twelve games later, he looks like a brilliant prognosticator. Following all LSU has been through, a 10-2 regular season seems pretty darn impressive after it would have seemingly been the end of the world just a few, short months ago.
But not even Derek could have seen the problems that would besiege this team in the coming weeks. No one could.
LSU lost defending Bednarik Award winner, first-team All American and Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu following another failed drug test. This happened prior to the Roundtable question being sent out. But surely that would be LSU’s only distraction of 2012, right? Wrong.
LSU lost starting outside linebacker Tahj Jones and contributing tight end Tyler Edwards to academic ineligibility.
LSU lost its starting left tackle Chris Faulk (knee) in practice following the first game.
LSU lost its starting running back Alfred Blue (knee) for the duration of the regular season following the third game.
LSU lost its starting right tackle Alex Hurst when he quit the team following the sixth game.
The Tigers also lost starting right guard Josh Williford (concussion) for the remainder of the regular season in the sixth game.
LSU lost its backup tight end Nic Jacobs to an indefinite suspension for the final three games.
To a lesser degree, add the losses of stud freshman WR Avery Johnson (didn’t qualify academically) and fellow frosh Kwon Alexander (ankle) who had stepped into Jones’ starting strong side linebacker role, and the issues kept piling on one after another.
But somehow, someway, LSU head coach Les Miles kept his team focused on the week-to-week task at hand, and more importantly, didn’t let them use any or all of the above problems as an excuse for failure.
It was that attitude that allowed the Tigers to win so many close games (five SEC games by a combined 22 points) and keep fighting no matter what odds were stacked against them. Even their losses are respectable, versus two teams who will likely find themselves in BCS Bowls, one of whom could be competing for the national crown. And both pushed themselves to the limit to beat LSU.
“How frickin’ easy it would’ve been to say it was their night? How f**kin’ easy?” Miles exclaimed following LSU’s come from behind Ole Miss victory two weeks ago.
Well, how frickin’ easy would it have been for them to say it wasn’t their season? Arkansas did when it lost its head coach and several players to injury/suspension this year. USC did when it fell out of national title contention late in the campaign. But LSU never made excuses and finished the season on its terms.
Amazing that 2012 will simultaneously go down as a disappointing year for the Tigers because it didn’t end in a national championship or even a BCS Bowl, but it could also be remembered as one of Miles’ best coaching jobs in his eight-year career in TigerTown.
Not often can a program or a coach be classified as disappointing and pleasantly surprising in the same year.
But that’s just one more spoke on the wheel of the enigma that is Les Miles.
Richard Fischer is the associate editor of Tiger Rag Magazine covering football and baseball. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.