MULE’: If You Don’t Feel Bad Enough… Read This!
Postseason musings on the Tigers; Determining whose the SEC’s biggest disappointment
by Marty Mule’
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
That was some turkey of game LSU ended its regular season with Friday.
All you can say is… Thank you Arkansas!
The Razorbacks helped put the finishing touches on the ugliest regular season any LSU team with a winning record ever had.
Think about it.
The Tigers were expected to challenge for a berth in the SEC Championship Game, maybe even with a few breaks for another national championship. However, Les Miles’ fourth team lost to every major opponent (Florida, Georgia and Alabama), tossed in losses against a couple of expected walk-overs (Ole Miss and Arkansas) and beat no one of any real consequence.
LSU’s seven victories came against Appalachian State, North Texas, Auburn, Mississippi State, Tulane and Troy. Of those seven teams, only two are bowl eligible (7-4 Troy and 7-5 South Carolina). The combined record of those teams is 37-42. Removing I-AA Appalachian State (11-2) from the mix, the record gets worse at 26-40.
And it’s not just that LSU sank to a 3-5 SEC record after winning the league a year ago, it’s the way the Tigers lost. Three opponents gained more than 400 yards. Arkansas piled up 398 against a defense that was supposed to be a strength. Six opponents (including the last four in a row) put LSU in an early hole by scoring first. Here’s an indication of just how bad 2008 has been is a comparison with 1992, the worst LSU football season of the modern era.
Of the Tigers’ nine losses that year, five were decided by 10 points or fewer, signifying at least a degree of competitiveness with superior opponents. Of the Tigers’ five defeats of 2008, only two were determined by 10 or fewer points.
When you think of it, perhaps the best thing to come out of this season was not making it to the Cotton Bowl. Can you imagine this LSU defense going against one of those potent Big 12 offenses? They’d have to provide calculators to the statisticians. Could Texas Tech score 100?
With five losses already in the books and an 0-5 record on CBS, here’s a question for LSU fans: What would a report card look like for this Tiger team? What would the final marks reflect on players, coaches, or even entire units like offensive line, secondary, etc.? Would anybody or anything get an “A” or “B?” Is “C’’ too high a grade for any area of this team?
And how much tougher will things get in 2009? LSU plays at Georgia, at Alabama and at Ole Miss? At home the Tigers get reloaded Florida and revitalized Arkansas.
Friday’s game had a curious feel of déjà vu.
Remember 2002 when an another defending SEC champion Tiger team played in Little Rock? Just like Miles did just before the half, then-coach Nick Saban passed on a third-and-one situation in the Arkansas red zone and kicked a field goal. Arkansas came back to shock LSU 21-20 in the fading seconds, snatching a return trip to SEC Championship Game away from the Tigers. Matt Jones hit DeCori Birmingham on a prayer of a pass in the same corner of the end zone where Casey Dick found London Crawford last Friday. In both cases, those missing four points, as a result of a first half field goal, loomed quite large at the end of the game.
LSU’s last two losses, to Ole Miss and Arkansas, were coached by men linked to the coaching search that ensued following Saban’s departure from Baton Rouge. Bobby Petrino had an interview with LSU that was said not to have gone well. The then-Louisville coach said to have had an arrogant air about him. Houston Nutt was recommended for the job by Saban to Skip Bertman, the Tiger AD at the time.
Nutt has left a mark on the history books. This season his Rebels beat Florida and LSU, the last two national champions. On the other hand, despite a strong candidate for SEC Coach of the Year, how does one vote for Nutt. Sure he put together a fine 8-4 season in year one, but Saban is clearly the league’s top coach in 2008. His team is 12-0 and has and enters the postseason ranked No. 1? All of this comes a year after the Tide was 7-6.
This year is by far the worst, but here’s a trend: every time LSU wins a national championship the following season has been utterly disappointing. In 1959 the Tigers were a consensus preseason pick as the No. 1 team in America. That year LSU lost twice, one of which was a 14-13 fluke at Tennessee in which two LSU running backs each outgained the entire Volunteers team. Then, in a Sugar Bowl rematch with Ole Miss, they felt they were cornered into, the Tigers turned in the poorest offensive showing in the 75 years of the classic.
In 2004, LSU also had a good 9-3 record. But there were some close calls with opponents the Tigers were physically better than. LSU struggled with Oregon State, 21-20; Troy State, 24-20 and Ole Miss, 27-24 and also shouldered some killer defeats at Georgia, 45-16; Iowa 30-25 on the last play of the Capital One Bowl, and the infamous 10-9 loss at Auburn. Nothing, of course tops 2008.
You can bet Tennessee will be a factor again in the SEC East, and could be thorn in the recruiting side of LSU, with new coach Lane Kiffin. He’s expected to hire New Orleans Saints assistant Ed Orgeron, who stocked the Ole Miss cupboard with most of the players Nutt is using so well in the Rebel resurgence. Orgeron loved recruiting Louisiana athletes, some of whom are making a difference now.
At the moment Florida and Alabama are the most satisfied football squads in the SEC. Seeing as how they both can envision themselves as league champions in a few days, one of those two teams will land in the BCS National Championship Game.
But who is the most disappointed team in the SEC?
In Louisiana we think it is LSU, the defending national champion who was expected to relinquish its crown only after a fierce fight. Instead the Tigers played something more like patty-cake than SEC football.
Yet Tennessee’s fall is almost as surprising. The Volunteers, remember, earned a berth in the SEC Championship Game a year ago. In 12 months they’ve dropped to a 5-7 also-ran – a season so bad their coach had to be sacrificed.
Auburn was the preseason pick to win the SEC West. The Tigers sagged to a 5-7 record after losing to archrival Alabama 36-0 last Saturday. Coach Tommy Tuberville, who has led 10 Auburn teams to more than a hundred victories, is said to be on thin ice.
Then there is Georgia, the preseason No. 1 team in the country, who lost two non-competitive games (41-30 to Alabama after falling behind 31-0 at the half, and 49-10 to Florida), then lost to its archrival Georgia Tech.
Maybe it’s because of all the whining the Bulldogs – and their president – did last year because they weren’t ushered into a BCS National Championship Game they did nothing to earn. Given the expectations, Georgia seems to be the biggest underachiever.
The Bulldogs put together a good season (9-3), but didn’t win much of anything.
Marty Mule’ can be reached at MJM981two@Charter.net