By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine
Fourteen years ago, 42-year-old Ed Orgeron was the assistant head coach of the USC Trojans. That was the year that Pete Carroll’s troops shared the national title with Nick Saban of LSU. Saban was 52 and had just one SEC title to his credit as a head coach of LSU and no conference crowns at Michigan State. Five years at East Lansing were disappointing for Saban, who found the bayou more productive.
Saban led LSU to the pinnacle in 2003 with a 21-14 win in New Orleans over Oklahoma. In year four of his tenure in Baton Rouge, Saban emerged as a great coach with the first of five BSC championships. Other than two restless years with the Miami Dolphins in 2005-06, Nick has never looked back to his first half century as a journeyman in search of greatness.
Eighteen hundred-ninety miles down Interstate 10 in 2003, Carroll and Orgeron directed Southern Cal to a 28-14 triumph over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans received 48 of 65 votes from sportswriters to be declared national champions by the Associated Press. The remaining 17 first place votes went to LSU. The most uncomfortable question for Orgeron would be an inquiry to him about which school, LSU or USC, was more worthy of the 2003 title.
All these years later, Saban is the most despised person in Louisiana while Orgeron is the toast of TigerTown as stands on the brink of his first full season as head coach of the Tigers. Emotions are affected dramatically when coaches change sidelines. Saban is trash unless he returns to Louisiana and immediately starts winning more national championships for LSU. Orgeron is on a honeymoon until he loses two in a row to Saban.
Orgeron celebrated the 2003 national title with his USC brothers, but nothing would please him more than to face USC in a championship game and beat the school that fired him after eight games as interim head coach in 2013. Three years later, LSU rewarded him with permanent head coaching job after posting the same 6-2 record that he registered at Southern Cal.
Role reversal occasionally happens. LSU is known nationally for its outstanding quarterbacks, and two of them, Y. A. Tittle and Bert Jones, were NFL Most Valuable Players. USC is recognized most for its running backs. Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White, Marcus Allen and Reggie Bush won Heisman Trophies for the Trojans as did quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
USC sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold is considered by many prognosticators to be the favorite for the 2017 Heisman after firing for 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions as a freshman. LSU junior running back Derrius Guice could become LSU’s first Heisman winner in 58 years. The last time a Tiger took the honor it was during the Eisenhower administration as another runner from Baton Rouge collected the trophy from Vice President Richard Nixon. Billy Cannon turned 80 last week and will soon have a statue on campus to salute his greatness at the Ole War Skule.
Guice has logged two years in the shadow of Leonard Fournette, but No. 5 has a chance to exceed the standard established by his predecessor.
Here is how Guice and Fournette fared by comparison in the seasons they were teammates.
Derrius Guice,234,”1,823″,8,7.8 [/table]
On a per carry basis, Guice was the superior back for LSU in the last two seasons. Guice gained 1,387 yards last season and has a chance to become the most prolific LSU back over a two-year period.
Fournette was spectacular at times, but on the whole a disappointment. He left LSU without a championship of any kind and was never a serious threat to win the Heisman Trophy. Hershel Walker, in three seasons at Georgia, won the Heisman in 1982, finished second in 1981 and third in 1980, the year he led the Bulldogs of Vince Dooley to a national title.
Walker completed his three-year tour at Athens with 5,696 yards (counting bowl games). Fournette, in three years at LSU, gained 1,866 fewer yards than Hershel posted in his career at Georgia.
Here is the list of the top LSU backs for yards gained in a two-year period (Stats include bowl games).
Charles Alexander,”3,188 yards”,1977-78
Leonard Fournette,”2,987 yards”,2014-15
Leonard Fournette,”2,796 yards”,2015-16
Charles Alexander,”2,759 yards”,1976-77 [/table]
Guice needs to gain 1,802 yards this season to become the all-time leader for two years of rushing yardage at LSU. The record for one season is held by Fournette with 1,953 yards in 2015.
The forecast from this corner is that if Guice stays healthy, he will become the first LSU back to gain 2,000 yards in a season.
It should be noted to those who say that Fournette was larger than Guice that the most prolific USC back was not O.J. Simpson or Marcus Allen, but Charles White, who was a smaller version of Guice.
These are the top five USC backs in career yards rushing.
J. Simpson,”3,423″ [/table]
The top five LSU backs in career yards:
Harvey Williams,”2,860″ [/table]
Statistics for bowl games are only counted by LSU for Fournette, not the other four backs. The NCAA started including post-season stats in official records in 2002. USC has adjusted its career statistics to reflect performance in bowl games for all players, not just those from the past 15 years.
It is time for the NCAA to follow the lead of USC and retroactively include numbers compiled in bowl games prior to 2002 in the official numbers. This is not a complex procedure for any first-year mathematics student at one of the association’s institutions.
Barry Sanders rushed for 2,628 yards in eleven games in his record-setting Heisman season of 1988. Add another 222 yards and five touchdowns he recorded in Oklahoma State’s 62-14 Holiday Bowl win over Wyoming, and Sanders finished with a staggering 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns in 12 games for the Cowboys in ’88.
This is the national standard until further notice. Look for Guice to get closer to Barry Sanders at his peak than any previous LSU runner.