Simply put, life is full of so many great mysteries. Does Bigfoot really exist? Why was the can opener invented 48 years after the can? Why did Thurston Howell III and his wife pack so many darn suitcases for a three-hour tour? These are questions that we may never get answered.
But as we get set for the kickoff of college football season, the sport we love so much has given us a query just as flummoxing as any of those mentioned above. That question? What the heck did the LSU Tigers do in the off-season to sour so many people?
That’s right, because as easy as everyone apparently has forgotten it now, it was only about nine months ago, and just days before the 2012 BCS Championship Game that we were pegging the 2011 Tigers as one of the greatest teams in the modern era of college football. LSU entered the title game at 13-0, had ripped off eight wins against ranked teams, and over the course of the season laid waste to a schedule that included victories over an 11-win Arkansas team, the eventual Pac-12 champion (Oregon), eventual Big East champion on the road (West Virginia), and the eventual BCS title victor themselves, the Alabama Crimson Tide. In Tuscaloosa, none the less.
Even in the lead-up to the BCS title game, it seemed like even if LSU were to somehow lose the game, there was little doubt that the Tigers would still be overwhelming favorites entering 2012. LSU had a slew of returning underclassmen and even when a few (Rueben Randle, Morris Claiborne and Michael Brockers) decided to leave school, others such as Tyrann Mathieu, Bark Mingo, Odell Beckham and Sam Montgomery would be back and ready to lead LSU on another title game run. Even during the Tigers run in 2011, Les Miles kept pointing toward 2012 as the year he and his staff truly believed they were building toward.
It all seemed too good to be true, and it was… at least until LSU went down to New Orleans and got their brains beaten in by Alabama. Anyone reading this article certainly saw the game and knows that the 21-0 final score was nowhere near as close as the game actually played out.
And since that game, a funny thing has seemed to happen: Everyone in the college football media has made a mad dash to discredit these 2012 Tigers. Nobody is saying the Tigers are bad per se, but instead are using the title game beat down as some abstract way to discredit the 13 games- and all the hype- that came before it.
It started almost immediately, when Matt Barkley announced he was returning for his senior year of college, and ‘SC vaulted LSU as the prohibitive No. 1. Somewhere along the way, Alabama passed them as the prohibitive No. 2 as well. This, despite the fact that USC has less depth than the valley girls who walk around their campus, and Alabama lost more NFL talent than the Jacksonville Jaguars have on their current roster.
Add all that up, and the buzz around LSU has certainly slowed down for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. Regardless, I’m here to tell you to ignore the pundits, ignore the critics, and listen to the one man left with common sense. That man is me (naturally) and I’m here to tell you one thing: LSU will be your 2013 BCS National Champions. And they’ll beat Oregon to get the crystal ball.
First, let’s start with the detractors, and start by saying this: If you’re making the case against LSU, you either don’t trust new quarterback Zach Mettenberger, don’t think they can beat Alabama or some combination of the two. Those are the only two logical explanations as to why anyone would bet against LSU. Otherwise, nitpicking the Tigers is like nitpicking Mila Kunis; sure you can find fault, but my goodness do you have to look awfully hard.
Let’s start with the Mettenberger thing and start by saying that he has the most unique responsibility of any quarterback in college football: Mettenberger isn’t expected to be good (like say, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron) and isn’t needed to be great like Barkley at USC. Heck, he doesn’t even have to be decent with LSU’s running game and defense. But he is expected to win every single game he plays. Name another quarterback with such a unique range of expectations than what Mettenberger enters the season with? You can’t. But that’s exactly the pressure cooker he walks into.
Except with that said, look at what I said again: The guy doesn’t need to be good, great or average. He just can’t be terrible. Remember, LSU is going to return the single most ferocious defense in college football to help him out, a unit which finished second in the country in scoring defense and total defense last year and did it against unequivocally the toughest schedule in college football. Well guess what? That same defense returns nearly intact, with every single projected starter entering their junior or senior seasons. The front seven- which was probably the best besides Alabama’s last year- is projected to be all seniors.
And it’s that defense, the running game and the best pair of specialists in college football (kicker Drew Alleman and punter Brad Wing) as to why I honestly wouldn’t be terrified throwing Mettenberger to the wolves against Alabama on November 5. Now, would I be scared? Of course. But let’s not forget that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee combined to go 9 for 17 against Alabama last year, numbers that won’t exactly get either enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame any time soon. And you know what? In that game last year, LSU relied on their defense, relied on their running game and won, in Tuscaloosa, against a better version of the Crimson Tide. I’m not saying that guarantees the Tigers a victory this year, but if I were a betting man, I’d lay my money on Les Miles’ boys.
So in the end, I expect the Tigers to again beat Alabama in the regular season, again run the table before and after in the regular season, and again beat down whatever second class citizen the SEC East sends to Atlanta the first weekend in December. From there, I expect the Tigers to play the Oregon Ducks in the BCS title game (Ironically, this particular group of Tigers started their run to open the 2011 season against Oregon in Dallas. I expect them to close this golden age of LSU football with a win against them in Miami as well).
Why Oregon? Well, if you’ve been reading this site, you know that I’ve been pimping their November 3 showdown with USC as the more important game for the National Championship picture than the LSU-Alabama tilt that same day. After all, once the winner of LSU and Alabama is decided, those two schools don’t have to play the other again. It should be relatively smooth sailing to the BCS title game. As for USC-Oregon? All November 3 means is that the winner will likely end up with home-field advantage for the Pac-12 title game. A rematch there seems almost certain.
Speaking of “rematches” that was the buzz word in 2011, and I expect it to be the same in 2012. It happened with a debate over Alabama’s validity playing in the BCS title game, and if you’re holding a gun to my head, I expect the Ducks and Trojans to split the two games they will likely play this season (if only because as good as USC is, I find it hard to believe that anyone can beat Chip Kelly twice in one calendar year) meaning that the “rematch” word could come into play again in 2012 too. If one wins the November 3 matchup and the other a rematch in the Pac-12 title game, who’ll be more deserving? It’s a question with an impossible answer, but one that will be asked none the less at the end of next season.
And while it’s just a hunch, I do like Oregon to take the second game, after losing the first game at USC (look, I love Lane Kiffin, but I find it hard to believe that anyone will get the better of Chip Kelly twice in one season). So now that’s where the fun begins. Because if Oregon were to win the Pac-12 title on USC’s home field, I find it hard to believe that BCS pollsters would keep the Ducks out. They’d be the conference champions and would’ve won the title on the road. I’m not saying it’s right or what wrong to send a 12-1 Oregon team to Miami over USC, but what I am saying is that the Ducks would get the edge.
And once everyone packed their backs and go to Miami, well, I’m thinking the edge would go to LSU. I’m not saying it’ll be as one-sided as last year’s season opener, but the same problems that haunted Oregon last year in Dallas would be in effect in the title game this year as well: Essentially, how do you keep LSU’s defensive line (all playing their last college games by the way) out of the backfield.
Give me LSU over Oregon, and a score of 23-17 seems about right.
For all the questions entering the season, there’s one that will needs no answering: LSU will be college football’s best team.
For all his insight, opinion and analysis on college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.