Historical season? Already there

COLUMN: No matter how the BCS Championship Game unfolds, these Tigers have carved out a nice legacy as one of the best teams in college football history.

NEW ORLEANS – Sometimes when you have a front-row seat for history, you don't really notice how special things are right here in the present.

It takes some time gone by to step back and fully grasp exactly what you're seeing if you're not paying real close attention.

For me, that's how it's been during LSU's spectacular blast through this 2011 football season.

But now's a perfect time to take stock of just what the Tigers have accomplished.

Sure, I know there's one game left – a mighty big one – before we can put a bow on this 2011 campaign and apply the final perspective.

I'll say this now, though, before LSU and Alabama play a single down in the Superdome: The Tigers' regular season has to be considered one of the best in college football history.

What will that get them if they lose to the Crimson Tide? Most likely not much of anything. LSU would probably wind up No. 2 in the polls and outside of Louisiana and maybe the SEC, be an afterthought when people look back at this season 20, 30 or 40 years from now.

If history is fair, that shouldn't happen, though.

Whatever shakes out Monday night, this Tigers roller-coaster thrill ride of emotions (mostly good ones) and drama this season need to have a spot in college football history.

Understand now, I think LSU is the better team and will beat Alabama. The Tigers are more talented at more positions on the field and have more depth than the Tide.

But the teams are so evenly matched that anything can happen. Bama also has a huge weapon in Trent Richardson, who with one broken tackle, could completely change the game at any point.

What I contend is this: It's OK to go ahead and jump the gun and say that LSU, with the first 13-0 regular season in program history and the way it got there, is already in the most elite company in college football.

As impressive as the bottom line is, the how the Tigers have climbed into the spot they occupy is what really sticks out in my mind.

Eight of the teams LSU has knocked off were ranked. Three were in the top three (Oregon, Alabama, Arkansas). Before Monday's game against the Tide, the Tigers' resume is already very healthy with wins over the Orange, Rose and Cotton bowl winners.

LSU was poised to go into the 2011 season with top-shelf hopes, especially with the conspicuous knowledge of where the BCS Championship Game was located this season.

High expectations or not, though, the Tigers were a young team with a bunch of unknowns and were bound to have to cope with some growing pains.

Then in order, LSU encountered one obstacle after another:

  • Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and forced to relinquish his duties as offensive coordinator.

  • The night when camp broke, as many as 50 Tigers ignored curfew and went to a local bar where a brawl busted loose. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson was the most prominent player implicated and wound up charged with a second-degree felony and was subsequently suspended.

  • Receiver Russell Shepard was also sat down after he broke NCAA protocol and talked about issues he had been warned not to.

  • Just when it seemed like off-the-field problems had faded to the background, Tyrann Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon were all suspended a game for testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

    Instead of unraveling, this team began to forge a special bond.

    With all those distractions stacking up, the Tigers didn't flinch. On the field they just kept dominating opponents, winning road games against ranked foes Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia.

    Fifth-year senior quarterback Jarrett Lee personified the team's resiliency, taking over for Jefferson and playing the best ball of his career.

    When the dust settled with Shepard and Jefferson returning and then re-settled after the other three players served their penalty, LSU came back from a bye week fully loaded and headed to Tuscaloosa.

    In a season-defining dogfight, the Tigers found a way to prevail against Alabama on a night when I don't think LSU played very well.

    After edging the Crimson Tide, the Tigers asserted themselves as a frontrunner for the BCS National Championship Game and then displayed some moxie with comeback wins against Arkansas and Georgia.

    This was a team that didn't begin the season with a ton of star power, but star players quickly emerged.

    From Mathieu's Honey Badger alter ego to Mo Claiborne removing any doubt who the best cover cornerback in the country to players like Will Blackwell, Sam Montgomery and Rueben Randle playing as well as anybody in the country at their positions, LSU melded together as a team.

    Now that team and those budding stars are one victory away from removing any doubt about being one of the greatest teams in college football history.

    But after watching these first 13 games from my front-row seat, I'm not sure that this team's legacy shouldn't already be secure.

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