Dealing with success is LSU's next step

Heading into last Saturday's game, very few people outside the Baton Rouge area gave the LSU Tigers much of a chance against defending SEC champion Georgia. <br><br> Heck, even some of the locals enthusiasm as kickoff approached on Saturday. <br><br> However, one of the most spirited gatherings in Tiger Stadium history, a record crowd actually, witnessed and cheered on LSU to one of the greatest wins in this half of the century.

Now some of you may say that is going a bit too far. But for Tiger football under Nick Saban, no matter how Saban himself downplayed the game, this is a crowning achievement for his ball club. He has talked about dominance and consistency and elevating the program to prominence on the national stage, this win did that.


If LSU was to have lost on Saturday, the talk would have been once again that Tigers were again overrated and how they are not ready for the big time just yet. How many times has it been said, "maybe next year."


Guess what – next year is here.


For the first time since (uggh!!) 1998, the LSU Tigers are ranked in the top 10 during the regular season. Saban has had a team finish in the top 10 following his club's win over Illinois in the Sugar Bowl, but never in the regular season.


Now we know Saban doesn't like rankings, polls or  predictions, but this more than just a number. It is respect and Saban has finally put LSU on the map as a contender, rather than a pretender.


The Tigers won the big game in September, something they have no done for quite a while. Winning your big game in the early portion of the schedule propels your program into the national spotlight, makes your team more attractive for notoriety, bowl games and postseason awards and recognition. Just ask Arkansas and Tennessee, they, like LSU, are ascending whereas Florida, Texas and Georgia will spend the next month or so trying to win as many games as they cane to try and make up for that costly September loss.


LSU has not won the big "early" one in, well, six years. In 1997, the Tigers knocked off No. 1 Florida and jumped into the top 10. But a loss the next week to Ole Miss cancelled all they had accomplished a week earlier and sent the program spiraling out of control in search of an identity. The wheels remained attached long enough for a bowl win over Notre Dame, but things began unraveling in the offseason spun out of control with a 4-7 season in 1998.


We can talk all we want about the Tigers winning the "big one" by beating Georgia in Tiger Stadium. But really Georgia wasn't that big one everyone has been talking about. It was only half the battle.


Although Mississippi State is probably the fifth best program in the state of Mississippi behind USM, Ole Miss, Hinds Community College and Moss Point High School, the Bulldogs are the proverbial spoiler that could rain LSU's parade.


Mississippi State is just bad enough (see Ole Miss in 1997) and unassuming enough and unlikely enough to again knock LSU from its lofty pedestal.


However, here is why that won't happen this time.


Unlike LSU's loss to Tulane after the historic win over Florida State in 1982 and embarrassing defeat the hands of Ole Miss in 1997, the Tiger football program is on much more stable ground than it was under Gerry Dinardo or Jerry Stovall.


Saban has provided a solid foundation under his team and a letdown is unacceptable in his eyes. The fourth-year coach has already began preparing to re-enforce his team's mindset heading into this week expected to be filled with hoopla.


"I know it's great for LSU, our football program, and our football team to win on national television against a nationally ranked top-ten team and I'm proud as I can be of them, our fans, our administration, and anyone who had anything to do with it," Saban said.


Saban stressed the importance of putting the win over Georgia in the past.


"Next week when we play what we did today won't help us beat the next team," Saban said. "We have to be more concerned about what are commitment is to how good we want to be rather than feeling so good about what we just accomplished. I think we have how many more games, eight? We could go four and eight this year."


Much the way they approached the Georgia game, it is just another game and needs to be examined as the only game on the schedule.


"You have got to play them one game at a time," Saban said. "You compete every play. Today was a great win and I'm proud of our players. I can't tell you how proud of our players I am. It'll be a test for our players to be able to have success and to be able to deal with the success that they have and still prepare to try and get better.

What is your conviction to continuing improvement even when you have success?"


Saban and his team have conquered one step in the right direction toward dominance – achieving success.

"The next one is the big step in dealing with it," he said.

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