Following spring practice, segments of LSU supporters are experiencing a relapse of catastrophe syndrome. Head coach Nick Saban was the first to put a label on the malady that leads sufferers to take what are normal, everyday occurrences in college football and blow them up into fatal concerns.
The latest bout of catastrophe syndrome deals the setbacks LSU sustained during the recently completed session of spring practice. But perhaps with an early diagnosis, fans, and more importantly players, can avoid making mountains out of the molehills that arose during the month of April.
As detailed in the current issue of Tiger Rag, the spring game was far from the offensive showcase Rohan Davey led last season. No. 1 quarterback Matt Mauck struggled with a group of transplanted and walk-on receivers, and backup Marcus Randall suffered a freak knee injury that has his status for 2002 in doubt. Handed the chance to improve his standing, redshirt freshman Rick Clausen floundered in Randall's absence.
Injuries also caused Freshman All-Southeastern Conference center Ben Wilkerson (sprained knee) and All-SEC linebacker Bradie James (kidney contusion) to miss the spring game, once again fueling the age-old argument over whether spring practice should exist in the first place.
Both Wilkerson and James are expected to be healthy in time for off-season training in June.
But the bottom line here is that it will take much more than a poor scrimmage from Mauck and Randall's injury to sidetrack the LSU football team from another winning season in 2002.
However, it will probably take a few more years with performances like the one seen in 2001 for the LSU football program - or at least its fans - to get past setbacks like those experienced this spring and display the confidence that surrounds championship teams.
Colleges with great winning traditions tend not to get mired in what does or doesn't happen in spring practice. You rarely hear about teams at Nebraska, Florida, Tennessee or Miami calling it quits just because of what takes place five months before the season begins.
To borrow from one of Saban's favorite analogies, LSU has to realize it's been up the mountain and knows the way to get back to the top.
Does Randall's loss hurt LSU?
Certainly. He was gaining a firm grasp of the offense and enjoying a good spring up until the injury and. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher will no doubt be working intensely with Clausen and incoming freshman Lester Ricard to find a viable No. 2 quarterback.
Does Mauck's bad day at the office hurt LSU?
Certainly not. Although he needs to work on his timing with the top receivers and avoid telegraphing his throws, Mauck's hold on the starting job is firm. And this would have still been the case even if Randall had not been injured in the spring game.
For those still not convinced that Mauck is a solid starter for LSU in 2002, you should know that coaches gave him 75 percent of the first-team repetitions in spring practice. Players have told me personally they have great confidence in Matt and, in what qualifies their remarks as more than just the company line, see him evolving some of the same characteristics Davey possessed as team leader.
The same players are quick to say their compliments for Mauck are not a slight on Randall, who they now see as a much more confident and capable player compared to a year ago.
They simply feel things have just fallen into place to where the 2002 squad is becoming Mauck's team, and this is a very good sign that the program is making progress toward eradicating catastrophe syndrome.
PROBING THOUGHTS: As the latest issue of Tiger Rag was at the press, LSU officials, led by Chancellor Mark Emmert and Director of Athletics Skip Bertman, were at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to discuss the in-house probe of alleged favoritism and plagiarism involving student-athletes.
The plan of attack LSU seems to be taking here, in my opinion, is to make sure they are doing everything possible to shed light on what appears to be legitimate problems. If they are forthcoming about everything that is discovered, the feeling is that the NCAA will be less harsh in its final judgment in the program. It could very well take meaningful self-implemented sanctions for LSU to avoid stiffer NCAA penalties down the road.
Meanwhile in Baton Rouge, parties in two suits against LSU for unjust termination are coming forward with their complaints against the university.