MULE': Talk is cheap, put up or shut up

For the LSU Tigers, it's now time to put up or shut.

On the eve of the season's kickoff, everyone from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., has LSU winning the SEC and playing in the national championship game.

 

On paper, there is a convincing case for that scenario:

 

• In terms of sheer talent, the Tigers are loaded – maybe even obscenely overloaded, with backups who could be starters on other pretty good teams;

 

• In terms of focus and direction, LSU has what appears to be a sound – and creative – coaching staff, on all sides of the ball;

 

• In terms of what appears to be a favorable schedule, the Tigers have it, with every one of LSU's most formidable opponents having to play on the Tigers' home field.

 

All the stars are aligned. The Bayou Bengals are already being fitted for championship rings.

 

Right?

 

Maybe, maybe not.

 

Pieces of every puzzle (and every team and every season is a puzzle at this stage) have to fit, and over the long haul talent alone is often not enough to hold a season. There has to be team chemistry, with all the parts working as one – and at their best – over the course of 12 games. That's a rarity.

 

There has to be luck as far as injuries go (just one, like, say, to quarterback Matt Flynn, could change all the dynamics of an entire season); there has to be luck as far as the bounce of the ball (like recovering just of a couple of the five turnovers LSU committed against Florida last year) or the flow of a game (like getting the benefit of the call just once or twice out of the handful of the hairline penalties that went against LSU at Auburn last season).

 

Things like that are not factored into preseason evaluations of a team – but they often show their ugly faces at the end of a season.

 

But even without those possibilities, LSU could have intangible landmines waiting to blow up its season. One is those universally high expectations. The Tigers are not a program that is traditionally used to having to live up to such lofty goals. LSU is not like, say, Southern Cal, Notre Dame or Alabama, all of which have had No. 1 tags branded on them many times (an honor that serves as basically a target on their jerseys, bringing forth opponents' best shots week in and week out) and prevailed. Joe Paterno, who coached Penn State to a couple of national titles, characterized high preseason ratings with one word: "Poison."

 

Also, what is all the hoopla about LSU getting those best opponents at home about? Is it an advantage? Yes. Does it guarantee victory?

 

Absolutely not.

 

That schedule itself may be LSU's undoing.

 

Consider this: Virginia Tech, Florida, Auburn, South Carolina, and Arkansas are all exceptional football teams, all fully capable of pulling an upset on the road. All it would take is a bad bounce or two to ignite a motivated rival.

 

Over the course of the entire season, LSU will play seven teams – Florida (6th), Virginia Tech (9th), Auburn (18th), Arkansas (21st), South Carolina (30th), Alabama (32nd), and Kentucky (44th) – that are listed among the preseason Top 44 in college football. None of them are going to roll over at the mere sight of purple and gold helmets.

 

And there are real traps, like having to go to Kentucky, a game sandwiched between the Florida and Auburn home games. The Wildcats are not only dangerous, but that 49-0 whipping the Tigers put on UK, which finished 8-5 and in a bowl last season, could add to LSU overlooking them – the Tigers focusing on the Gators and Plainsmen – while the 'Cats are waiting in ambush.

 

And there's one other thing about that schedule. Remember what everyone was saying when Nick Saban was at LSU … that if you give him a little extra time to prepare, his team can beat anybody?

 

Well, he has an off-week – that crucial little extra time – before Alabama plays LSU.

That's not all. Just like last year when Ole Miss played the Tigers off their feet before eventually losing in overtime, the Rebels also have the week off before hosting LSU – two weeks if their breather with Northwestern State is taken into account.

Florida also has the week off before the Gators come to LSU.

 

Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks do take the field the week before LSU, but against Division I-AA South Carolina State. That, in effect, means the Ole' Ball Coach can spend two weeks prepping for the Tigers.

 

Spotting extra advantages to coaches like Saban, Spurrier and Urban Meyer could put LSU in, say, the CapitalOne Bowl instead of the national championship game, or even the Sugar Bowl.                        

 

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Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net.


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