MULE': Jean-Francois Provides Fitting End

NEW ORLEANS - It was left to Rickey Jean-Francois to put an exclamation point to college football's wildest season.

Think of it: this was a season:

- in which Top 10 teams lost to unranked teams a staggering 20 times;

- in which Top 5 teams lost to unranked opponents an unprecedented 13 times;

- in which the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams both lost on the final day of the regular season, each a step short of a chance to hoist the Waterford Crystal Trophy, emblematic of the BCS title.

In the end the favored No. 2-ranked LSU Tigers beat the underdog No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes for the national championship. And who made the biggest play in a game of big plays? None other than Rickey Jean-Francois, playing his second game of the season.

Because of academic issues, the sophomore lineman didn't get on the field until the SEC Championship Game, in which he clearly added some muscle in the Tiger defense. Against the Buckeyes, it was Jean-Francois who turned the tide for the Bayou Bengals.

With the score tied but with Ohio State at the Tiger 21 and ready to take a second-quarter 13-10 lead with a field goal, Jean-Francois stepped back, then charged in, getting a finger on the ball – and in effect, lighting the fuse for what was to come. LSU went from the blocked field goal to an eventual touchdown and a 17-10 lead. And an eventual 38-24 victory.

He said the coaches thought the kick might be a fake and advised the players to take a step back and be aware of any trickery. Jean-Francois roared in and made the play. "I was shocked myself,'' he admitted. It led to Jean-Francois being selected the game's defensive MVP, an amazing feat when it's considered he put in less time on the field this season than anyone on either team who played Monday night.

Jean-Francois said he spent his time in football exile lamenting his situation, thinking maybe of dropping out of school and going on to something else. He also kept thinking he would make good if he could only get a second chance, a notion fostered by Jean-Francois' support staff – his coaches and teammates – and he kept working hard and practicing, concentrating on school and studying game film. All the time knowing he wouldn't play for a long time, if at all.

"My coaches and the players all kept telling me, ‘Keep your head up, you're going to be back.'"

Monday night he was.

"Once I lifted my head up, I felt like I was on top of the world to go our and play in the national championship game. It was a great thing,'' Jean-Francois said softly. "Just talking about it brings tears to my eyes.''

And big smiles to the faces of LSU fans.

* * *

For all the shots taken at Les Miles this season, he had an unprecedented coaching feat this season. He defeated five coaches with national championship resumes. Miles coached the Tigers to victories over South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Florida's Urban Meyer, Alabama's Nick Saban, Tennessee's Phil Fulmer, and, now, Ohio State's Jim Tressel . . .

One Tiger who foresaw what was coming against the Buckeyes was Kenny Konz, LSU's All-SEC defensive back from the early 1950s. Konz now lives in Alliance, Ohio, smack-dab in the middle of Buckeye Country, he says. "These people around here all think the Buckeyes can walk on water. Personally, I don't think they can wade in waist-high water.'' Konz thought the Buckeyes were a decent team, but play in a mediocre conference and fills in their non-league schedule with substandard opposition. "I just think LSU is more used to tough games,'' Konz said in the days before the national championship game. . . .

As is often the case, it was Tiger AD Skip Bertman who put the Tigers' championship in the clearest focus. "It's an example of what I've always said," Bertman reflected. "We can do anything we put our minds to in Louisiana. Ten years ago we were at the bottom of LSU football history, going 3-8. Nine years ago we were super-excited because we were going to the Independence Bowl. Six years ago we came to the Sugar Bowl – and won. We said at the time, ‘Get your tickets now because we'll back.' Of course, LSU did come back, three more times, counting the BCS title game, and twice being crowned national champions.


Marty Mule' can be reached at

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