Tigers must regroup quickly

Perhaps it was more than coincidence that I wore a crimson red sweater to guard against the chilly winds of a beautiful Sunday in Baton Rouge.<br><br>Actually, it had more to do with the mountain of dirty clothes my wife and I had been ignoring all week.

Truth be told, it wasn't until around midday that I noticed I was sporting the colors of the team that had posted a 31-0 hurting on the No. 14 LSU football team just 12 hours earlier. If Alabama had subconsciously affected my choice or wardrobe, its football team was nowhere near as subtle against the Tigers.

The Crimson Tide made its case as the strongest team in the West Division of Southeastern Conference with a thorough trouncing of LSU. Barring a flop this Saturday against Auburn in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will own the best record in its half of the league.

NCAA probation will prevent the Tide from taking part in the SEC Championship Game or a bowl game, but their fans can rightfully stake their claim as the Best in the West in 2002. Anyone expecting the ‘Bama faithful to be contrite at 9-2 should have known better.

Head coach Dennis Franchione appears poised to have several years of success at Alabama. His biggest asset is that he realizes the program at UA is bigger than him, one team and two years of probation. Even in the darkest of times, he has found a way to motivate his players to perform with a purpose.

For a team to do so well in what was labeled as a down year says a lot for what Franchione has been able to do with the specter of NCAA sanctions hanging over Tuscaloosa. Like it or not LSU fans, the Crimson Tide isn't going away like you might have hoped. (And based upon their recent performances, it doesn't seem Florida is either.)

But lets stop short of gushing praise for an Alabama program that was found guilty of having a booster use his financial influence to steer a recruit to Tuscaloosa. If the aftermath of the Albert Means case brings further sanctions against Alabama, it will be unfortunate - but no more so than John Brady's teams being penalized for the infractions that were pinned on an LSU booster who opened his wallet for Lester Earl.

I don't recall any pity being offered to the Tigers from other SEC fans when the NCAA yanked scholarships away from Brady. So there shouldn't be any surprise that Franchione, a likeable guy and capable coach, and the Crimson Tide aren't being shown much sympathy outside the Capstone.

It would be great if only the offenders were penalized, but the NCAA plays its own set of rules that aren't up for discussion.

Meanwhile on the gridiron, LSU fans must face the fact that their team is not the best in its division and is a far cry from last year's team that claimed the conference title. While the Tiger defense allowed Alabama's running game to amass 300 yards, the heart of LSU's problems lie on the offensive side of the ball. The Tigers do not field the balanced attack necessary to dominate games in the same fashion they did a year ago.

Opponents have figured out that LSU has to run the ball effectively in order to win games, and they are stacking the deck against the Tigers at the line of scrimmage. When LSU receivers face one-on-one matchups, quarterback Marcus Randall is challenged to get the ball to them. His passes lack the timing and accuracy necessary to give playmakers like Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson a chance to break the big ones.

When LSU can't get in a favorable down-and-distance situation with its running game, the passing game has not been able to overcome.

Head coach Nick Saban now faces the task of getting the Tigers back on track for the apparent two wins that they will need to return to Atlanta. Ole Miss is coming off its bye week and needs to win beat LSU and Mississippi State for bowl eligibility. Arkansas, fresh off an unimpressive 24-17 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, can claim the West with wins over Mississippi State and LSU.

There is a lot at stake for LSU over the remaining two weeks of the regular season, but it is hard not to doubt the Tigers after they failed to score at home in their most recent game.

Improvement is vital for LSU in order to defend its SEC title, but more so to create momentum heading into the homestretch of the recruiting season.

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