The preseason magazines are beginning to filter out, and while I agree with Pittman’s skepticism of any and all preseason polls, it is nice to see LSU consistently ranked as a national title contender, usually as the #2 team in the nation behind USC. Of course, as Spider-Man warns us, with great power comes great responsibility.
Outside of the 2005 team, which had their season derailed by Katrina (and by derailed, I mean we went 11-2), this is the most heralded team in LSU history going into the season. Frankly, this team has to compete for a national title for it to be viewed as a success. Failing to win the SEC will be a failure. Failing to even make Atlanta would be catastrophic. I simply have no experience rooting for a team like this.
We are now one of the elite. We’ve arrived. This is what it feels like, Tiger fans. This is what it feels like to be burdened by expectations every season. This is what it feels like to take wins over decent SEC teams like Kentucky for granted. And completely looking past Mississippi State, who we own almost like no other team owns any other in the nation. State couldn’t even beat LSU when we were in the darkest days of Curly Hallman’s reign and they were consistent SEC contenders. Their only win in the past 15 years over LSU was in 1999, and was courtesy of a controversial call.
Seriously, can you imagine feeling like this ten years ago?
Actually, you probably could because we’re at the ten-year anniversary of the false spring that was the Dinardo Era. The 1997 Tigers went 9-3, finished the season ranked #13, and closed out the year with a blowout win over Notre Dame in a bowl game. It was in 1998 when things went bad.
But even then, we expected to have good teams, and maybe make Atlanta if everything went right. The feeling didn’t change that much under Saban, as we had the feeling we could win the SEC or we could lose to UAB (two feats Saban accomplished). This isn’t the same thing as today’s team. Every Tiger fan fully expects to win at least 10 games, win the SEC, and play in a BCS bowl. Anything less is going to be a disappointment.
Arrogant? A little. But it’s also true. This team is loaded. And the West lacks a real foil this season as Bama will be improved, but Arkansas and Auburn will likely take minor steps backwards. Those won’t be easy wins, but LSU will likely be favored in every single game it plays this year. We are now the hunted.
I have no idea how I feel about this. There’s already a generation of fans who don’t appreciate how nice it is to support a winning team. The idea the LSU faithful would even consider bashing a coach who had gone 22-4 in two seasons back when I was in school was insane. Twenty-two wins in two years? I would have pushed my mother under a Mardi Gras float for that level of success back in the Hallman days.
Losing breeds character. The 2003 title was so enjoyable because it brought back so many memories of so many players who bled purple and gold and so many disasters the fans suffered through. Even losing to Florida 58-3 seemed worth it. The Interception Game. The Purple Pants. Bring Back the Magic. Kevin Mawae never playing for a winning team. I don’t know if a second title, if we’re lucky enough to even play for it, would mean as much to me. Heck, I don't know if the 2003 Sugar Bowl meant as much to me as making the ndependence Bowl in 1996. There's something about coming in from the football wilderness.
I'm not blaming any Tiger fan for their high expectations. this team merits high expectations. But let's remember how far this program has come. We've climbed the mountain. We don't need another national title to confirm our place at the table. We should expect to win every game, but the sky won't fall when we don't. Even great teams lose games.
When you expect to win every game, every loss is a disappointment. But not every win is a cause for a celebration. I miss the days when it was.