Sunday, December 2, 2007

SEC Championship Game: The Early Morning After

It's 4:30am and I can't sleep. This is absolute madness, but it seems to have all come down in LSU's favor, leaving us with a returning head coach and a trip to the national championship game against Ohio State. I don't even know what to say. I would say no one saw it coming, but that would be wrong. At least one person over on Tigerdroppings predicted it, but even he said he balked when given the opportunity to bet on it.

This crazy season had one more crazy day in it, didn't it? Today, for LSU fans may have been the craziest of all. Someone is going to write a book about this season one day. No, there will probably be two books. One about the season as a whole and another about LSU's season in particular.

Two highly improbable things happened today. Or maybe it was three improbable things. Or four.

The day started with Kirk Herbstreit reporting that Les Miles was certain to be the next coach at Michigan. I wasn't particularly surprised by this, but apparently Les Miles was, as were Skip Bertman and the players.

Second, Les Miles calls an impromptu press conference to announce that not only was the initial report erroneous, but that he was not talking to Michigan and was going to be the LSU coach for the future. He was clearly angry, and later said that players came up to him and said that they felt like he was just waiting to get on a plane.

When I saw this press conference, I thought, "Well that's great, but he did not say 'I'll be the coach for the 2008 season.'" While there were reports that he had agreed in principle to a contract extension, it was unsigned. Then in an interview with Tracy Wolfson before the start of the game, he said it. Unambiguously. He's going to be the coach next year. He later said he wanted to "challenge that person" who put out the information that he was going to Michigan.

So, instead of going into the bowl season looking for a new coach, which EVERYONE expected, we appear to have locked up our most successful coach in history for years to come.

Third, amid all the distractions and with our starting quarterback out and our best player not playing a lot of snaps, we went out and beat Tennessee. I know we were favored in this game, but I thought we were facing an uphill battle to win it. I thought our defense was reeling. I thought our team as a whole would be flat given the distractions. I had no idea what Perrilloux would do.

It turns out, our defense was excellent for most of the game. Our team played spirited football and really dominated the game statistically. Ryan Perrilloux started slow and ended slow, but in the long stretch in the middle he was terrific. We struggled to put the ball in the end zone, but the team moved the ball consistently with Ryan Perrilloux behind center. I sure hope those rumors of him leaving the team after the season are false. That kid is going to be a special quarterback if he can keep it together.

And finally, perhaps most improbably of all, it appears we're going to play for the national championship! Nothing is definite on this, but the BCS gurus think it's likely and the major talking heads are embracing an LSU-OSU matchup. This was of course all set up by Mizzou and West Virginia both losing. Missouri was half-expected to lose, but WVU was 28 point favorites over a Pitt team that was generally considered poor.

I didn't think it would happen even with wins by Pitt and Oklahoma, and it still might. We started the day at #7 in the BCS. Two teams ahead of us lost. Two other teams ahead of us did not even win their conference divisions. And one team ahead of us lost to us by 41 points early in the season. The BCS gurus think our computer rankings may be the strongest in the country, and the voters will likely put us ahead of the teams that failed to win their conferences.

I'm not a rah-rah kind of guy. I'm not going to blindly accept that we deserve it without analyzing it further, but I can say what we have accomplished.
  • We won our conference, the toughest in the country.
  • We scored big wins over Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Virginia Tech, who all finished the season ranked, VT in the top 5.
  • We beat South Carolina and Alabama at times when those teams were playing very well.
  • Our losses were both in triple overtime to credible teams while playing with one or more of our best players injured.
  • I haven't done an exhaustive study on this, but it strikes me that we probably had the most difficult injury situation of any decent team in the country. Our best player was a shadow of himself for the entire second half of the season. Our best offensive player missed several games with injury and couldn't finish the SEC Championship Game. One of our starting defensive tackles was lost for the year before the third game of the season. One of our key contributors on the defensive line was suspended from the team for the entire regular season. Our starting middle linebacker was limited against Arkansas. A starting cornerback busted up his eyes and had blurry vision for much of the year. Our starting quarterback missed two games to injury, including the SEC Championship Game, and was severely limited in several other games. Our backup quarterback had to play hurt for much of the second half of the SECCG. Our go-to running back got injured on the second-to-last play of the Kentucky game and wasn't available for a key 4th down, when his backup failed to get the 2 yards necessary to extend the game.
I'm not going to poor-mouth Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, and Ohio State, but I will say this: a team that fails to win its conference has no business playing for the national championship. Kansas, you beat nobody all season. Georgia, you finished the season very strong, but you did not even win your division, much less your conference. Georgia has definitely earned an at-large bid in the BCS bowls, but it does not deserve to play for the national championship. I would be saying the same about us if the roles were reversed. How can you be the best team in the country when you aren't the best team in your conference?

We'll know more tomorrow.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Macloud said...

I'd be interested in your injury idea. I don't have the time to do it, but I bet there aren't many teams who've had more starters with significant injuries.