Growing up in south Louisiana, there are many rights of passages for fathers and their sons. One of my favorites was crabbing. Setting the traps was always a thrill because of the anticipation of collecting a bounty of blue crab for a weekend feast. On one of these trips, my dad decided to use beef melt. He said the crabs would not, could not resist. He was right, and we caught enough crab to feed a small army. We had never experienced such luck. Yet, we would never use beef melt again and I shudder a little every time I think of that day.
You see, beef melt is rotting cow pancreas and it stinks. It stinks so bad, it actually leaves a taste in your mouth. The odor is so unpleasant, it burns into your nostrils and you smell it for days on end, regardless of how much you shower. It lingers, it remains and it is hard to ever forget.
What does this have to do with LSU football? January 9, 2012 is beef melt. The BCS Championship game stunk. It left a terrible, bad taste in the mouths of LSU fans and it isn’t going to simply fade with time. This loss is going to linger and the only way to make it palatable is for two things to happen;
• Beat Alabama on 11/3
• Win a Championship
Last year, many in the LSU program felt that 2012 was going to be the year for the Tigers. The 2011 team was supposed to be young and good, just not great. The talent on the team matured quicker than expected and went on a tremendous run. Anything less than beating Bama and winning the BCS will make 2012 a failure. I realize that is harsh coming off a 13-1 season, but when a loss that bad overshadows an SEC championship? Well you get the picture of what it feels like to be a Tiger fan right now.
It’s not as if there isn’t plenty to be optimistic about. 2012 will be a banner year and should see the Tigers in position to reach another championship game. Vegas books have the Tigers at 5-1 odds to win it all next year while many way-to-early polls have the Tigers at No. 1 or No. 2. Still, the loss to Alabama is tempering some of the enthusiasm for next fall.
Yet, there are very legitimate reasons to believe this is the year for LSU. John Chavis returns a defense that will see as many as six players drafted in the first three rounds of next year’s NFL draft. Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are both predicted to be taken in the top 10. Fellow defensive lineman, Bennie Logan is also emerging as one of the top tackles in the SEC. Secondary stars, Tharold Simon, Eric Reid, and the playmaker, Tyrann Mathieu will all be in the NFL this time next year.
Statistically, the Tiger Defense was incredible in 2011. There is a good chance the 2012 version will be even better.
According to Chavis, the speed of the defensive line will be even greater and quarterbacks in the SEC aren’t going to have much time to throw the ball. When they do, it will be into another nightmarish group of secondary personnel that just keep getting better with each passing year in Baton Rouge.
To complete the picture, the Tigers will have an outstanding group of young linebackers led by Kevin Minter. Tahj Jones is penciled in as a starter with as many as six other freshmen and sophomores competing for the third spot. Don’t let the inexperience fool you. This spring, true freshmen Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis made strong cases to start and they might not be the best new lbs to hit campus. Kwon Alexander and Trey Granier are both supposedly built and ready for SEC play.
Offensively, Zach Mettenberger is finally leading the team. Recently, while speaking to fans, both John Chavis and Frank Wilson gave high praise to Mett’s talent and leadership. Although we have saw little of him in 2011, the LSU spring game was an all out aerial assault where Mett was able to make throws against some of the best DB’s in the nation. Mettenberger is also taking the reins of a warhorse that rushed for over 2500 yards and returns a stable of 5 running backs that could start for any other team in the conference. It is also an animal that returns a ton of NFL quality depth along the offensive line, most notably future 2013 first rounder, Chris Faulk.
Many inside and close to the program feel that this will be one of the most prolific Tiger offenses in LSU history. If teams are going continue to stack eight in the box to limit LSU’s ground game, LSU now has a triggerman to make them pay. Receivers Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, and Russell Shepard are all capable of taking a 10-yard pass to the house and all are floored by the talent of their new signal caller. Rising stars, James Wright and Kaadron Boone are also more than capable of winding a DB on a long route as well.
Tiger fans should be ecstatic right? We should all be whipped into a frenzy and frothing at the mouth for the season to start? Well, not exactly, and possibly it is because of Zach Mettenberger. All this hype has begged the question…Why did he not play more last year? IF he is THE MAN to lead the 2012 campaign, then how come he couldn’t at least help in 2011? Mainly, why wasn’t he used on January 9th? Where was this silver bullet when the hounds (tooth) were taking over in the Superdome?
Even in optimism, January 9th lingers like a bad taste. Frank Wilson told fans that the program has a chip on its shoulder and will be playing with it all season. As a fan, I wanted to say I have a chip, too. Maybe mine will be knocked off on November 3rd under the lights of Tiger Stadium when Nick Saban rolls into Baton Rouge. Both teams should be undefeated again and the hype could eclipse last year’s battle of the century. If LSU wins that game as convincingly as it lost on January 9th, then Les Miles might be able to pull some folks back on his side of the fence.