Season Openers: 1981 vs. LSU

When the final whistle blows to end the season, our attention turns to here.  The next season.  The season opener.

We have recruiting, spring practice, freshmen reporting and the start of fall camp, but there’s nothing that compares to this, the season opener.

As an old man, these openers seem to roll around way to quickly. It’s a blur, really, the span from early January until early September. But as a young boy, though, that span was an eternity.  I was baby in the 60s, a child in the 70s and a teenager in the 80s.  These were the days before recruiting lunacy and spring games on 24-7 sports channels.  In between January and September there was nothing to quench my appetite for the Tide.  I was always looking forward to the next season, looking to the season opener.

As a 13 year old, I was hitting full stride as a Tide fan.  The upcoming season was 1981 and ‘Bama was set to open on Labor Day weekend with a night game against LSU in Baton Rouge.  Alabama was coming off of a disappointing 10-2 1980 season which included a stunning 6-3 loss to Mississippi State and a 7-0 loss to Notre Dame two weeks later.

Questions abounded heading into the ’81 season.  Did two losses in 1980 mark the start of the Tide’s decline under coach Paul Bryant’s or were they just a hiccup?  Coach Bryant was aging and how many more seasons would he coach?  Would this be his last?  Amos Alonzo Stagg’s record was on the horizon and sure to fall, but who would be the lucky opponent?

As for me, I was sure that Bryant would coach forever and I was sure that my Tide would have no problem with LSU on that muggy September evening. After all, we had already won 10 in a row against the Tigers.  LSU opened the season with second year coach Jerry Stovall and a load of optimism.  The Tigers weren’t ranked, but they were hoping for their first win over ‘Bama in Red Stick since 1969.  They’d have to wait a little longer, though, because the Tide throttled them from the get-go.  Shotgun Kenny Simon ran 51 yards for a first quarter touchdown and the Tide led 17-0 at the half en route to a 24-7 win.

The 1981 season did include Bryant reaching and breaking Stagg’s record and also included another SEC championship (shared with Georgia), but the end was indeed near for Bryant as a 2-2-1 out of conference record helped to indicate.  For a 13 year old deep in Alabama, though, time stood still one more time as Alabama opened the season with a win over LSU.

Here are a few highlights…

LSU Financial Woes

LSU’s independent athletics department has formalized its method of making financial contributions to the university:

Over the initial five-year term of the policy, LSU Athletics will provide $36 million to other parts of LSU. In addition, in years in which the athletics program generates a surplus, a portion of the surplus would be transferred to other components of LSU, with the remainder of the surplus being used to fund reserve accounts to protect against future financial uncertainties and provide a funding source for long-deferred maintenance projects for athletics facilities.

The first $3 million of any surplus will be devoted strictly to athletics reserve accounts. Of any surplus between $3 million and $5 million, 75 percent will be devoted to athletics reserve accounts and the remaining 25 percent would be transferred to other parts of LSU. Any surplus above $5 million will be split equally between athletics and the rest of the university.

Groundbreaking, indeed.

Why would this happen? Here’s an obvious answer:

The LSU Athletics Fund Transfer Policy would formalize an annual transfer of $7.2 million from the Athletic Department to other components of LSU for use in supporting LSU’s academic, research, public service and other missions. In addition, it would establish a revenue sharing component that could provide additional funds to the university’s mission and ensure that all facets of LSU share in the success of the athletics program.

Over the years, various informal practices have been adopted for the transfer of funds from the Athletic Department to other components of LSU. As LSU has faced increasing budget pressures over recent years, fund transfers from Athletics to other components of LSU have increased. Most recently, the Athletic Department transferred an additional $4 million and assumed financial responsibility for the Academic Center for Student-Athletes at the cost of approximately $1.5 million to help offset a shortage in the university budget, staving off budget cuts and potential faculty and staff layoffs.

That makes sense. But what about this:

“There are some promising financial developments on the horizon for universities that participate in major college athletics, including potential new television revenues and additional revenues from a reviseds Bowl Championship Series that begins in 2014,” said Alleva. “This policy sets the stage for the academic mission of LSU to benefit from these future developments.”

Ahhhh, now that makes even more sense. The cash-strapped university has set its hooks in the cash-cow athletic department that is potentially set to receive a windfall in a couple of years.

It seems to me that athletic departments around the SEC wouldn’t be interested in this phenomenon spreading.

Honey Badger Gets Ejected

LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu has been dismissed from the team:

LSU dismissed 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu from its football program Friday for violating school and team rules.

“We extended ourselves personally and professionally to him,” LSU coach Les Miles said at a news conference Friday. “He has really improved and has a chance to take some steps as a person.”

“I complied and agreed that it was right,” Miles said. “We’ll miss the guy. The football team’s got to go on. We’ll have to fill the void.”

A source told ESPN’s Joe Schad on Friday that Mathieu has been looking for a new school to play for this season. Mathieu has two years of eligibility left and could transfer, but he would have to sit out this season if he went to another school in major college football. If he moved down a level, to FCS, he could play right away.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the Honey Badger.  I really don’t like the way he conducts business on the field or off, but I don’t find any joy at hearing the news of his dismissal.

My first thought is that he must have done something pretty substantial to warrant this.  My second thought is he probably should have been kicked off the team for good last year.

Hopefully, he will right himself and get another chance.

Thanks, Cyclones

Following the Bama loss to LSU earlier this month, we needed the dominoes to fall just right in order to get back in the title chase.  A week ago, Oregon knocked off Stanford and last night the Iowa State Cyclones helped the cause with a thrilling 37-31 upset win over Oklahoma State in double overtime.  The Cyclones fought back from a 17 point deficit to shock the Pokes.

Those may be the only two dominoes we need to fall.  After this weekend, Bama will most likely be back at No. 2 in the BCS rankings.  A Southern Cal win over Oregon today wouldn’t hurt, though.

Pundits and fans act like these types of upsets can’t happen, but they do most every year.  To me, that also makes the win last week against Mississippi State even more impressive for the Tide.  The Tide was the double digit favorite, but coming off of an emotional overtime loss that, at the time, dashed their biggest goal of the season.  And playing the Bulldogs at home at night when you’re one of their biggest rivals is not easy.

So the prize is back in sight, though the road to it may be a little curvy.  Of course, Georgia Southern needs to be beaten, and it wouldn’t hurt to do it soundly.

Then there’s Auburn.  After what happened in Ames last night, it’s not a given that we pound Auburn into the sidewalk.  But we now have a little more motivation (as if last year wasn’t enough) to take care of business in a big way.  And Auburn has a little more motivation to spoil our special season.

I still think LSU will lose to Arkansas, but right now that’s probably not in our best interest.  The Tigers need to dispatch Ole Miss, Arkansas and then make it to Atlanta to play Georgia in the title game.  And it’s probably to our benefit if they beat the Bulldogs.  LSU going to Atlanta removes a major hurdle for us – i.e. having to beat a good Georgia team – but also makes us a bit more vulnerable in the BCS rankings.  If UGA beats LSU soundly, it would no doubt undermine our position, but we would still probably make the title game.

On the other hand, if LSU loses to the Hogs, we go to Atlanta and we control our own destiny.  If we beat the Bulldogs, we would be in the title game, but our opponent would come out of chaos.  The opponent would probably be Oregon, assuming they don’t lose again, but could also very well be LSU.  Arkansas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State could also have a shot, depending on how strong they close out the season.

Anyway, the trip is back on track.  Let’s just worry about the next step and take care of the Eagles today.

Roll Tide!

LSU’s Adjusted Defensive Thinking

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal posted this interesting article concerning the LSU defense.

The gist is that when Oregon was added to the schedule in September 2010, Les Miles and co. began plotting defensive adjustments to stop the Ducks.  One obvious adjustment was to improve his team’s conditioning so they could keep up with the Ducks.  Another was to change part of the team’s strength and conditioning regimen – especially for his defensive line:

LSU’s four sophomore linemen—the ends Mingo and Sam Montgomery and defensive tackles Bennie Logan and Michael Brockers—were all red-shirted in 2009. This gave Tommy Moffitt, LSU’s strength and conditioning coach, the chance—as he put it—to “experiment” with them.

Moffitt stressed plyometric training. He had them flip tires and push sleds, varying the resistance based on what he called the coefficient of friction. He charted how much each player moved at every practice, down to the yard. He went online and searched for new exercises, he said, until his “eyeballs bled.”

One of Moffitt’s favorite metrics is relative strength—a measure of how much work a player can do per pound of body weight. Defensive backs, he said, should score in the upper fives, defensive ends in the low fives and defensive tackles in the mid fours. If a player has a too-small number, Moffitt said, it’s a sign that his “non-functional” mass is slowing him down.

Moffitt believes that if a football player can lose 10 pounds while improving his relative strength, he’ll be more efficient in games. “We’re not going to roll a bunch of skinny minis out there on the field; that’s not our goal,” he said. “But we want every ounce of weight to be force-generating.”

Brockers, the tackle, said it took some convincing for him to buy in. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the strength or size” to take on 320-pound offensive linemen, he said. But after trimming down from 315 pounds to 305, he said he feels just as strong as he did last season—in addition to having more speed and stamina.

To simulate the rapid pace at which Oregon snaps the ball, Miles came up with a novel idea at spring practice: He had the defense work against two offenses. As soon as one offense finished running a play, a fresh new one trotted out. Miles liked it so much he carried it over to the preseason. “I want you to imagine practicing against a hurry-up Oregon offense in the middle of the summer,” Montgomery said, “in Louisiana.”

The adjustments obviously worked, at least where Oregon is concerned.  The Tigers beat the Ducks 40-27 in the season opener for both.  With the trend toward fast-paced, hurry up offenses, I can’t say this is a bad strategy.  It will probably come in handy on October 22nd when LSU hosts Auburn and their 90-play-a-day offense.  The idea of 240-pound defensive ends probably has coaches like Nick Saban licking their chops, though.