Found December 04, 2011 on Fox Sports South:
ATLANTA LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne reminded me very much of a 2-year-old Saturday. This is a compliment, I promise. He flashed all of the best parts of that age, none of the bad ones. Anybody who has studied the behavior patterns of 2-year-olds through the lens of parenthood knows they live in the moment. Anger looks like anger, joy like joy. They are years away from reacting how they think they should or dimming their enthusiasm lest anybody be watching. Next year, next week, two minutes from now matter not to them. This was Claiborne in the immediate aftermath of LSU's 42-10 victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday. He was leaping and chest bumping and giggling and smiling. "It is good to be a Tiger," he yelled to no one in particular as the streamers fell from the ceiling at The Georgia Dome. There was no solemn talk of "one more." He was enjoying this moment. He seemed to grasp that not everybody goes undefeated through the college football in general and the SEC in particular, hardly anybody does actually. He had just accomplished something fabulous, with his closest friends, and he wanted to celebrate. "We're a big family. I know everybody says that, right?" Claiborne told me later. "You cannot know unless you are here on a day-to-day basis, but these guys are close. Does it sound silly to say 'brothers?' Well, that is what it is. You sweat and bleed and cry and just are together, starting in the summer, all to do this together. And yes, that means something." So much of the last couple of weeks has been spent talking about how meaningless this SEC championship game was, endlessly debating who the second-best team in college football is, arguing about who is worthy of playing LSU in the national championship game, ridiculing a BCS system for its inanity. I am guilty of this. Possibly, I am more guilty than most. The system is indeed broken. It is fatally flawed. One of its biggest failures, though, is that it manages to somehow overshadow what LSU has accomplished this season. Because lost amid all of this chaos of who has to take on the Tigers is the absurdity of how good they really are. They might be the most perfect team. They have possibly the country's best player in cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. The perfection was born from blending their talent and their flaws, from taking their mistakes and problems and suspensions, and growing stronger, from coming together into this seemingly unstoppable team. "I think we can stop us," Mathieu said, amid answering questions about being named SEC Championship Game MVP. "I think we made a lot of bad decisions, personal mistakes, but we corrected it. We never gave up on each other. As everything was going on, I definitely think we grew closer. We started to believe in our coaches more. We started to definitely come closer within the locker room. So I think the leaders definitely started to stand up, and hats off to our leaders." If LSU has a flaw now, it is that it lacks a great quarterback or even a good one. That the Tigers have won without one makes how they play even more impressive. Oppressive is the best adjective to describe them. They are like a chisel that settles in and applies full weight to a rock until whatever it started out as crumbles. A quick word about Georgia. The Bulldogs did not quit. They certainly did not come into this game to be just another date on LSU's tour. They fought. Coach Mark Richt attacked. The Zombie Coach, as I like to call him, because you cannot kill him no matter how hard a few Bulldogs fans have tried, called onside kicks, took chances, went deep and had his team beating LSU through most of first half. They did not quit so much as they were worn down. Saturday's result was the simple math of what happens when a good team faces a great one. It was only a matter of time. And when that time came, of course, it was Mathieu with the ball. He fielded a punt a little more than halfway through the second quarter with LSU trailing 10-0. One missed tackle and it was end zone and 10-7. "It's so hard for us in this conference, in really just a segment of college football, to give an overview," Tigers coach Les Miles said as a disclaimer when asked the Heisman question about Mathieu. "But I can tell you this, as the conference champions of the SEC and as one of the key players on that team, I think he needs real consideration. I think he's a special player and has a special place and maybe warrants, if the judges can make a quality decision, for him to attend in New York" Having seen Mathieu live and in person against Oregon, Alabama and now Georgia, I have no doubt he deserves to be in New York as a Heisman contender. He along with Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Stanford's Andrew Luck represent the very best of college football this season. Mathieu's second punt return, the one not for a touchdown, was ridiculous in how long it seemed to go on. "I actually think the one he didn't score on was, maybe, the most amazing return I have seen in my life," LSU guard Bob Hebert rightly noted. "It was one of those things that every time you thought he was caught he would slip out and keep going again and change direction in the most unexpected way. I have never seen anything like it." The first one, though, is what won LSU the game. It was church from there. That is probably disingenuous to say since LSU never felt out of this game. Even when Georgia's defense was dominating and LSU had failed to get a first down, you knew the Tigers were going to win. This was a team that had overcome a beast of a schedule, starting with Oregon and including beating 'Bama in Tuscaloosa. The Tigers had to overcome themselves because it seemed they were always getting in their own way quarterback Jordan Jefferson's suspension and the loss of Mathieu for a game for doing what college kids do. They are too, good. In the end, they could not even beat themselves. And as a reward for being this good, they get to hear everybody whine about how stupid a rematch with Alabama is, how the States Oklahoma and Boise got screwed, how Stanford deserved a chance, how a playoff is needed, how screwed up the system actually is. All of this is true, except for maybe the 'Bama part. Do not blame them from benefiting from this crazy system. Saturday was just not the day for any of it. Saturday, as Claiborne reminded me, was about the joy of doing something amazing with your best friends. Saturday was about hard work and perseverance and screwing up and redemption. Saturday was about the best team in college football, hands down. And it is a screwed up system that overshadows that with its absurdity.
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
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