2012 College Football Picks and Predictions: Can the LSU Tigers Win a National Title Without Tyrann Mathieu?: After falling one game short of an undefeated season and a national title in 2011, the LSU Tigers were reloaded for another championship run in 2012. However, the shocking announcement that star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu had been dismissed from the team for failing a drug test has raised some serious questions about the Tigers’ status as a title favorite. After all, Mathieu made countless big plays on defense and in the return game, delivering multiple game-changing moments throughout last season. The player nicknamed the “Honey Badger” made such an impact that he was even named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. LSU was recently named the No.1 team in the country in the coaches’ poll, but with the loss of Mathieu, the Tigers have slipped in the eyes of the oddsmakers. Les Miles’ bunch is now getting 6/1 odds to win the BCS championship, putting them third behind USC and Alabama. The question for bettors is whether LSU is worth betting on at those odds following Mathieu’s dismissal.
There is no denying that Mathieu had an uncanny ability to deliver big plays in big games. Last year, he returned a fumble for a score in the season opener against Oregon, he returned punt for a score in the regular season finale against Arkansas, and he returned a punt for a touchdown in the SEC title game against Georgia. In all three instances, his play shifted the momentum and led to an easy win for the Tigers. At the very least, his dismissal leaves the team without a proven clutch playmaker on defense.
Mathieu was definitely an X-factor for LSU last year, but an argument can be made that the Tigers would have had the same record even without him. Yes, he made big plays in the games I mentioned above, but the Tigers beat the Ducks by 13, the Razorbacks by 24 and the Bulldogs by 32. Maybe LSU doesn’t blowout any of those teams without Mathieu, but given the final scores, the Tigers could have certainly have found a way to win all three games. In fact, the only team LSU didn’t easily defeat last year was the Crimson Tide. Even a player as dynamic as the “Honey Badger” wasn’t the only reason that the Tigers destroyed nearly everyone on their schedule.
More importantly, the Tigers probably still have the top defense in the country. Their defensive line is just nasty, and the secondary still has an All-American at safety in Eric Reid. In fact, LSU might actually give up fewer big plays without Mathieu. He did make huge plays, but a lot of them gave because of his tendency to gamble. People overlook the fact that he was burnt at times because the risk usually outweighed the reward. The Tigers might not have as many defensive scores without Mathieu, but they aren’t going to allow their opponents to score more points either. They should also be scoring more points themselves thanks to the addition of quarterback Zach Mettenberger to an offense that already features a stout offensive line and four quality running backs.
Despite what has happened with Mathieu, LSU should still have an edge in talent against every team on their schedule with the possible exception of Alabama. The three toughest opponents should be South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas, and the Tigers get the Gamecocks and Crimson Tide at home in Death Valley. Just like in 2011, this season will likely come down to the regular season matchup with Alabama and then the national title game if they get by the Crimson Tide. If you were going to bet on the Tigers prior to Mathieu being dismissed, there is no reason not to still do so. The meeting with the Crimson Tide was going to be a coin flip with Mathieu on the team, and it still will be without him. Mathieu’s dismissal made headlines because he is a big name, but the impact on the field will be far less severe for this loaded LSU group.
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