Mathieu’s Loss Damaging, Not Deadly
By Matt Smith
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After news of Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal, LSU's chances for a national title have diminished, but not as much as it may seem upon the sudden loss of a Heisman Trophy finalist.
We couldn’t possibly make it to kickoff without another college football bombshell, could we? The answer was a resounding no, as LSU announced on Friday that junior cornerback and 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu would not play this season due to a violation of team rules.
Head coach Les Miles did not elaborate on the reasons behind the suspension due to privacy rules, simply saying “Tyrann Mathieu is no longer on our team.” Mathieu was suspended for one game last year, reportedly for failing a drug test, his second drug-related offense.
Mathieu was considered by many to be the most valuable player on last year’s Tigers team that started 13-0 and won the SEC title before falling to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game. The New Orleans native returned two punts for touchdowns last year as well as a pair of fumble returns.
Sources close to Mathieu say he will attempt to play for a lower-division school this fall before turning pro. Mathieu will be eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft. He becomes the third LSU cornerback who played a major role on last year’s team to leave the program, joining Ron Brooks, who graduated, and Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, who left school early for the NFL.
Tharold Simon, who played in nickel situations last seasons, is the only returning cornerback who played significant minutes a year ago. Simon is not without a checkered off-field history as well, having been suspended along with Mathieu and running back Spencer Ware for a game against Auburn last season after also reportedly failing a drug test. Redshirt freshman Jalen Collins appears to be the top candidate to replace Mathieu in the starting lineup, while Miles said wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will likely return punts.
Perhaps, other than starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, no player was considered more vital to the success of this year’s team than Mathieu. Mathieu had a knack last year for turning around games in which LSU was struggling, including a fumble recovery against Oregon and punt return touchdowns against Arkansas and Georgia.
LSU was ranked No. 1 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll which was released last Friday and is expected to once again contend for the SEC and national titles. After Friday’s news, its chances have diminished, but not as much as it may seem upon the sudden loss of a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Simon is a better cover cornerback than Mathieu, often bumping him to a rover-type role during nickel and dime coverages, where Mathieu could take more chances and utilize his playmaking abilities. Collins, despite no game experience to date, is about six inches taller than Mathieu. They’ll also have All-American free safety Eric Reid, the hero of last year’s win at Alabama, playing behind them.
The Tigers defense will still be one of the best in college football because its defensive line is the best in the nation, as it was last year when LSU won the SEC. With improved quarterback play from Mettenberger, the Tigers hope to not find themselves in need of the spark that Mathieu had to so often provide last season. A softer schedule should also help, with the Tigers not facing a team ranked in the Top 20 of the Coaches Poll until mid-October.
The biggest losers here might not be Mathieu or the Tigers. They are us, the fans of the sport, who were kept on the edge of our seats by Mathieu’s ability to turn a game around in a matter of moments. It’s a sad ending for one of the most dynamic and unique players that the sport has witnessed in recent years.
With the season starting in just 20 days, can we make it to Aug. 30 without another shocker? Don’t count on it.