With a two-week build-up, the Southeastern Conference showdown between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 5, could be as hyped as a Super Bowl. In fact, all the inevitable media attention and anticipation could be downright distracting.
Les Miles must be smiling like a Cheshire cat.
Distractions — at least those that qualify as such in the minds of media types and fans — seem to fuel these 8-0 Tigers.
Just three days before playing then-No. 19 Auburn, LSU learned that three key players — cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and leading rusher Spencer Ware — would be suspended for the game. The Tigers were so distracted they went out and whipped the reigning BCS champion 45-10 on Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
Wednesday, Miles wouldn’t confirm the suspensions even after they had been widely reported. LSU never acknowledged them until minutes before kickoff. Maybe Miles just wanted to milk the “distraction” for all it was worth.
Even after the game, while acknowledging he knew the trio’s fate for the Alabama game, he wouldn’t disclose it. Why get rid of a perfectly good distraction?
Every time one of these so-called distractions has occurred, the Tigers have just gone about their business as though nothing had happened, at least nothing that would impair LSU’s ability to perform on Saturday.
“We just go out and play football,” wide receiver Rueben Randle said matter-of-factly. “Once we head out there between the lines, it’s all about football. We don’t let anything from the outside get in.”
The evidence was there after Jordan Jefferson was reinstated from a four-game suspension and inserted into the lineup to share the quarterback position that Jarrett Lee had manned so ably in Jefferson’s absence. It was there after Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns were suspended just eight days before the season opener.
The evidence was there after wide receiver Russell Shepard was declared ineligible for the first three games of the season. It was even there after offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, forcing a shuffling of the offensive staff as preseason camp was just beginning.
“I almost feel like everybody else makes a bigger deal out of it than we do,” offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. “It’s not distracting us. Something happens, it’s just life.
“This team is so good about staying focused, one-track mind, not letting anything on the outside get to them because we don’t want to have any regrets when we look back on this and say, ‘well, maybe we should have focused on the games more than focusing on outside issues.’”
And finally it’s Bama time, and this game will be overanalyzed and hyped like no other regular-season game in Tigers history.
“There will certainly be the glare of the media,” Miles said, “but that really hasn’t been a big issue for us.”
Let the distractions begin.