Even by LSU standards, 2015 has been a crazy, tumultuous year for LSU football.
Cam Cameron recovering from prostate cancer this summer. Les Miles getting rushed to the hospital the Monday before the McNeese State opener, then no McNeese State opener at all in the first LSU football game canceled since 1918. Moving the South Carolina game. The rise and fall of Leonard Fournette’s Heisman Trophy aspirations from lead pipe cinch to not even invited to New York as one of the finalists. The saga of Miles’ coaching tenure with the Tigers, a story sure to continue to play out in 2016.
We have focused these past five or so months on those issues. They make news, and that’s what we spent much of our time in the media writing and talking about. But Christmas is the season of giving, of renewal, and to that end, it’s well worth remembering that there have been some very positive things associated with LSU football this season as well.
So here to fill your stocking with tidings of great joy — or at least tidings of the moderately interesting — here is a list sure to warm you up more than our Brown Christmas weather:
1. Sid Ortiz
Miles befriended this terminally ill teenager, inviting him onto the field before LSU’s home game with Auburn in September and staying in touch with him until Ortiz passed away Oct. 31.
Alabama coach Nick Saban later invited Ortiz, who lived in Mountain Brook, Alabama, just outside Birmingham, to one of the Crimson Tide’s practices. He declined, “LSU to the core,” as ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi said in recounting Ortiz’s story on a “College GameDay” show in November.
We live in a cynical world, but hopefully there isn’t a Grinch out there who would take a cynical view of Miles and his affection for such an afflicted young fan. Here’s hoping the Ortiz family will be warmed by the memories of their son during the good times this holiday season.
2. See Leonard run
Fournette’s shot at Heisman glory may have fizzled out with LSU’s three-game November losing streak, but the debate over his talents as they related to the NFL’s draft rule dominated the college football landscape in a way that even Heisman winner Derrick Henry could not.
Fournette even got the NCAA to rethink its rule on letting him auction off his game jersey for charity to help South Carolina flood victims.
Fournette still leads the FBS with 158.3 rushing yards per game, which is how the NCAA rushing champion is determined. With a strong showing against porous Texas Tech on Tuesday in the Texas Bowl, Fournette can become the first Southeastern Conference back since 1949 to lead the nation in rushing, a claim Henry and Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson couldn’t make.
3. The South Carolina game
Fournette’s jersey auction (along with signed helmets by Miles and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, who coached his last game against the Tigers) was only one facet of that game.
Because of historic flooding in South Carolina, the Gamecocks’ home game with LSU was moved to Tiger Stadium. The attendance was light for the hastily arranged game (42,058), but LSU’s handling of the game and the situation to make the Gamecocks and their fans seem as much as home as possible cast a positive national light on something we Louisianians take great pride in: our hospitality.
4. Sweet 16
At 8-3 going into the Texas Bowl, LSU has won eight or more games for the 16th straight season, the longest active streak in the FBS.
The Tigers are also playing in their 16th straight bowl game, an ongoing school record. Before 2000, the most consecutive bowls LSU ever appeared in was five. Only Georgia with 19 straight bowls has a longer active streak among SEC schools.
5. Few scandals
Since some arrests this summer that included quarterback Anthony Jennings, LSU’s legal hassles other than the John Chavis lawsuit have been few.
Had Miles been sent packing and LSU had hired Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, for example, the specter of preferential treatment for FSU players in numerous cases of wrongdoing would have followed him to Baton Rouge.
LSU continues to fall well within the Academic Progress Report (APR) guidelines required by the NCAA as well.
6. Most in the NFL
LSU had 40 players on NFL opening day rosters, more than any other school.
When Monday’s Pro Bowl selections were released, five former Tigers were on the list: Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants), Andrew Whitworth (Bengals), Trai Turner (Panthers, one of their 10) and Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu (Cardinals, the latter out for the rest of this season and playoffs with ACL and LCL tears).
Only Georgia had that many former players as Pro Bowl picks, followed by Southern California, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh with four each.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.