The following was a column written in The Advocate by a friend and fine writer Scott Rabalais:
When the media’s preseason All-Southeastern Conference team was released way back in July, LSU had one player on the first team: Morris Claiborne.
Alabama had eight first-teamers, Georgia three. Even Kentucky had two, and an investigation revealed they weren’t wandering basketball players, either.
In the vote for who would end up winning the SEC, Alabama was an overwhelming favorite. Not surprising since most of the media attending the SEC Media Days in Birmingham is based in Alabama, but objectively most people looked at the team the Crimson Tide had returning and the fact LSU had to play there Nov. 5 and figured that would be the telling moment.
The Tigers, despite their lack of obvious superstar talent, earned the second-most first-place votes. It proved to be a telling statistic.
“Everyone was saying we don’t have anybody on the all-conference team, whereas somebody thinks we have a pretty good team,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
Back when Miles’ mentor, Bo Schembechler, was head coach at Michigan, he made a stirring preseason speech one year, a speech that certainly has to still resonate within Miles.
“No man, no coach is more important than the team,” Bo said. “The team, the team, the team.”
The team above all. The team’s goals. The team that can be greater than the sum of its individual parts.
As the season went on, surely this LSU team had its superstars. Claiborne became everybody’s All-American. Tyrann Mathieu became the Honey Badger, and despite a midseason swoon rode his indelible nickname and incomparable talent for making big plays to a seat in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
But overall, it has been LSU’s depth that has led the Tigers to 13-0 and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. Players like Mathieu and Mo certainly have had their critical moments, and individual playmakers abound. But it’s LSU’s ability to grind teams down, come at them with waves of players of similarly high-grade talent, that has been the Tigers’ biggest asset this season as they defeated everyone on a schedule that included eight ranked foes.
“This team has found exactly what they’ve needed to do to win,” Miles said. “They took on all comers.”
Certainly by this point on a team this good, it was to be expected that some players would get individual honors.
But you have to imagine this is exactly the kind of team Miles enjoys coaching – and the kind of team that ultimately would have earned Schembechler’s approval.
“I guess what I’d rather have is a guy who has a feel of having his teammates’ back, where if somebody makes a mistake or is out of position or fundamentally doesn’t make a play, that guy has his back and makes that play,” Miles said.
“Just for me is not enough. I want to do it for the other people in this room. That is necessary for any team that achieves significantly.”
The team. The team, the team, the team.