NCF Nation: Tyrann Mathieu

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles didn’t offer many specifics about LSU’s first preseason scrimmage on Wednesday -- particularly about which quarterbacks completed the two touchdown passes -- but the Tigers’ coach described the 26-play scrimmage as “pretty productive.”

Miles confirmed that freshmen Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre are both dealing with injuries, adding that tailback Fournette ran a handful of times in “thud” drills (not full contact) and that he should participate in a greater role in Saturday’s full scrimmage.

“He really could have been involved today, but [with] a little bruise, we decided not to,” Miles said.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsCoach Les Miles said that QBs Anthony Jennings, left, and Brandon Harris are both grasping LSU's offense.
He made similar comments about wide receiver Dupre, who already missed a couple of practice days with an undisclosed injury.

“He’s really nicked and on the heal and they don’t think it’s anything major in any way, but we’ve just got to continue to treat and get him going,” Miles said.

He didn’t say which quarterbacks threw the passes, but Miles did reveal that Avery Peterson and Travin Dural caught touchdowns in the scrimmage.

Speaking generally, he said that quarterback contenders Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are in command of the offense most of the time. The rest remains a work in progress.

“They’re young, they’re both engaged in leadership and want to have command of the offense -- and they do for the most part,” Miles said. “They don’t know what command is. They don’t necessarily understand exactly what has to be communicated to make this thing go easy. They’re learning.

“I’d say 70 percent of today was just very, very well done and 30 percent’s probably not enough for anybody that sits in the stands to even notice. And yet that 30 percent we expect from our quarterbacks.”

Miles said defensive tackle Quentin Thomas -- initially thought to be lost for the season with a torn bicep -- worked in individual drills on Wednesday and might still play this season.

“Today he went through individual and moved and used his hands. It’s one of those things when you have a big old arm and you get it nicked, you can’t quite tell what it is and what it isn’t initially. Frankly he’s as fortunate as he could be.”

Miles added that the Tigers’ occupational therapist, “looked at it and he says there’s absolutely no reason to do anything else than rehabilitate and let him play.”

Thomas’ versatility: One of the primary benefits of LSU’s “Mustang” defense is that it’s difficult to tell which rushers will attack the line of scrimmage on any given play. So perhaps it fits that one of the Tigers’ key players in that package is Dwayne Thomas, since you never know where he might play.

Thomas said he has learned the duties of every position in the secondary, joining Jalen Mills as the only Tiger defensive backs who can do that.

“Corner, safety, nickel and dime -- I pretty much know the entire defense,” Thomas said. “Wherever Coach [Corey] Raymond needs me, I just go fill in. It’s a great opportunity to do that. Being able to be in the mix of any position is good for the next level.”

Thomas said he added safety to his repertoire since the end of last season, having worked at the position throughout spring practice.

“Once I got safety down pat, that was like the last position I had to learn for the entire defense,” Thomas said. “I had already been doing nickel and dime and corner. After the spring passed, getting all the safety reps down pat was just fantastic.”

But it’s that Mustang role where Thomas might make the biggest impact. Because of his speed off the edge -- aided by his ability to jump the snap count, work with assistant coach Brick Haley on the finer points of pass rushing and film study of former Mustang standouts Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks -- Thomas could be even more valuable in that role this season.

“Dwayne really gives us what we’re looking for at that position. He does a great job there,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said when asked about who will play the rushing positions in the Mustang. “Jalen Mills has played a lot at that position. I’m not ready to say anything other than we expect Thomas to be one of those guys.”

Kick returners: Dural said one factor will probably determine who eventually wins LSU’s kickoff and punt return jobs.

“We’re battling every day to see who’s going to drop the ball first,” Dural chuckled.

Dural listed a half-dozen candidates who are contending for the return jobs when they catch balls before and after practice each day.

“It’s just me, Tre White, Leonard, Jamal [Adams], Malachi, Trey Quinn. We’re all back there battling for a spot,” Dural said. “Everybody wants to be that dynamic player. Everybody wants to be the kickoff guy or [punt].”

LSU had one of the nation’s best return men last year in Odell Beckham, who entered the NFL draft after winning the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player. Dural said it won’t be easy to replace the explosive Beckham, but he believes the Tigers have plenty of promising candidates.

“It’s hard to replace someone like that, but we have a lot of guys who have the ability to make those plays,” Dural said. “Tre White, he’s a guy that can return punts and return kickoffs as well as Leonard. Leonard’s back there returning both of them. So as the season goes on, whoever that guy may be, you’ll start to see him make those types of plays that Odell did.”

LSU embraces playing freshmen

May, 28, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles has never been afraid to play a true freshman -- LSU’s sports information department reports that the Tigers have played 87 first-year freshmen in Miles’ nine seasons -- but it has become one of the program’s trademarks only in recent years.

The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.

It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTyrann Mathieu is one of many LSU players in recent years who've had a chance to contribute as true freshmen.
“I think kids like that about LSU,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They like our style, they like Coach Miles’ philosophy that young guys are going to play early, which we do. I think we’ve averaged maybe ... at least 15 freshmen a year playing. And so all that plays into recruiting.

“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”

Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.

“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of [2010], it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”

Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.

All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.

LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.

“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”

Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.

LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.

“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”

UGA-LSU games always memorable

September, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – As an SEC West school, LSU is hardly a fixture on Georgia's annual football schedule. But when the Tigers and Bulldogs do get together, the results are almost always memorable.

Just think back over the past decade. Two meetings in the SEC championship game – one won by each school. The phantom celebration penalty against Georgia receiver A.J. Green in 2009, helping pave the way for LSU's comeback victory. Georgia putting huge point totals on LSU's defending BCS champion teams in 2004 and 2008.

There's a lot to remember – and just like in Saturday's meeting between No. 6 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) and No. 9 Georgia (2-1, 1-0) – there are often major SEC and BCS implications in play.

“[I told the younger players] any game can go down to the last second, but what kind of fight that they're going to have to be ready for,” said Georgia fifth-year senior receiver Rantavious Wooten, one of the few Bulldogs who were on the team when LSU last visited Athens in 2009. “They've got aspirations just like we do. They want a championship and we want a championship and this game right here, this is the game for it. So I just let them know what to expect and how it's going to be and just to get ready for it.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt is 3-4 against LSU since arriving at UGA in 2001 and Tigers coach Les Miles is 2-2 against the Bulldogs. Let's take a look at the last five times their programs squared off:

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports Mark Richt and the Bulldogs hope to give LSU its first loss of the season on Saturday.
2011 SEC Championship Game (Atlanta): No. 1 LSU 42, No. 16 Georgia 10
In one of the most bizarre games of Richt's tenure, Georgia's defense thoroughly dominated the first half. LSU didn't muster a single first down and was in danger of falling down by a big margin, but Georgia receivers dropped a pair of potential first-half touchdown passes and LSU punt returner Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu took a kick back for a touchdown to make it 10-7 Georgia at halftime. The second half was a completely different story, as the Bulldogs committed a couple of turnovers, LSU's pounding rushing attack began to have its intended effect and Todd Grantham's defense seemed helpless as the Tigers rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns after intermission, turning the game into a rout.

Oct. 3, 2009 (Athens): No. 4 LSU 20, No. 18 Georgia 13
This one will forever be remembered among Georgia fans for a referee's questionable decision to penalize Georgia superstar Green for excessive celebration following his leaping, go-ahead touchdown catch with 1:09 to play, giving Georgia its first lead at 13-12. The penalty forced the Bulldogs to kick off from their own 15 and LSU return specialist Trindon Holliday made them pay by returning the kickoff to the Georgia 43, with a 5-yard penalty against the Bulldogs on the kickoff moving LSU even closer to the UGA end zone. Two plays later, Charles Scott rushed for his second touchdown of the fourth quarter, a 33-yard run with 46 seconds to play allowing LSU to improve to 5-0.

Oct. 25, 2008 (Baton Rouge): No. 7 Georgia 52, No. 13 LSU 38
As wild as the ending of the 2009 game was, this one was crazy from the very beginning. Georgia linebacker Darryl Gamble returned an interception for a 40-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and added a 53-yard pick six in the game's closing minutes as the Bulldogs hung half-a-hundred on LSU's porous defense. The Tigers surrendered 50-plus twice that season – the first time in school history that had happened – leading Miles to dump co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto after the season in favor of former Tennessee coordinator John Chavis, who has been in Baton Rouge ever since.

2005 SEC Championship Game (Atlanta): No. 13 Georgia 34, No. 3 LSU 14
Although fellow receiver Sean Bailey caught a pair of first-quarter touchdowns from D.J. Shockley that got Georgia off on the right foot, Bulldogs senior Bryan McClendon – now the team's running backs coach – might have delivered the play of the game when he blocked a punt midway through the second quarter deep in LSU territory. That helped Georgia score to take a commanding 21-7 halftime lead which LSU never threatened. The Bulldogs' defense also did its job that day, limiting an LSU rushing attack that dominated in their 2003 meeting in Atlanta to just 74 rushing yards.

Oct. 2, 2004 (Athens): No. 3 Georgia 45, No. 13 LSU 16
Nick Saban's final game against Georgia while at LSU ended with a humiliating loss, as the Tigers surrendered the most points allowed by an LSU defense since Florida hung 56 on them in 1996. Georgia quarterback David Greene threw only 19 passes, but set a school record by completing five of them for touchdowns. The Bulldogs had lost twice to Saban's Tigers in 2003 – 17-10 in Baton Rouge and 34-13 in the SEC Championship Game – but they quickly exacted a degree of revenge by jumping out to a 24-0 lead before LSU could answer. The Bulldogs also generated three turnovers and sacked LSU quarterbacks Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell five times.

Both teams have been ranked in the top-20 in all seven of their meetings in the Richt era, and this will be the second time they've both been in the top-10. While not every meeting between the two has produced a close contest, they've all been memorable – and almost always impacted their respective championship chases.

“They've been great games. ... Just about every one of them, both teams are ranked teams and at least in the Top 25,” Richt said. “It is a cross-conference rival, so it doesn't hold quite the weight of an Eastern Division [game] when it comes to who plays in Atlanta. We could lose the game and still control our destiny, and they could lose the game and still control their destiny, so it's not do-or-die as far as league play, but it's very important for any national title hopes.”

Tyrann Mathieu upset at report

April, 12, 2013
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Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is disputing a USA Today Sports report that has a quote attributed to him from an unnamed NFL assistant coach about failed drug tests.

The assistant coach told USA Today that Mathieu was asked how many drug tests he failed in college and that he replied that he "quit counting at 10."

Mathieu contacted LSU Friday and disputed the report:
"It is irresponsible and shows a lack of integrity for anyone to disclose medical information regardless of how it was gathered. I would expect that conversations regarding my drug testing history during the course of my medical treatment would be private. LSU has a strong drug testing program and LSU went to great lengths to help me in my treatment and recovery. I understand that many people enjoy reading about the negative side of sports, but to publish those second-hand comments without being given a chance to address that comment prior to the publication of the article is irresponsible."

This could also be quite an ordeal for LSU if Mathieu did in fact fail more than 10 drug tests. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva acted quickly and defended LSU's substance abuse program:
"LSU has a strong substance abuse program that tries to identify and assist in the treatment and long term recovery process of drug use and abuse, and it is a program we would put up against any in the country. Once a substance abuse problem is identified, LSU is diligent in tracking those individuals over extended periods of time with frequent testing and engages them in meaningful opportunities for support through counseling and substance abuse treatment."

Mathieu's history of substance abuse has NFL teams apprehensive about drafting him, but he did sound sincere at February's NFL combine when he talked about about how he had changed his lifestyle through rehab. However, this certainly isn't something Mathieu needed a week before the NFL draft. Whether it's true or not, some NFL teams could still be concerned about the prospects of drafting Mathieu.
Tuesday brought us the final day of the NFL combine and even more speed, as defensive backs showcased their stuff in Indianapolis.

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner arrived at the combine as the top-rated defensive back in this year's NFL draft, but had an up-and-down day. He had an impressive official 40-yard dash time of 4.37 seconds, which was the second-fastest 40 time of the day, but he struggled during drills -- dropping a handful of balls. Milliner also had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 122-inch broad jump. He's probably still the top-rated corner in this year's draft with his 40 time and it doesn't sound like his field drills will knock him out of that top spot.

[+] EnlargeDarius Slay
AP Photo/Dave MartinMississippi State CB Darius Slay showed off his leaping ability during NFL combine workouts.
Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay made some good noise as well after he won the 40 battle, sporting a time of 4.36. That sort of time will certainly help his draft stock, especially after his name was buried a bit heading into the combine. He also had 14 reps of the 225-pound bench press, registered a 35.5-inch vertical and claimed 124 inches in the broad jump.

While Slay helped himself in Indy, teammate Johnthan Banks didn't. He might have won the Thorpe Award, as the nation's best defensive back, but Banks didn't have a good day at the combine. He ran an unflattering 4.61 in the 40 and struggled during field work. He had just 10 bench reps, but sported a 34-inch vertical and a 125-inch broad jump. Banks will have a chance to make up for Tuesday at Mississippi State's pro day.

When it came to showcasing some real strength, Georgia safety Shawn Williams topped all SEC defensive backs with his 25 bench reps. That number ranked third among defensive backs at the combine. He was also one of the fastest safeties out there with his 4.46 in the 40. He also had a 36-inch vertical. Williams really helped himself out with all that strength and speed he showed.

LSU safety Eric Reid also impressed when it came to speed and strength. He tied for the best vertical jump of the day with a height of 40.5 inches and he also tied for the top broad jump (134 inches). Reid also ran a 4.53 40 and did 17 reps on bench.

Florida safety Matt Elam had a big drop in field drills, but he turned some heads with his 4.54 40 time and he was able to get 17 reps on the bench. The 5-foot-10 Elam also registered a 35.5-inch vertical.

The other big story of the day revolved around the performance of former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. A lot of questions surrounded the Honey Badger, who was dismissed from LSU's team before the 2012 season, but he looked like he was in pretty good shape during Tuesday's workouts. While he tied for last with just four reps on bench, Mathieu was very impressive during field drills, showed good speed with his 4.50 in the 40, and registered a 34-inch vertical and a 117-inch broad jump.

Mathieu might have a lot of past off-field issues, but there's no doubt that he's a ballplayer, and Tuesday certainly helped him as far as the draft is concerned.

You can read about all the defensive back performances during the final day of the combine here.

LSU will recover from mass junior exodus

January, 21, 2013
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Sam Montgomery, Barkevious MingoCal Sport Media via AP Images, Getty ImagesSam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, projected to be first-round picks, highlight LSU's group of juniors leaving early for the NFL draft.
Les Miles isn’t sweating the mass exodus, so maybe everybody in Tigerland shouldn’t be sweating the 10 underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft.

That number swells to 11 if you count Tyrann Mathieu, but Mathieu didn’t play this past season for LSU after being dismissed and had no chance of returning in 2013.

To put LSU’s 10 early NFL draft entrants into perspective, the entire SEC had 11 in 2012.

Then again, the SEC saw that number climb to 33 this year.

And, yes, there were a number of head-scratchers. That's always the case.

Players leave early for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time, they’re simply ready to take their shot at the NFL. Sometimes, they land in the doghouse and really don’t have much choice. Others listen to the wrong people and get bad advice.

There’s a reason LSU has been one of the elite programs in college football the past few years. The Tigers have recruited and developed players about as well as anyone.

The sobering reality for everybody else in the SEC is that nobody has done it as well as Alabama, and the Tigers and Crimson Tide just happen to reside in the same division.

So it’s understandable that fans on all sides would see 10 underclassmen leaving early in one year and wonder if LSU was about to hit one of those embankments that all elite programs fear. The cyclical nature of college football, particularly in the SEC, is a fact of life.

The other obvious question: Is there something amiss in LSU’s program right now that’s driving players away? After all, we hear constantly how players love playing for Miles, but we don’t see a lot of those guys hanging around for another chance at that coveted crystal trophy.

Those guys do exist, although they’re getting rarer.

AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley chose to stay at Alabama for another season. So did Jake Matthews at Texas A&M, Aaron Murray at Georgia and Jordan Matthews at Vanderbilt.

In LSU’s case, most of the guys who are leaving already knew coming into this past season that this would likely be their farewell.

Go back to that star-studded 2009 signing class by LSU that was ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN. Six of the players leaving early were in that class -- defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, offensive tackle Chris Faulk and running back Michael Ford.

All six of those players redshirted their first season, meaning this was their fourth year in the program.

Mingo and Montgomery are both projected as top-20 picks, while Minter and Logan both have a chance to slip into the latter part of the first round.

Ford probably saw the writing on the wall with the emergence of Jeremy Hill at running back this season, and Faulk had already missed most of this past season with an injury. He wasn’t willing to risk coming back to school and being injured again.

That 2009 signing class also included cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and receiver Rueben Randle, all of whom left early last year and were taken in the first two rounds. Claiborne and Brockers were both top-15 picks.

The Tigers’ 2010 signing class was ranked No. 8 nationally and included safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware, not to mention Mathieu.

It was pretty much a given prior to this season that Reid was coming out. He’s rated as one of the top safeties in the draft. Simon has all the measurables and will probably help himself in workouts, while Ware had seen his role on LSU’s team reduced ever since his suspension in 2011 after reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

Even for a program that rakes in the talent the way LSU does, losing 10 players early in one year is bound to have an effect. The Tigers will be forced to depend on a lot of young players next season, and several others will have to step up their roles considerably.

Miles has built a strong enough foundation that LSU isn’t going to all of a sudden drop off the radar. But losing so many good players at once will make it that much more difficult to climb out from under Alabama’s growing shadow, and that’s not what anybody wants to hear on the Bayou.

Miles knows how the game works, though, and he also knows that it’s never a bad thing to be sending so many players to the NFL, or at least in the direction of the NFL. When you're recruiting in the waters that LSU does, the overriding question that just about every one of those recruits has is: How can you help me get to the NFL?

“I like the state of the program,” Miles told The Baton Rouge Advocate. “I like the fact that we send guys to the NFL early and recruit guys with the potential to go to the NFL early.”

Something says that cycle's not going to end any time soon at LSU and that the Tigers aren't going to lose their membership in college football's upper class.

Video: Tyrann Mathieu interview

January, 6, 2013
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Tyrann Mathieu talks with Joe Schad about missing this season, abusing himself and his use of marijuana.
Hugh Green looks at the evolution of football over time and cannot feign surprise when seeing that no exclusively defensive player has ever walked away with the college game's most prized individual award. But that doesn't mean he thinks it's right.

From spread offense variations to wider definitions of "unnecessary roughness," from 7-on-7 passing leagues all the way back to the legalization of the forward pass, Green sees one common theme as the sport has progressed.

"They have not made a rule change where offenses have the opportunity to score less points," said Green, the former Pitt and later Buccaneers and Dolphins star defensive end. "They always have rule changes that hamper the defense so that the offense can score more points. Like everything else that happens over the decades with that, defenses adjust. They make the offenses come up with another rule, which is the formula of why a defensive player is so important and why he should be characterized into that major award."

That major award is the Heisman Trophy, which will be given Saturday night to one of three finalists: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein or Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Manti Te'o has already garnered several awards, but can he add the Heisman to his trophy case?
No solely defensive player has notched the Heisman, with Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson being the lone winner (1997) who played mostly defense, though he also took reps at receiver and on special teams.

Green's 1980 season -- which featured 123 tackles, 17 sacks and four fumble recoveries -- earned him a second-place finish in 1980 behind South Carolina running back George Rogers. Green is closest to accept the famous stiff-arming trophy soley as a defender. (Iowa tackle Alex Karras finished second in 1957, too.)

That could change if Te'o's name is called this weekend at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.

"I think first and foremost, for me it would be a great honor for my team," Te'o said. "Without my team, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate. If we weren't 120, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate. So without my team and their help, I wouldn't be going to New York. But definitely if I were to win and representing my school and my team and my family and defensive players in general, it would definitely be a great step for all of us.

"If it doesn't happen, then whoever does win it is truly deserving of the award. Anything, whatever happens, it's going to be good."

Manziel is considered the front-runner following an SEC-record 4,600 yards of total offense for the 10-2 Aggies. The redshirt freshman has the catchy nickname ("Johnny Football") and signature moment (last month's upset of then-No. 1 and defending champion Alabama) that have been Heisman hallmarks, based on history.

Working in Te'o's favor are nine takeaways (seven picks, two fumble recoveries), which are tied for the national lead, along with 103 tackles and the label of best player on the nation's No. 1 and only bowl-eligible undefeated team. Notre Dame's seven Heisman winners are tied with Ohio State for most of all time.

"People characterize what a defensive player does and doesn't do, which is score points," Green said. "I thought each and every time, [Te'o's] interceptions either prevented a touchdown or put his offense in position to score a touchdown or kick field goals. So it can be warranted that he does score points."

Te'o also has the character element, an often-overlooked part of the Heisman Trust mission statement, and something he has embodied in overcoming the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend within hours of each other earlier this season.

"There are so many superlatives that you can use about players throughout the country," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "He's a college football player. He loves the game. He's passionate about the game. He's 21 years old and he acts like that. When he walks into a room, there's an energy and a passion for what he does.

"He raises the level of accountability amongst his teammates, and when you have that kind of energy and that kind of personality, it rubs off on everybody. He's a college football player that loves the game and he elevates the play of others around him."

Still, Te'o faces an uphill climb. Only seven defensive players have even been invited to the Heisman ceremony since players first began attending in 1981, the most recent being LSU fifth-place finisher Tyrann Mathieu last year. The Honey Badger, like Woodson, also made a big special teams impact and, like Manziel, also boasted the catchy nickname.

Nebraska tackle Ndamukong Suh's invite to New York following his monstrous 2009 campaign -- 85 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 26 hurries, three blocked kicks -- marked the first top-five finish by a defense-only player in 18 years.

That history was not lost on Suh, who was reminded of it everywhere he went after a Big 12 title game loss to Texas in which he notched seven tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two hurries. He felt he had a decent shot at winning, but he also knew that the crowded field that year could create some unpredictability, as he was joined in New York by a past winner (Tim Tebow) and two players who would face off in the national title game (Colt McCoy and winner Mark Ingram), along with Toby Gerhart.

"It's unfortunate that defensive guys don't get a better look," said Suh, who finished fourth and is now with the Lions. "I'm happy for Manti Te'o. I'll definitely be rooting for him. If I could vote for him, I'd definitely vote for him.

"I only saw one game of him playing, when he played against Oklahoma, but he seemed like a very dominant defensive player and I wish him the best, especially since I'm on the same side of the ball as him."
Another day passes, and the SEC coaching drama continues.

According to a report by AL.com, Auburn interviewed Louisville coach Charlie Strong this week to fill its head coaching vacancy. The report also stated that the "conversation took place in the last two days with someone representing Auburn."

Strong, who has gone 23-15 in three seasons at Louisville, including 9-2 this season, denied the report. With a win against Rutgers on Thursday, Louisville can win a share of the Big East title.

Auburn is searching for a new head coach after Gene Chizik was fired following a 3-9 season.

Strong certainly isn't a stranger to the SEC. He has 20 years of experience in the league as an assistant. He was South Carolina's defensive coordinator from 1999-2001, and served as Florida's defensive coordinator from 2003-2009.

Strong has also proved to be a tremendous recruiter in the southeast, especially in South Florida. With Strong's SEC experience and the recruiting success he's had in SEC territory, it seemed inevitable that he'd be linked to at least one of the SEC openings.

Manziel up for Walter Camp award

The accolades just keep coming for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman is college football's new Heisman front-runner and is now one of five finalists for the Walter Camp player of the year award.

Manziel is second in the SEC with 3,419 passing yards, and has tossed 24 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He also leads the SEC with 1,181 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. His 4,600 yards of total offense is a new SEC record.

The other finalists for the award are Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner.

Honey Badger going pro

Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu has decided to enter April's NFL draft, according to a source close to Mathieu.

Mathieu, also known as the Honey Badger for his ravenous playmaking ability, was a Heisman trophy finalist last season, but was dismissed from LSU's football team over the summer for reportedly failing a drug test. He later entered a drug rehabilitation center in Houston before returning to LSU as a student.

His plan was to eventually work his way back onto LSU's football team, but his arrest last month for possession of marijuana all but ended that goal.

Now it's clear that the Honey Badger's college football days are officially over.
1. It’s odd that Notre Dame and Oklahoma have played nine times and never played each other in a bowl game. There have been four home-and-homes, and then, in 1999, Notre Dame had an opening and needed a home game. You hear that from schools all the time but the Oklahomas of the world usually aren’t willing to be the guest. What did the Sooners get in return? The home-and-home that begins tomorrow and ends next September in South Bend.

2. When LSU head coach Les Miles kicked defensive back Tyrann Mathieu off the team in August, it was easy to criticize Mathieu for blowing an opportunity afforded so few young people. But when Baton Rouge police arrested Mathieu for simple possession of marijuana Thursday -- after Mathieu received treatment for substance abuse -- criticism morphed into pity. If, after everything he has gone through, Mathieu still thought it was OK to light up, he’s either really dumb or really unable to quit.

3. The SEC and the Big 12 will announce next week whether the Sugar Bowl or the Cotton Bowl will be the home of the postseason game matching their champions. As fetching as Cowboys Stadium is, I find it hard to believe that either league would give up New Orleans and the French Quarter and the better weather. It also seems easier to get to for the Big 12 teams than Dallas is for the SEC teams. But I’ve been wrong before...

Tyrann Mathieu arrested

October, 25, 2012
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Any chance Tyrann Mathieu had of returning to LSU's football team likely vanished with his recent arrest for simple possession of marijuana.

Mathieu
Mathieu, also known as the Honey Badger, was arrested and charged Thursday along with three former LSU football players, including former quarterback Jordan Jefferson, after officers found the marijuana in Mathieu's apartment, according to the police report. The report also said that officers found a marijuana grinder, a digital scale and 10 bags of high-grade marijuana inside the apartment.

Mathieu was dismissed from LSU's football team over the summer, after reportedly failing a drug test. He then entered a rehab center in Houston and later returned to LSU to resume classes with hopes of playing football somewhere in 2013.

That place likely won't be LSU now.

Remember when coach Les Miles said he expected there to be a happy ending for Mathieu in all of this? Well, this certainly isn't what he meant. Mathieu appeared to be doing all the right things. He was getting help and getting back to school without focusing on football. While it looked like he wanted to return to LSU's football team in the future, he knew it was going to be a tough road back.

He had to stay clean -- and he had to show he was ready to put his team first. Thursday's incident proved that Mathieu wasn't ready for that, and it really is sad to see someone with all that ability waste it again and again.

The Honey Badger was such an iconic figure in college football. As the original YouTube video claimed, Mathieu really did take what he wanted when he stepped out onto the playing field. Wherever the ball went, he was sure to follow. If LSU needed a spark or a big play, the Honey Badger was there to provide it.

Now, it looks like LSU can kiss any hope of that returning in the future goodbye. If Mathieu wants another shot at football, it might be best at this point if he and LSU officially part ways. His name was already muddied after a Sports Illustrated story revealed that Mathieu might have violated NCAA rules by promoting a nightclub while he was still a member of the team, and this arrest all but shuts the door on the Honey Badger's return to LSU's football team.

It wasn't the ending he was looking for, but here's to hoping he eventually finds one that makes him happy.

Mathieu may have violated NCAA rules

October, 16, 2012
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If Tyrann Mathieu wants to return to LSU's football team, it appears his journey back into a purple-and-gold uniform might be even tougher.

According to a report by Sports Illustrated, Mathieu may have violated NCAA rules by promoting a night club while he was still a member of the team. Sports Illustrated reported that Mathieu appeared in a video made by a group of his friends called Era Nation where he promotes a party at a Baton Rouge, La., club called The Palace on March 10 of this year.

Sources told SI that Mathieu received benefits at the club that could also affect his eligibility.

His pictures were also used on fliers promoting the event "Era Nation Album Release Party For Tyrann Mathieu." Former LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and current LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson were also on the fliers.

LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette said the school was aware of Johnson being featured on the flier, but said that he didn't think Johnson knew about his picture being used and didn't think the sophomore had committed any violation.

Mathieu, who was dismissed from LSU's football team in August following a failed drug test, re-enrolled at LSU as a student this fall after entering a four-week treatment program in Houston run by former NBA star John Lucas. While Mathieu hasn't confirmed he'd like to return to LSU's football team in 2013, the thought is that he'd like to return to the Tigers' team and play next season.

Now, his path back to the team is a little muddier with the possibility of NCAA violations hovering over his head. It wouldn't just affect him with LSU, either. Mathieu could miss out on playing for other schools as well if what he did is considered a violation.

It's been a rough road for the Honey Badger to venture down since August, and it's going to get tougher if the NCAA finds him in the wrong. The hope is that after his time in treatment, football is no longer his main concern, and that whatever happens doesn't affect his new path in life.
When Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from LSU, everyone knew his loss would be felt in a big way.

It wasn’t his coverage skills that everyone worried about. It was the fact that he could change a game in the blink of an eye. He had the uncanny ability to make a play from anywhere and send the game soaring in LSU’s favor.

He was dynamic returning the ball -- just ask Arkansas and Georgia -- and he could force a turnover out of nowhere to put a dent in any sort of offensive momentum for one of LSU’s opponents.

We knew Mathieu’s absence would hurt, but it’s become clear that the spark he had for the Tigers is being missed more and more as the season goes on.

As we approach the halfway point of the college football season, the team long thought to be a legitimate national title contender is in search of some sort of jolt that will catapult it back into the title chase. The offense is too much of a mess right now, and points won’t come unless a spark is found.

Who can do his best to pick up where the Honey Badger left off? Right now, it’s hard to find anyone who fits that mold on offense, defense or special teams.

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU is hoping that Odell Beckham Jr. can consistently be a spark for its sluggish offense.
No one can be Mathieu. That’s obvious. But someone has to be able to give this offense -- and this team -- some life. And the way the offense has sputtered along for the past few weeks, it needs it in a hurry or things could really get away from LSU.

Remember, this team didn’t exactly have an explosive offense last season. Having Rueben Randle as a legit deep threat helped, but LSU never scared anyone with its offense. It toppled teams with a wave of momentum that started with a play from Mathieu. Even when LSU’s offense looked pitiful last year, Mathieu saved it. LSU doesn’t have that right now.

There are a few candidates, but I think a lot more has to be put on the plate of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He’s an extremely talented athlete and has the kind of elusiveness and speed that just screams “playmaker.”

We’ve seen flashes from him, but they’ve been in small doses. He had a 70-yard punt return that went for a touchdown against North Texas in the opener and had that five-catch, 128-yard performance against Towson two weeks ago, when he caught touchdown passes of 27 and 53 yards.

After being mired in inconsistency for the first four weeks, we finally saw this young star, who was one of LSU’s best offensive players last year, break out the way people were waiting for. But it didn’t last very long.

Against Florida this past weekend, Beckham was nearly eliminated from the game plan by Florida. He was ineffective returning the ball, totaling 22 yards on four returns, and his only big play on offense actually benefited the Gators.

You know, the 56-yard catch-and-run that he fumbled over to Florida after he decided to challenge Matt Elam instead of staying in stride. That play changed everything for LSU and led to the Gators’ game-winning scoring drive.

With quarterback Zach Mettenberger struggling with just about everything that comes with the position right now, he could really, really benefit from having Beckham be a real star for this team.

Beckham has the speed to be a true deep threat. He’s agile enough to make defenders look silly. And he’s a tough player. He could hurt teams returning the ball or catching it. But he’s just too inconsistent, and Mettenberger can’t find him enough.

Russell Shepard is another player with all the skill to be great, but inconsistency and focus continue to weigh him down when he steps on the field. And LSU just doesn’t appear to have that game-changing defender back there -- at least no one close to having the playmaking skills of the Honey Badger -- but maybe one of those young corners can step up.

Not having that spark has really hurt this team, especially with all of the offensive issues. This offense is not good enough right now. It needs help. Not having that jolt to pick the offense up and put it in good field position doesn’t help. This team is going backward far too much, and it has to find someone who will push it forward.

The enthusiasm and excitement we were used to seeing from the Tigers has been lost. The Honey Badger isn’t coming back, but someone has to give this team some sort of juice if it wants to make another title run.
LSU coach Les Miles confirmed on Wednesday that five players have been ruled out for the 2012 season.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Tuesday that linebackers Tahj Jones and D.J. Welter, tight end Tyler Edwards and offensive lineman Evan Washington have all been ruled academically ineligible, according to a source close to the program.

Miles wouldn’t comment on if the players were ruled academically ineligible.

“I don’t know that it’s fair for me to confirm that, to be honest with you,” Miles said during Wednesday’s SEC coaches call. “There’s a privacy responsibility that I have. Those guys will not play this year. I don’t know that I can tell you the specifics as to why and why not.”

Miles also said that sophomore defensive end Jordan Allen will miss the rest of the season due to injury.

This just gives LSU more depth issues to deal with. The Tigers lost freshman signees Avery Johnson (wide receiver) and Jeremy Liggins (quarterback), and junior college transfer offensive lineman Fehoko Fanaika because they couldn’t qualify academically.

LSU also dismissed All-American and Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu before the season started. Junior offensive tackle Chris Faulk and freshman wide receiver Travin Dural are also out for the year because of injuries.

Jones, a junior, was expected to compete for the Sam linebacker position, but had yet to see any game action this year. He played in all 14 games last season, making one start, and registered 33 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one fumble recovery. He has played in 27 career games.

Edwards, a senior, has played in 39 career games with one start as more of a blocker and has one catch for 10 yards.

SEC mailbag: Replacing LSU's Chris Faulk

September, 7, 2012
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I’m coming at you live from College Station, Texas, where the Aggies make their SEC debut on Saturday against No. 24 Florida.

While I eagerly await that historic matchup, let’s empty out the SEC mailbag:

TD Carey in Ruston, La., writes: LSU and Chris Faulk: Let us not forget that LSU could have had Mo Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Mike Brockers. The loss of these four, especially now that Faulk is out, will make a difference, as there is no way to replace Faulk.

Chris Low: I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there’s “no way.” Faulk was a key part of that LSU offensive line and an excellent player, but the Tigers have some depth and experience up front. Getting Josh Dworaczyk back for a sixth season was huge. He’s versatile and will step in Saturday at left tackle for the Tigers. He’s not the only option there, either. It’s a blow to lose Faulk, no question. But I’m not ready to say it was a knockout blow. This LSU team has been too resilient in the past and is still oozing with talent.




Brian in Richmond, Va., writes: Hey Chris, War Eagle people seem to be really down on Auburn this year. They “almost/should have” beaten a very good ranked Clemson team that has a great chance of winning the ACC. It pains me to admit this, but Auburn has had some personnel issues since winning the 2010 national championship. How much better would Auburn be this year with Mike Dyer, Antonio Goodwin, Shaun Kitchens, Dakota Mosley and Jovon Robinson? I would include Zeke Pike, but he wasn't going to start this year and he's a train wreck anyway. Would they have really made that big of a difference? Obviously, Mike Dyer is a known quantity.

Chris Low: Fans are always going to be down when you lose the opener, but this is about what I expected from this Auburn team. It’s not so much that I’m down on the Tigers. I just think it’s going to be tough sledding for them this season with a first-time starter at quarterback who’s learning on the job and a defense that still clearly has some issues. I expect Auburn to improve on defense as the season goes on, but inexperience at quarterback and a leaky defense are a bad combination. And as far as some of the players you mentioned that are no longer there, maybe part of the problem is that there have been too many misses on the recruiting end with kids who simply had no desire to behave. Weeding out those kids might be the best thing that could have happened to this team.




Brian in Gadsden, Ala.: Chris, I was just reading your prediction regarding Mississippi State and Auburn. I think you have some revisionist history. Mississippi State was not one foot short of winning at Auburn last year. They were one foot short of being behind by two points with no timeouts and a chance to tie the game with a successful two-point conversion. Last time I checked, a two-point conversion was not a 99 percent certainty like an extra point. I have no problem with a pick against Auburn, but please don’t change the facts from last year.

Chris Low: Actually, we were both wrong. What I should have written was that Mississippi State came within a foot of tying the game and sending it into overtime with an extra point or having a chance to win it with a successful two-point conversion. The final score was 41-34, so all the Bulldogs would have needed to tie the game was an extra point. A successful two-point conversion would have won it in regulation. Anyway, my apologies, and I promise there’s no War Eagle conspiracy at work here.




Tommyboy in Atlanta writes: 1. Can you please quantify SEC speed? 2. What is the international unit of measurement of SEC speed? 3. Do SEC scoreboards have to be specially calibrated or purpose built for SEC speed? 4. Do all SEC teams have SEC speed? 5. If a team were in another conference and joined the SEC, does that team automatically get SEC speed, or is there a waiting period? If there is a waiting period, does time travel faster due to SEC speed? 6. Could ESPN please mention SEC speed more? 8. Please complete the following: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi are to ______ as SEC speed is to ______. The questions skip from No. 6 to No. 8 because my computer cannot keep up with my typing because my fingers have ... SEC speed.

Chris Low: Very simply, SEC speed = six consecutive national championships. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi are to great men and men of vision as SEC speed is to bringing in the bling and collecting crystal footballs. I like your style, though. Good stuff. We may have to let you sit in one day for me on the SEC blog. On second thought, maybe not. You might take my job.




Bryan in Roswell, Ga., writes: With South Carolina struggling against Vanderbilt, the East seems wide open this year. The Georgia-Missouri game is huge, and a Missouri win would seemingly set the stage for the Tigers to win the East on their first try. What would that scenario do for Mizzou going forward in their new home?

Chris Low: I still say that Vanderbilt is better than a lot of people are giving the Commodores credit for. It’s true that South Carolina didn’t throw the ball well, but the Gamecocks didn’t play that poorly. My guess is that the rest of the East would love to see Georgia go down this weekend in its first SEC game. If that happens, this East race might look a little bit like the one in 2010. Everybody’s going to beat up on everybody else. Arkansas went to the SEC championship game in its fourth year in the league, so it's not outrageous to think that Missouri could make some noise this first year if the Tigers can get out of the blocks with a victory over the Bulldogs.




Dale in Winchester, Tenn., writes: Chris, not trying to look ahead. But so far after seeing the N.C. State game, do you think this year’s Tennessee team, if it stays healthy and some of its players like Tyler Bray and Herman Lathers continue to step up and lead, could be the one to get the Big Orange back to the powerhouse we used to be? Go Vols!

Chris Low: The most impressive thing about the Vols in the opener was the way they finished the game and didn’t flinch when Bray lost the fumble at the goal line right before halftime. I would still like to see them be better in short yardage situations on offense, and the defensive secondary still has some growing up to do. But there’s no doubt that this is Derek Dooley’s best team, and I expect to see the Vols in the East race come November. I’ll stop there … for now.




Kevin in Lexington, S.C., writes: I know it’s several weeks away, but how do you think South Carolina's secondary will hold up against Missouri’s spread attack after looking overwhelmed at times against Vandy?

Chris Low: I’ll have a better answer for you after watching Missouri go up against Georgia’s defense Saturday night. Losing senior cornerback Akeem Auguste was a killer for the Gamecocks. They were already thin back there. To me, the real burden is on South Carolina’s front seven now and generating even more pressure. Jadeveon Clowney is a freakish talent, but he can’t take plays off.




Herrin in Boiling Springs, S.C., writes: 1. Are you contractually obligated to write "SEC speed" in each article? 2. LSU and Alabama have not had a close SEC game in some time. Does the rest of the SEC still have SEC speed? 3. Have you ever seen a team crow more about its conference -- while accomplishing less on its own -- than South Carolina? 4. Does Clemson have SEC speed? I mean, we have beaten SEC teams nine out of the last 11 years.

Chris Low: All fair points. Now let me ask you a question: How many straight years has South Carolina beaten Clemson? I noticed you didn’t bring up that topic.


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