Since the Bowl Championship Series’ inception in 1998, no team had ever won two BCS national titles.
No team had ever won a national championship with two losses in a season.
No team until a damn strong one did it to complete an improbable 2007 campaign.
Five years later you can still scroll through the catalog of memories like photos on an IPhone.
A month after Coach Les Miles cynically told the media to “have a great day” in response to a leaked story that he was leaving to coach at his alma mater Michigan, a story that ESPN broke on the morning of the SEC championship game of all days, Miles’ “damn strong football team” whipped top-ranked Ohio State 38-24 to win the third national championship in school history and second in five years.
It was a season marked by improbable close victories, two triple-overtime defeats, and a near miracle on the final weekend of the regular season that provided the perfect alignment for LSU to reach the title game.
It was also a year marked by one of the guttiest senior classes in school history, a group that coincidentally was the last recruiting class of former coach Nick Saban.
They had to lead a team that lost four NFL first round picks and a running back that had won the SEC and Sugar Bowl MVPs in the Tigers’ 2003 national championship season. All five were on the offensive side of the ball.
And they had to do all of this with three new offensive assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator.
Needless to say, while the Tigers’ preseason ranking of No. 2 was not completely unwarranted, the fact that they ended up there at the end of the regular season with a shot at the championship is truly memorable.
To No. 1…The First Time
The Tigers had the national media gushing as they came out of the gate with a flurry. They opened the season on a rainy Thursday in Starkville, where they shut out the Bulldogs, 45-0, limiting Mississippi State to just 10 rushing yards on 26 carries. Senior safety Craig Steltz had three of LSU’s six interceptions and returned them for a total of 100 yards.
But what you may remember is receiver Brandon LaFell’s jaw-crunching block on Zach Smith near the sideline on a Matt Flynn scramble.
LSU had 10 days to rest before its ESPN primetime showdown with No. 9 Virginia Tech. The Tigers were never threatened in front of of 92,739 at Tiger Stadium, driving right down the field on the Hokies’ vaunted defense for two 80-plus yard touchdown drives to start the game. LSU rolled from there, 48-7.
But what you may remember is ESPN analyst Lee Corso joking at halftime that LSU could play in the NFL.
After a 44-0 victory over Middle Tennessee State, LSU beat No. 14 South Carolina 28-16 on a wet Saturday afternoon in Tiger Stadium, surrendering a late Carolina touchdown that made the score look closer than it really was.
But what you may remember is the play of the game that would go on to be selected as the ESPN/Pontiac Game Changing Performance for Week 4 and help bolster the growing legend of the ‘Mad Hatter’ Les Miles. Miles called for a fake field goal perfectly executed when quarterback and holder Flynn tossed an over-the-head, no look toss that fell perfectly into the waiting arms of kicker Colt David, who ran it in for the touchdown.
You also may remember the ol’ ball coach Steve Spurrier being caught on CBS smiling and shaking his head afterwards on the South Carolina sideline. It may have even felt like a small semblance of vindication for all those tricks he’d pulled out of his sleeve when he coached at Florida.
LSU struggled a bit while wearing alternate uniforms in a 34-9 victory over Tulane at the Louisiana Superdome. Those could be memorable or forgettable, depending on your viewpoint. But you may remember that the win over the Green Wave lifted the Tigers past USC into the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll for the first of three separate occasions that season.
And so it would be this week’s top-ranked team hosting the defending national champions, the Florida Gators, on Saturday October 6. It would prove to be a showdown with more things to remember than pictures an IPhone can store. Just give Tim Tebow a call if you’ve forgotten.
Check back Sunday for Part 2 of the series.