Monday, January 28, 2008

One Wild Ride!

Art by Jack Jaubert honoring the 2007 National Champions!

Geaux Tigers - 2007 National Champions!

National Championship Celebration - January 19, 2008

National Championship Celebration - January 19, 2008

National Championship Celebration - January 19, 2008

National Championship Celebration - January 19, 2008

National Championship Celebration - January 19, 2008

Chalk up another honor for the LSU football team and its fiery, gambling coach Les Miles.

This time it’s the Louisiana Sports Writers Association doing the honors — choosing Miles and his national championship team for the organization’s 2007 Headliner of the Year Award.

When Baton Rouge native Ron Higgins, president of the Football Writers Association of America, presented Miles with the FWAA national championship trophy during a recent celebration at Tiger Stadium, Higgins said Miles proved a nice guy can win the national championship.

Miles, however, does not completely endorse the “nice guy” label.

“I prefer nice guy, but tough football coach,” Miles said. His players would agree.

“He’s really just as tough as coach Saban on the field,” said tailback Jacob Hester, referring to Alabama coach Nick Saban, whom Miles replaced in 2005 when Saban went to the Miami Dolphins. “He’ll get on you, especially the offensive linemen. But you can go up and talk to him more easily.”

Miles started the 2007 off-season by calling out Alabama with an expletive at the Bayou Bash signing day party. He later apologized for his language. By July, he was poking fun at the Pacific-10 conference. As the season finally started, he was just getting warmed up.

The Tigers, who entered the season No. 2 in the nation to Pac-10 power Southern California, started out on fire, rolling by Mississippi State 45-0, No. 9 Virginia Tech 48-7, Middle Tennessee 44-0 and No. 12 South Carolina 28-16. Miles beat South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier at his own game by calling a fake field goal with holder Matt Flynn tossing a no-look lateral over his shoulder to kicker Colt David, who sprinted in for the touchdown. Spurrier nodded accordingly as if to say, “You got me.”

After struggling briefly with Tulane before winning 34-9, the Tigers moved to No. 1 in the nation in the Associated Press poll during a regular season for the first time since 1959.

Then Miles stepped into a phone booth — or a cellular store these days — and came out as the “Ohio Gambler”. Five times, “Vegas” Les went for it on fourth down, including another fake field goal, and made it five times in a thrilling 28-24 win over No. 9 Florida.

“I didn’t just go out and risk everything,” Miles said. “They were all calculated calls. We had good plays in mind. We didn’t just go for it.”

The nation began to notice Miles, Hester, who converted three of those fourth downs, and the Tigers, who went to No. 1 across the board. A setback followed at Kentucky in a 43-37 triple overtime loss when a fourth-and-2 failed.

But good fortune smiled on Miles and the Tigers a week later against Auburn when Flynn found Demetrius Byrd for the winning touchdown on a 22-yard pass play that ended with one second on the clock in a 30-24 victory. The Legend of Les grew.

A week later, LSU defeated Alabama’s Saban at his own game. With the score tied 34-34 and less than two minutes to play, Chad Jones’ safety blitz forced a fumble by Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson that the Tigers recovered at the Alabama 3. Moments later, Hester scored from the 1 for a 41-34 victory and an 8-1 record.

However, the magical season appeared over for some with a 50-48, triple overtime loss at home to Arkansas in the regular season finale the day after Thansgiving.

But Miles and his team had saved their best act for last.

The morning of Saturday, Dec. 1, was a dark one in the LSU Nation. But little did everyone know that a “perfect storm” was brewing.

That day, many thought the Tigers had only a Southeastern Conference title to play for when they were facing Tennessee in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. And on ESPN Game Day program that morning, Kirk Herbstreit reported that Miles would become head coach at his alma mater, Michigan, on Monday.

LSU, however, had struck a deal with Miles the night before and he agreed to stay. An announcement was forthcoming before the game with Miles set to discuss it more after the game against the Vols. Because of Herbstreit’s incorrect report, Miles had a rare pre-game news conference. And the rest is history.

“There was misinformation on ESPN, and I think it was imperative that I straighten it out,” Miles began. “I got a championship game to play. And I’m excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play. And it’s really all I’d like to say. Please ask me after. I’m busy. Thank you very much.

“Have a great day.”

Miles and his team went on to defeat Tennessee, 21-14, for the SEC title.

With LSU on the airplane ride home, the “perfect storm” hit: Oklahoma defeated top-ranked Missouri and lowly Pittsburgh stunned No. 2 West Virginia.

A day later, LSU rose from No. 7 to No. 2 in the BCS rankings, setting the stage for the national championship game against Ohio State in the Superdome, just 87 miles from Tiger Stadium.

The denouement had a rocky start as LSU trailed the Buckeyes 10-0 in the first quarter, but that proved to be a microcosm of the LSU season. The Tigers trailed South Carolina and Tulane early on before winning. They also trailed Florida, Auburn and Alabama by 10 points in the third period before victory.

“I think this team is full of grown men,” Flynn said. “Full of guys who’ve been there. Guys that never say quit. We’d been down by 10 before. We knew we’d come back.”

He was right. The Tigers scored 31 straight points en route to a 38-24 triumph.

Miles ended that night like a college kid, though, on a Bourbon Street balcony lifting the national championship trophy to the masses.

“This is our trophy,” Miles said at the Tiger Stadium celebration. “This is the state of Louisiana’s championship.” And he didn’t want it to stop.

“That trophy should be carried around the state like the Stanley Cup,” he said.

Check out the article at The Advocate.

What an awesome season! The Championship Celebration was a lot of fun, despite the cold weather... it was definitely worth going to cheer on those guys one last time! Congratulations, Tigers!

Incidentally, more former LSU players will play in Super Bowl XLII than any other college! Now, that's saying something! With LSU's 5 players, that totals 20 former SEC players in this Sunday's match-up!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Messenger reveals new side of Mercury!

Messenger's image of Mercury as it passes Venus

Messenger's first photo of Mercury - the side we've never seen before!

Mariner 10's image of Mercury - 1973

NASA Messenger - Mission to Mercury

January 16, 2008—The first of many planned images from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is showing astronomers a side of Mercury no one's ever seen before.

Mercury is tough to view from Earth, since it's so close to the sun. And when the Mariner 10 probe flew past the innermost planet in 1974 and 1975, only one side of the body was facing sunlight.

That's because Mercury rotates three times during every two orbits, so the same side of the planet is lit up every other time it is nearest to the sun—including during all of Mariner's flybys.

Added up, these factors have meant that although Mercury sits only about 57 million miles (92 million kilometers) away from Earth, for more than 30 years scientists have had almost no details about its other face.

But on Monday MESSENGER, the first mission to Mercury since the 1970s, snapped the first image of the "missing" half of the rocky world.

Among many new sights, the picture features the full Caloris Basin, a huge impact basin more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) across that sits on the border between the known and previously unknown regions of the planet.

More unprecedented images of the tiny planet are expected as the MESSENGER craft completes three flybys of Mercury before settling into orbit in March 2011.

From that point on, writes astronomer Phil Plait on the Bad Astronomy blog, "we'll get as many images of this tiny, hot, battered, dense and neglected planet as we can handle."

Check out the article at National Geographic News.

Awesome new photos! I can't wait to see the map of Mercury once Messenger gets settled into orbit!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tigers Win 2008 BCS Championship!

LSU wins the 2008 BCS National Championship!

LSU wins the 2008 BCS National Championship!

LSU wins the 2008 BCS National Championship!

LSU wins the 2008 BCS National Championship!

LSU wins the 2008 BCS National Championship!

LSU wins the 2008 BCS National Championship!

LSU wins the 2008 BCS National Championship!

NEW ORLEANS — A second-line saunter to a championship for LSU, just like the Tigers scripted it.

A déjà vu nightmare for Ohio State, just as the Buckeyes feared.

The LSU Tigers played 14 games this season and could never completely escape their mistake-marked habits.

Who cares? The Tigers’ flawed but fabulous image is reflected in the crystal ball of the BCS national championship trophy, their second in five years.

As at no time before in LSU’s football history, the Tigers are the nation’s preeminent program. From hurricane-battered Boothville to Bastrop, LSU fans can thump their chests and say, truly, no one does it better than their beloved Tigers.

Generations will be born into this state and ask of us one day, “Tell me, grandpa. Tell me when the Tigers were the best there was.”

This is that time.

Ohio State, more than anyone, has to live with what is for the Buckeyes an ugly truth. A year after being destroyed by Florida in the inaugural BCS title game 41-14, the Buckeyes came here riding a year-long crusade of redemption. They didn’t find it. The 38-24 beating inflicted by LSU wasn’t quite as lopsided as what Florida wrought, but it brought no joy or relief to the scarlet and gray.

The SEC rules. The Big Ten got schooled. Again.

Of course, this being LSU, the Tigers had to make a couple of blunders just to get the blood flowing. After Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells bolted for a BCS championship game-record 65-yard touchdown run just 1:26 into the game, LSU’s first possession ended with Matt Flynn falling on a shotgun snap at the Tigers’ 6 after center Brett Helms sent the ball flying when Flynn came up to change the play. Freshman punt returner Chad Jones fumbled away a punt return that teammate Harry Coleman scooped into his chest at the LSU 16. Timeouts were burned needlessly as the Tigers couldn’t get plays off in time.

And LSU fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter, giving Ohio State a huge injection of confidence to start the game.

All part of the uncanny Les Miles plan, folks. All part of the plan.

Slowly, inexorably, momentum made a seismic shift to the LSU side of the Superdome. Having defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois back after a season-long suspension was a huge plus for LSU in its SEC Championship Game victory over Tennessee. Jean-Francois played an even bigger role in this game, helping the Tigers impose their will on the Buckeyes and turn the game in the second quarter.

With the score tied 10-10, defensive MVP Jean-Francois planted offensive guard Ben Person in the turf and reached out to block Ryan Pretorious’ 38-yard field-goal attempt with his meaty right hand. LSU recovered at its 34 and marched relentlessly for a touchdown, offensive MVP Matt Flynn finishing it with one of his best passes of the year, a perfect 10-yard lob to Brandon LaFell in the back of the end zone.

Ohio State was playing catch-up the rest of the night. Maybe it was that fabled SEC speed, but the Buckeyes couldn’t ever get the Tigers back in their grasp.

Don’t be too hard on Ohio State though.

As the song asks, “Hold That Tiger?”

Right now, no one can.

Check out the article at The Advocate.

What a dominating performance! I'm so proud of these guys! Enjoy it while you can, Tiger fans... we have 25 seniors on the way out and everyone will be gunning for us next year. Bring 'em on!

Monday, January 07, 2008

BCS Gameday

Geaux Tigers!  LSU is No. 1

Geaux Tigers!  LSU is No. 1

Geaux Tigers!  LSU is No. 1

Geaux Tigers!  LSU is No. 1

Geaux Tigers!  LSU is No. 1

When historians look back on the crazy, unpredictable college football season of 2007, they might conclude it featured the most memorable season in LSU history.

The Tigers blew out opponents early, reached No. 1 in the polls after five games, played five down-to-the-wire Southeastern Conference games, lost only in triple overtime — twice — and stayed on the national map throughout the calendar year.

There’s one more game — No. 2 LSU (11-2) plays No. 1 Ohio State (11-1) for the BCS national championship on Monday — but even an unfinished season has experts and old-timers struggling to find a more compelling season involving the Tigers.

“It’s been an amazing year,” said LSU senior associate athletic director Herb Vincent, a former sports information director at the university.

Playing its first Thursday night ESPN game, LSU was the network’s season opener after its “25-hour countdown to kickoff” leading into the Tigers’ 45-0 victory Aug. 30 at Mississippi State. LSU’s next game, a 48-7 thrashing of Virginia Tech on ESPN, put a convincing stamp of legitimacy on its preseason No. 2 ranking and its national championship hopes.

Seven appearances on CBS, an LSU record that matched an SEC record, gave the Tigers even more exposure.

“I think this year there has been more visibility for Louisiana State University than at any other time in its history,” LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman said.

Bertman coached LSU baseball teams to five national titles. He said there’s nothing to compare to a season like the one enjoyed by the 2007 LSU football program.

“You can win some baseball titles and get some national press or go to the Final Four and get some national press, but this football team has been on CBS seven times, and CBS has much higher ratings than ESPN,” Bertman said.

“These games were amazing, going into overtime or going down to the last play. Nobody’s seen anything like this.”

Statistics provided by CBS Sports show 64 percent of U.S. households have wired cable television, and another 22 percent have an alternate delivery system — primarily satellite.

Fourteen percent have neither, receiving most of their television over the air.

As an over-the-air network, CBS put LSU football into a lot of living rooms where people don’t have access to ESPN or pay-per-view options.

“I’d say millions of people saw LSU that didn’t see LSU before,” Bertman said, “or at least got to know LSU better because of the constant visibility on television.”

That is one of the attractions of the CBS television contract with the SEC, Commissioner Mike Slive said.

“Anyone with rabbit ears can get the SEC on CBS,” Slive said.

The SEC had three teams in the national championship conversation — Florida and LSU early, Georgia late. LSU was the only one from start to finish.

With that setup, CBS had its best college football ratings since 1999 and was the sport’s only network to show a ratings gain in 2007.

“If you have a team or teams that remain in the national championship hunt all season, it’s going to have a pretty big impact on your ratings,” said Mike Aresco, senior vice president of programming for CBS Sports.

LSU had five appearances on CBS in 2003, when the Tigers went on to win the BCS national championship. The seven appearances in 2007 set a school record.

“Normally, we cap our appearances at six,” Aresco said. “LSU’s seven this year included the SEC Championship Game. Alabama had seven in a regular season (2005), but there were some unusual circumstances.

“Nobody’s had more than seven.”

LSU had the benefit of extra exposure well before the 2007 season began.

Its 41-14 thumping of Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl gave the LSU brand high visibility to open the calendar year. Having four players selected in the first round of the NFL draft in April — including No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell — gave LSU more attention.

LSU coach Les Miles kept the Tigers on the sports front page and among sports radio talking points in the summer when he said USC had an easier road than LSU to the national championship game.

Then the Tigers routed Mississippi State and Virginia Tech on national television. National columnists said LSU made a convincing case for itself as the No. 1 team in the country.

LSU’s 1-2 punch to start the season left a lasting impression.

“I think that played a significant role in where we were and where we stayed (in the polls) throughout the season,” Vincent said.

“It had a lot to do with us not falling very far when we lost to Kentucky and with keeping us in a position to get back to No. 1 again.”

Michigan’s 0-2 start — beginning with its shocking loss at home to Appalachian State — began the season-long talk about Miles being a candidate to succeed Lloyd Carr as coach of the Wolverines.

Then came the dramatics and highlight-video moments of the heart of LSU’s conference schedule.

A 2:34 p.m. kickoff for a home game against South Carolina denied LSU a chance to play a Saturday night game in Tiger Stadium, but it helped keep the program in heavy rotation on “SportsCenter” and other highlight shows.

Matt Flynn, the holder on placement kicks, casually tossed the ball over his right shoulder to Colt David to begin the most enjoyable fake field goal of the season. David sprinted to the corner of the end zone, foiling Steve Spurrier and helping LSU win, 28-16.

“How many people saw that over-the-shoulder flip to Colt David who may not have seen it had that been a night game?” Vincent said. “Everybody saw it. They played it over and over and over because it happened early in the day.”

Florida, the reigning national champion, played LSU in Tiger Stadium in prime time on CBS. The network had its eye on that game long before the season.

“LSU was a terrific team last year, and but for those two tough losses could have been a national championship contender,” Aresco said. “Everybody saw what they did against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, so they were a team on our radar screen from the beginning.”

Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corporation, gave the approval for an October prime-time game. The network had previously reserved only September games for Saturday night prime time, before the fall lineup of entertainment shows, or games in late November (such as with Florida vs. Florida State).

“It turned out to be wonderful for us,” Aresco said, “as we had one of the really great games of the season — or any season. There were the five fourth downs LSU made, and there was tremendous drama. It was a great game.

“It was a calculated risk, and it really worked out well.”

Late in the season, Bertman laughed about the perception that Miles was a gambling coach with a reckless style revealed in that victory against Florida.

“No. 1, he was close enough on those five plays to consider going for it,” Bertman said. “People don’t give you credit for that. No. 2, he picked the right guy to handle the ball, and No. 3, he picked the right play and the weakest part of the defense to run it against.

“When you put the three things together, it isn’t so astonishing that he made them all.”

No matter. The Mad Hatter was the talk of college football after the Florida game and after Flynn’s touchdown pass to Demetrius Byrd to defeat Auburn with the now-famous 1 second showing on the Tiger Stadium clock.

Between those games, LSU lost in triple overtime at Kentucky, losing its No. 1 ranking. The Tigers had become No. 1 after a less-than-sparkling 34-9 victory at Tulane thanks to Stanford’s upset of USC on the last weekend in September.

By extending to three overtimes, the LSU-Kentucky game ended in prime time and saw a spike in CBS ratings near the end.

The SEC signed its deal with CBS in 1994, and the network began televising games in 1996. That came after CBS lost the rights to NFC football and Major League Baseball.

Aresco said the partnership keeps getting better for CBS.

“The SEC has become far more of a national package than it was when we first began doing it,” Aresco said. “We felt it was a very strong conference when we did this deal years ago and that it could carry a package itself. It generated huge ratings in the Southeast, but we knew the ratings outside the region obviously wouldn’t be quite as strong.

“It still does enormous ratings in the region, but because of the BCS and because of all the drama and all the attention focused on the BCS, people from all around the country are taking an interest in the games who might not have in the past. I think we’re seeing it become a truly national package.”

Florida helped by winning the national championship last season. Arkansas running back Darren McFadden finished second in the Heisman Trophy race in 2006.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman this season as a sophomore. McFadden finished second again. LSU has a chance to win the national championship.

Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno will be an early Heisman candidate in 2008, as will Tebow. LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux could figure in the mix.

The SEC has four coaches who have won national championships — Spurrier, Phillip Fulmer, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer — and another, Tommy Tuberville, who coached a 13-0 team that didn’t get to play for the title in 2004.

Miles could become the conference’s fifth coach with a national title.

“I think I can say this categorically: You have probably the greatest roster of coaches that any conference has ever assembled,” Aresco said.

Another dramatic ending for LSU, its 41-34 comeback victory at Alabama, was another CBS game that benefited from a juicy storyline: Saban coaching the Crimson Tide against his former team for the first time.

After losing in triple overtime to Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving, LSU was seemingly out of the national championship picture. The Tigers entered the SEC Championship Game as less of a ratings draw as a result.

That changed on the morning of the game. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit cited an unnamed source in saying Miles would soon be the next coach at Michigan.

Miles called an unprecedented news conference before the game and called the report “misinformation.” He went on to say throughout the day and night he would remain as coach of the Tigers.

LSU defeated Tennessee 21-14 for the SEC championship. After Pitt upset No. 2-ranked West Virginia and Oklahoma knocked off No. 1-ranked Missouri, the possibility of LSU climbing from No. 7 in the BCS to No. 2 was suddenly on the table.

“Even at the most important time,” Vincent said, “when people were trying to rank the teams on that Saturday night, what had been on TV all day long? Les Miles, Les Miles, Les Miles.”

Columnists and analysts said the all-day LSU talk-a-thon kept the Tigers’ visibility high.

“It’s the same old adage, ‘Say what you want about us, but spell our name right.’ This year, probably more than any other, was about exposure in a bizarre year,” Vincent said.

Bertman, looking at the season from the perspective of a former coach, said nobody could question LSU’s effort. He insists the Tigers were more consistent than their reputation.

“You can play well and win,” Bertman said. “You can play well and lose. You can play poorly and win. You can play poorly and lose.

“We played well for every quarter except that first half of the Tulane game. We’ve made penalties and missed tackles, but we’ve played hard.”

The final chapter will be written — and nationally televised by Fox — Monday night.

Check out the article at The Advocate.

More eyes will be upon the LSU Tigers tonight than have ever been before... this is our chance to really shine!

To whet your appetite, check out this vid: