2012 ended exactly as it began, with a painful, agonizing defeat.
That night in January of 2012 needs not be discussed further, but it's effect on the year was felt all the way until around 11:20PM Eastern on December 31st. Only after that could the cleansing finally begin...on a 10-win season.
We should have know this was going to be a long season when Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed before even playing a down in the 2012 regular season.
By the fourth week of the regular season LSU had lost its starting running back and three starting offensive linemen. Not only that, LSU had gone on its first road trip, to Auburn, and looked absolutely putrid winning over what would turn out to be one of the worst teams in the conference. It cost LSU one spot in the polls and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the season, for better or worse.
For some LSU fans this season was a loss. Losing to Bama twice in a calendar year and losing a bowl game essentially much means a lost season to some. While LSU didn't come away with the hardware it rightfully should be competing for each year, it shouldn't cast a pall over what was a successful 2012 campaign in a year when the SEC was as strong as ever at the top.
Six teams, nearly half the conference, finished with 10 wins or more. That's absurd. While the bottom was as bad as usual, the top was probably the strongest it's ever been and LSU lost only two games to the two SEC teams that made the BCS, and both games by only one score. That's nothing to hang your head over.
We saw an offense, again playing with a makeshift offensive line, find a true workhorse running back after losing Alfred Blue and watching the best passer since JaMarcus Russell mature before our eyes. Zach Mettenberger had about a rocky a conference start you could imagine, but finished the season on a high note and was beginning to make the throws you expect of a quarterback with that much hype (2nd down throw at the end of the Clemson game notwithstanding).
John Chavis continues to put the best defense on the field outside of Alabama. This year's unit faded down the stretch, especially in the passing game which is concerning, but by and large came through as they have through the years under his leadership. The young secondary, having to replace a first round cornerback and the most dynamic defensive back at LSU ever, held firm through most of the year. As previously mentioned, the DBs faded down the stretch, but I don't see that being a problem carrying over into next season as this group is young and has the talent to be as good as we've come to expect.
LSU played what may be one of the greatest games in Tiger Stadium history against Alabama. ESPN descended on campus weeks in advance and dedicated an entire issue to the game and all that surrounds it. Yes, it is a game LSU should have won. The team rode a wave of emotion that filtered down through the stands onto the field to a late-game lead, only to watch the two-minute defense fail. I hate how one drive can erase the emotion of an entire game, but LSU absolutely played the best game they've played in years. The entire stadium felt alive, something that's been missing even during 2011's phenomenal run. LSU lost, and I also don't believe in moral victories, but it was a loss that LSU could build on and be - for lack of better word - proud of.
The bowl game against Clemson almost felt like a microcosm of the entire season. LSU went from periods of looking great to periods of looking pedestrian, as they had all season long. Jeremy Hill had 12 carries, averaging 10 yards per, yet didn't touch the ball a single time in the final quarter that meant the most. As had happened time and time before this season, the defense tried to carry the offense when it faltered but ultimately failed because it was asked to do too much. Clemson ran over 100 plays and the defense was clearly gassed by the mid portion of the fourth quarter. You can't blame those guys one bit. They did all they could. The loss, as all do really, rests squarely on the coaches, namely the offensive coordinator's calls late in the game that didn't include the best LSU player on the field. You could understand the first two pass plays on the final series, but to call three consecutive passes, the final being on 3rd and 2, is just simply bad playcalling. The OC will be back next season, but hopefully will learn from these bouts of pass-happiness that ultimately damned the Tigers in the final game of the season. A good quarterback is nice, but when you have five excellent running backs you must use them and use them often.
Next year should see LSU highly ranked again. There are nine guys who have to decide if going pro is right for them. If even a couple of them stick around it will only strengthen another Tiger team that should have a conference and national title in its sights. Later this week I'll have a graphic that will show the 2013 offense could be one of the best we've seen under Miles. Nearly that entire unit comes back intact, while Mettenberger should only improve and continue the progress he made throughout the season. The defense will be the LSU defense. There could be a lot of attrition, especially in the defensive line (see aforementioned juniors going pro), but LSU has never lacked for defense under John Chavis and that won't change next season. There's a lot to be excited for in 2013.
Let's leave 2012 behind. For good.