LSU football’s shot at reaching Miami for the BCS National Championship Game clearly took a big hit Friday when junior Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team, reportedly for failing multiple drug tests.
Where would the Tigers have been last year without the 5-foot-9, 175-pound playmaker’s penchant for causing opponents chaos?
But maybe the news Les Miles delivered 22 days before the season opener will prove to be best for everyone involved.
Best for Mathieu, who will get a chance to sort out some issues in his personal life while continuing his career outside of the spotlight at LSU he created.
Maybe even best for the LSU football team.
True, Mathieu was the most exciting player on the LSU roster — maybe the most exciting player in college football. True, he is two All-Americans in one — a ball-hawking defender, plus a game-breaking return man.
But you get the feeling the “Honey Badger” was going to be a distraction for the Tigers from the first game to the last. No matter how many balls he plucked or touchdowns he scored.
There would always be the possibility of a controversial tweet the day before a big game.
Or the flip of the ball before crossing the goal line for six points.
Or a one-game suspension midseason for another failed drug test.
As the encore of Mathieu’s extraordinary sophomore season approached, it seemed Miles and LSU were hesitant to put their faith in a player who had shown a propensity in the past for saying and doing the wrong things.
Mathieu received an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation last year, yet LSU made no efforts during the summer to launch a “Mathieu for Heisman” campaign. Even though he was the top returning player in the Southeastern Conference, Mathieu was not one of the three LSU players Miles invited to join him at SEC Media Day, and the former St. Augustine star had been off-limits to reporters save for LSU’s Media Day — where every player is available for interviews — since fall camp opened.
The abrupt end to Mathieu’s run at LSU shifts the spotlight to guys like Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan and Eric Reid, players Miles is more comfortable sending in front of a microphone to speak on behalf of the team.
He may also be more comfortable looking to those players for leadership.
The flamboyant Mathieu always knew how to get everyone’s attention, whether making a big play in a key situation or taunting a beaten receiver with an in-your-face celebration.
Hopefully he will do just as much of the former and much less of the latter as he resumes his career.
As for LSU, the trip to Miami remains a reachable goal.
The Tigers will certainly miss the plays Mathieu made when the lights came on in Tiger Stadium.
But they can do without the distraction he had become when the lights were off.
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