Rabalais: Youth movement may give LSU the upper hand

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU coach Les Miles
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU coach Les Miles

“I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back anymore — the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men.”

— Joseph Conrad

I feel sorry for Alabama’s football players. I do. They have been branded with the smirking kiss of death by South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who at Southeastern Conference media days declared the Crimson Tide the greatest assemblage of college football talent ever.

Spurrier could teach a course in backhanded compliments, among other arts in how to twist the knife of the English language. His intent was to praise. Sort of. But more than that, he intended to pressure-cook the joy out of this season for the Crimson Tide and their frequently joyless coach, Nick Saban.

Win another national championship, Alabama? Great. You’re supposed to. You’re still not as good as The Bear’s boys, some critic will grump. Chew on that at your champions dinner, fellas. Meanwhile, the Ol’ Ball Coach is off to get in a quick nine before dark, then see if he can find a way to irritate Dabo Swinney before dinner.

There is, of course, great accomplishment in being No. 1, but how many would remember another in an assembly line of Bama heavyweight favorites to win the title?

You know who gets remembered? The Miracle Mets. The “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team. Rupp’s Runts, not John Calipari’s NBA D-League all-star team. The winners who come out of nowhere (rarely) and both dazzle us with their skill and delight us with their ability to rise from underdog to top dog.

Cam Newton. Johnny Football. Not Johnny Another Number on the Helmet.

These LSU Tigers have this underdog thing covered. Only a couple of media voters hoping to be able to say “See, I told you so!” at the end of the season picked LSU to win this year’s SEC championship at SEC media days.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t one of them. I picked Auburn to win the SEC West and South Carolina to win the East, in large part because they return veteran or near-veteran quarterbacks. In the SEC circa 2014, that counts for a lot when most teams are planting “Help Wanted” signs in their offensive backfields.

I think logically LSU should be thrilled to win 10 games in 2014, should be excited to win nine and may have to be happy to win eight.

Seven wins or less? Let’s just not go there. Besides, Les Miles’ teams rarely go there. At LSU, they have won that few in the regular season only once, in 2008, the “Year of the Pick Six.”

Now this LSU football team isn’t an according-to-Hoyle underdog in the Rocky Balboa tradition. It has skilled football players popping out all over the place. LSU student managers hand NFL scouts a towel when they enter the practice complex in case they start drooling over all the pro-caliber talent they’re on hand to evaluate.

But LSU is green as clover in a couple of problem areas, namely quarterback and wide receiver. And not to pile on, but the first college snap the Tigers’ most talented running back (Leonard Fournette) will take will also be his first.

Still, there’s something infectiously optimistic and uplifting about youth. It’s written in the beaming smile behind Brandon Harris’ braces and the knowing look behind Malachi Dupre’s now-trademark horn-rimmed glasses.

They’re too young to know they shouldn’t win. Win every game. In a season fraught with perilous deficiencies, that could turn out to be a spectacular asset.

The last thing these young Tigers need is someone sage and wise screwing up the works. They are lucky Miles is their leader — cheerleader, really — a coach so un-full of himself that he posed this summer in an ESPN commercial pretending to drink a grass smoothie.

At least I think he was pretending. I sometimes suspect he’s concealing a propeller beanie under that high hat of his.

Many college football fans think Miles has flipped his lid, but really he gets it. Every time he stiffens that chin and says of his team, “I like us. … I like us in every game,” he’s thumbing his nose at sensibility and betting all his chips on wondrous possibilities.

It’s that same “to hell with the odds” attitude that made him an undersized starting guard at Michigan, that earns him over $4 million a year.

Dale Brown made a legend off that attitude. Somewhere, in Outer Mongolia, probably, he’s smiling.

If you lose? Well, you can’t lose them all, or they’ll ask you to go away. But lose once in a while, at least you’ve made the effort. There’s nobility in that.

So go on, Tigers. Charge recklessly, forcefully, youthfully into this college football season. Believe you can outlast the sea, the earth, all men, especially those wearing crimson. Believe in your invincibility.

Who knows? There’s always a chance you’ll be proved right.