Rabalais: Rankings only matter at the end for LSU

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND LSU's new tight ends coach Adam Henry speaks with head coach Les Miles during practice in LSU's indoor football practice facility Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.  ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/ Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND LSU's new tight ends coach Adam Henry speaks with head coach Les Miles during practice in LSU's indoor football practice facility Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/

Time out

For many programs it would have been a reason to celebrate, a historic happening that hasn’t come around since Ike was in the White House and the Cold War ran hot.

But for the Tigers, Thursday was another at the office, an office filled with championship trophies and bedecked with championship banners, the newest of which they hung Wednesday.

Thursday was important at LSU because it was the start of two-a-day practices, not because the Tigers had just been named the No. 1 team in the USA Today coaches’ preseason poll.

For some players, it would be a day to be star struck.

Not these guys.

“We come here to be great,” center P.J. Lonergan said. “We know what it takes to be a good team. We have experience with that. We have to prove that we’re No. 1.”

These Tigers have done the No. 1 thing, breathing the rarefied air of that pinnacle for 11 straight weeks last season. And they have known what it’s like to tumble off. They fell all the way to No. 2 after losing to Alabama in January’s BCS showdown.

They might as well as have dropped to No. 20 for how they felt.

But in a new season the reminder of which rankings are important and which ones aren’t may serve LSU well as these Tigers gather at their base camp and prepare to ascend the BCS mountain again.

“Being No. 1 at the beginning of the year means nothing,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “We want to be No. 1 at the end.”

“Preseason polls are a humbling thing,” said offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk, who watched from the sideline as a student-coach after a season-ending knee injury last August. “You can’t take it as anything else. It’s not earned. You’ve got to go out and start executing.

“It’s a great honor, but it’s something we have to earn. We started earning it (Thursday).”

Even on an historic occasion such as this — the last time LSU was No. 1 was 1959, the age of Billy Cannon and the Chinese Bandits, not the Honey Badger and The Hat — it was time to reflect. College football’s history is littered with preseason No. 1s who fell short and were forgotten.

Who was preseason No. 1 in the coaches’ poll last year? It was Oklahoma. The Sooners finished 10-3, 15th in the final coaches’ poll.

This ranking won’t help LSU win this season, though it does add to the legacy of a program continuing to bask in its greatest era ever.

Mostly, though, it adds a burden, a reminder that anything short of a national championship will be ultimately unsatisfying. Huge expectations. Potentially crushing expectations.

That’s OK, Mettenberger said.

Bring it on.

“It puts a bigger target on our backs,” he said. “That’s the way we like it. We want the best competition every week, because we’re going to bring our ‘A’ game.

“We don’t want to be No. 2 again at the end of the year.”

At the end of this year, only one number will do.