LSU Football: Can Tyrann Mathieu Live Up to Last Year's Stellar Season?

Sean MerrimanCorrespondent IMay 22, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03:  Tyrann Mathieu #7 of the LSU Tigers reacts after he returned a punt 42-yards against the Georgia Bulldogs during the third quarter of the 2011 SEC Conference Championship at  Georgia Dome on December 3, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Expectation: The act or state of looking forward or anticipating.

What a word to attach to a young kid's name. And that's exactly what Tyrann Mathieu was when he took the field for the LSU Tigers last fall—an undersized 19-year-old kid who played with the passion and intensity that made him one of the biggest names in college football.

Mathieu was honored as a freshman All-American in his first season on campus, but it was the opening game of the 2011 season when he truly began to take the college football world by storm. He recorded a career-high and team-leading 10 tackles, two pass breakups and forced a fumble on a punt that was returned for a touchdown in a 40-27 win over then third-ranked Oregon.

Since then, to understand the frequency with which "expectations" have been tagged to Mathieu's name, go back to last year, when LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis showed Mathieu a YouTube clip of the fearless honey badger taking on African cobras and warding off thousands of bees in search of nectar.

With LSU's rise to No. 1, Mathieu took on the nickname "The Honey Badger" because of his fearless style of play on the football field. "He takes what he wants" said CBS sportscaster Verne Lundquist of Mathieu, also referencing the honey badger video that turned into an internet sensation.

Now, nearly one year later, Mathieu is preparing for his junior season in hopes that he can live up to last year's performance. With the graduation of All-American Morris Claiborne at the other starting cornerback position, Mathieu will be asked to take on an even bigger role this season for the Tigers.

The Honey Badger will be looked at as LSU's No. 1 cornerback this year, a role that he will have to adjust to with Claiborne now off to the NFL. He will still play in plenty of nickle defensive formations, where he will be asked to blitz from the outside, something he flourished at last year.

In Mathieu's 25-game career, he has already created a total of 14 turnovers. He owns the school record with 11 forced fumbles after he recorded two against Kentucky, which also ranks as the seventh-highest total in NCAA history and is tied for the SEC Conference record.

So how does one improve on those kind of numbers?

Well for starters, one major aspect that should help Mathieu and allow him to duplicate his success from last season is the experience on LSU's defensive line this season.

Any college cornerback knows that the defensive line is what makes their job that much easier. With Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, both projected first-round draft picks in 2013, slated as LSU's starting defensive ends this season, Mathieu won't be left out on an island in pass coverage. Montgomery and Mingo are both expectational pass rushers who can get to opposing quarterbacks in a hurry. This means that quarterbacks will often be forced to make quick decisions, which is where Mathieu capitalizes with his big-play ability.

But as good as Mathieu was from the cornerback position last season, he was an even bigger weapon on special teams, with his ability to break free at any given moment in the return game. Mathieu ranked second nationally in punt return average at 16.2 yards per, including 62- and 92-yard touchdown returns in back-to-back games against Georgia and Arkansas to close out the SEC season.

But with two years of experience in the return game and an exceptional cast of teammates paving the way for him, Mathieu has what is needed to post even bigger numbers in 2012. His dedication to the game is simply unmatched.

Make no mistake about it, being a Heisman Trophy finalist was an absolute thrill for Mathieu—but now he wants to be the first defensive player since Charles Woodson in 1997 to win the award.

Mathieu will watch film this offseason, study what works and what doesn't work, and take notice of what he can improve on in order to make him even better in 2012. Yes, he dreams of the Heisman Trophy, but a National Championship is the bigger prize, and his team has the talent and experience to win one this season.

Experience, dedication, explosive playmaking ability and a dominant defense at his side—the attributes are all there for Tyrann Mathieu to live up to last year's stellar season.

And because of that, college football fans should expect to hear that "expectation" word even more in 2012. This time, those Heisman Trophy and National Championship dreams could very well transform into a reality.