In China, as it has been for centuries, each new year is given a "mascot", if you will. The ancient scholars and astronomers proved to be partial to attaching animals to each new year. Today, if you spend a lazy Sunday afternoon with your family in any large city municipal zoo, most of the popular animals you visit there are remembered by the Chinese during the Asian New Year. To make it more interesting, the same animal takes it's place as that year's poster child every twelve years. Year of the Tiger? The "Earth" version of the tiger headlined the 1998 holiday. In 2010, the "Metal" version will be celebrated by the Chinese globally.
2008 another year of a Tiger? Perhaps yes, but this version will be of the "Pigskin" variety.
Only four weeks into this college football season, several points can argueably be made. It seems that many of the Florida programs are making statements that transcend any logic mulled over during the summer. Miami, University of Florida, University of Southern Florida, and even belittled Florida State are, step by step, exhibiting the equallity of recruit success over the past few years. And don't leave our University of Central Florida as they continue to make progress under a tried and true old coach with the snear on his face and the grey hair flying in the wind on Saturday nights in the southeast.
Another point to consider is the drop off of power pertaining to many major programs along the "left" coast. Aside from USC, UCLA, and perhaps one of the Arizona entries, the results so far are not something that a fan from a couple'a Oregon schools will enjoy and have hope over.
Back to why this may be a very overwhelming season for a tiger or two to be roaring by the time the BCS bowl results are in and assimilated in January. All one is to do is to review the newest AP Poll released yesterday. Tigers are rated 5th, 6th, 15th, and 20th. In order, LSU (SEC), Missouri (BIG 12), Auburn (SEC), and Clemson (ACC) are alive and very well only a third of the way into the season.
Missouri...all you have to say is "Chase Daniel". After 20 straight completions on Saturday (9-20), this bright, poised Texan with the big arm is happy with his Tiger's chances. After playing high school football for Southlake Carrol in north Texas and winning multiple state titles, Daniel has been near perfect for the Gold and Black in the Show Me State. At this moment, the Heisman Trophy is his to surrender this season. Sure, there is a rugged, tough QB at Florida who plays a helluva game himself...but can't touch Chase in per talent and passing prowess. The Big 12 overall is not what it should be...too many programs trying to ride the crest of it's past success. Missouri looks like a AP top 4 or 5 spot come December.
Clemson...these Tigers have been accused lately of brutally teasing and under- achieving it's loyal fans. Always spoken highly of during the spring and summer, Tommy Bowden's boys have found silly and uninspiring ways of spitting the bit, such as a claimer horse in a stakes race. Well, this horse, err Tiger, this 2008 version is looking like a force to be dealt with in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Maybe Tommy and Bobby (dad) at Florida St. made a bet in August as to who would prove it's naysayers wrong the soonest! So far, both son and dad are doing what it takes to make those local sportswriters say a positive thing or two.
Auburn...geez, Tiger or War Eagle? Officially, Tiger is the way Auburn is labled. Unlike Missouri, Tommy Tuberville coaches a relatively no name group for the Auburn group. Oh yeah, there is one or two players who will get noticed come All SEC Teams selection time. In retrospect, this is what makes Auburn so good and so dependable...the ability of the coaching staff to get the most of it's players on each Saturday, home or away. Auburn has a well known reputation for recruiting both high school players near and far from Alabama as well as pursuing star JUCCO players. At number 15 on the AP POLL, Auburn has a favorable schedule as it misses a date with Florida this year. Georgia, however, will make or break this team of Tigers' season...the rest of the remaining schedule looks moderate to say the least.
LSU...AP number 5 as I write this piece. Unlike Auburn, the Bayou Tigers DO face both Florida and Georgia in the approaching weeks. Unlike Missouri, LSU is rebuilding it's position of quarterback. Probably a strength in the next two seasons, the defensive backfield is trying to find itself and assist a dominant defensive front seven. The special teams are not that special at times. The damned weather is not these Tiger's friend. Twice in 3 years, Coach Les Miles has had to rally his teams after catastrophic hurricanes to prepare and play against SEC competition. But, what about Les Miles? After he lost the Tennessee game in the last minutes in 2005, Tiger nation in and around the south, wanted to send him back to Michigan...a damn Yankee coming to LSU after a brief stop in Stillwater, OK with the Okie St. Cowboys. It was widely accepted that Miles was trying to pad his resume in a tough conference and then return to the University of Michigan to bring his playing and coaching circle to a close. Without going into details that took place in 2006 and 2007, let's examine the days leading up to the BCS title bowl game in early 2008. The week before LSU was to face Ohio St., rumors were rampant that Les Miles was about to do what many had predicted. When LSU hit the field a few days later against the Buckeyes, Miles was the Tiger coach then and for many years to come. For a nice tidy sum of three millions dollars a year, Miles had seen the light and endeared himself to a shining star in Baton Rogue, LA.
Now, the recruits and their parents adore him. The players are thrilled that "Coach" is likely to go for it on 4th down, or throw a halfback pass, or kick that onside kick. The community is stricken with this coach who formally had blue and gold blood running thru his veins. Even though the Bayou Bengals are searching for a leader at the quarterback position and fill some gaps on defense...many intangibles continue to go their way. Following the Auburn victory a few nights ago, LSU did find itself the custodian of a Heisman candidate in the name of Charles Scott doing his best to emulate SEC predocessors Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker. Maybe a bigger plus found out on the same evening, Jarret Lee emerged as a doable, smart, and patient quarterback only after the starter, Andrew Hatch, sustained a minor concussion.
In 1958, LSU won the national championship with a defense widely regarded as the "Chinese Bandits". Last year, these Tigers overcame many off field problems to win that title again. Let's put these Tigers in there with the other three Tiger teams this season and watch some BCS New Year magic involving most if not all of the Big Cats! Looks like the NCAA can exhibit it's own version of "Year of the Tiger".