With the halfway point of the college football season fast approaching, the LSU Tigers are looking more and more like they are a lock for the SEC title in 2011.
The Tigers enter Week 5 with a stellar 4-0 record and are sitting atop the SEC West Division with a 1-0 conference record after defeating Mississippi State.
Most praise their defense for the team's success early on, but they have other assets that help them win games, both on offense and special teams. This is not to say that the defense won't be the main reason the Tigers will win the SEC in 2011, but there are other key players and aspects of Les Miles' team that will help the Tigers to that end result.
If Les Miles starts quarterback Jordan Jefferson at any point this season he is an idiot, but Jefferson can play a big role in key situations if called upon.
The Tigers' backup quarterback situation is currently a mess, with Zach Mettenberger not close to being ready to come into a game if Jarrett Lee goes down. Jefferson could be the best backup in the nation down the stretch.
Though Jefferson is obviously behind on his training and is seemingly unready for game action, if the Tigers are up big on Saturday against Kentucky, you can expect to see Jefferson get some reps in there.
Jefferson can be utilized in situational scenarios such as short yardage and goal line plays.
Jordan Jefferson's tumultuous year thus far has already had a huge effect on the success of this LSU team, and he will continue to have an impact for the rest of the season as he was just reinstated by the NCAA this week.
The LSU Tigers are very fortunate that all of their biggest games, with the exception of Week 9 in Tuscaloosa against Alabama, are played at home at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. Under head coach Les Miles the Tigers have lost just six games at Tiger Stadium, and haven't lost at home in over a year.
Tiger Stadium is famous for the "earthquake game" in 1988 against Auburn in which the Tigers' Eddie Fuller caught a game-winning touchdown pass which caused the crowd to become so loud that it was picked up on a seismograph far from the stadium.
It is one of the scariest, loudest and most passionate home barns for an opposing team to enter, and it's even harder for them to leave with a win.
The Tigers are set to take on Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, Western Kentucky, and Arkansas still at home, and based on their record at Tiger Stadium, this should result in wins and set them up for an SEC title.
Prior to the season, everyone expected a single-back system out of Les Miles and the Tigers, and that back was to be Spencer Ware, who displayed his capabilities in the win over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
We were then surprised when Miles decided to split reps between Ware and Michael Ford, and that decision has certainly panned out for the best.
The Ware/Ford combo has conquered a lot of defenses so far this year, as the two very different backs have given defenses two different looks each time they come onto the field. Ware is a more pounding, powerful runner, whereas Ford has the agility and awareness to break out into the open at any time.
The combination of the two has had defenses gasping for air late into games and has been very beneficial towards keeping the Tigers' offense on the field.
No other SEC top competitor has a combination quite like the duo of Ware and Ford, who have racked up just over 300 yards each on the season and combined for nine rushing scores. It is unlikely that any team will be able to completely shut down not one, but both LSU running backs and the entire Tigers running game this season.
What may be the most overlooked yet most important position on the field is the offensive lineman.
The Tigers' offensive line has given up just three sacks through four games this season against teams that are averaging 2-3 sacks a game. Only one SEC team has given up less sacks and that is Florida, with two. Every other SEC team has given up at least five sacks on the year, and that list is ever-growing.
In addition to the excellent pass blocking, the Tigers' run blocking has been stellar, too.
The Tigers' offensive line has allowed just 18 tackles for losses through four match-ups, and sits second in the SEC and 38th in the nation in that category. For an offensive line without loads of experience, this is amazing.
The offensive line has also allowed now-starting quarterback Jarrett Lee the time he needs to make good, accurate throws to help move the ball downfield without feeling hurried. They have also prevented freak plays from turning into injuries for the Tigers' quarterback.
The LSU offensive line is among the best in the SEC, and should not be taken lightly. They will block anything and everything that tries to come through them including the stingy defensive lineman and linebackers of Alabama and Florida, their toughest upcoming opponents.
One thing the Tigers have shown they can do this season is close out games. When the Tigers are out in front and the pressure to win is on, they do just that.
Against two ranked opponents so far this year, LSU shut Oregon and West Virginia down near the end of the game and managed to put up points to distance themselves in the process.
The ability to close out a game in the SEC is extremely important, as anything can happen in an all-SEC matchup (see LSU vs. Tennessee 2010). The competition in the SEC, especially among the top teams, is so fierce and close that if a team like the Tigers has the ability to close out a game they will do it, and they will do it well.
This ability is one of the major reasons why the Tigers will win the SEC in 2011.
Another LSU list, another mention of Morris Claiborne.
When you talk about LSU the rest of this season, a couple names are guaranteed to come up in the conversation every time, and Morris Claiborne is one of them.
Claiborne is one of the best defensive backs in the nation, and despite having just 17 tackles on the season he has two interceptions, six successful passes defended and countless balls knocked down.
Not only is he a threat to cause turnovers, but Claiborne is also probably the best man-to-man defender in the SEC. His stats aren't inflated because no one wants to throw the ball in his direction. More often than not he has his receiver draped, and the ball is thrown somewhere else.
Claiborne is a defensive force, and quarterbacks are afraid to throw his way. When the likes of Emory Blake (AUB), Cobi Hamilton (ARK), and Marquis Maze (ALA) come and play the Tigers, it will be interesting to see how some of the top receivers in the SEC do on the stats sheet at the end of the game.
We could group Tyrann Mathieu in with Morris Claiborne, but that's just not fair. Mathieu is a threat not only on defense but also on special teams, and not just as a return man but also on the coverage team.
Tyrann Mathieu is the real deal, and will be a spectacular talent in the NFL very soon.
As displayed in last week's game against West Virginia, Mathieu's level of play is so high that he will do anything and everything to get that ball in his hands, including ripping it out of the opponents arms as he runs with it.
On the year Mathieu has 65 all-purpose yards, one interception, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries including one for a touchdown, four pass deflections, 30 tackles and three tackles for a loss.
The stat line for Mathieu is seemingly endless, and he should be up for the Chuck Bednarik Award as best defensive player at the end of the season, the same award that Patrick Peterson, the man he replaced at corner this season at LSU won last year.
It is apparent the Tigers have a very good defense, but total, well-versed players like Mathieu are the type of player that is going to lead the Tigers to the SEC title.
Starting quarterback Jarrett Lee isn't going to blow anyone away this season, but he is still extremely influential to the success of the team.
Despite the somewhat run-heavy offense the Tigers have been fielding this season, Lee has kept his cool, used his good football sense and thrown strong, accurate passes. Lee may not be throwing bombs downfield like his predecessor Jordan Jefferson did, but his short yardage work helps the team inch down the field and eat a lot of clock.
Lee only has 624 yards passing for six touchdowns and one interception on the year, but he has also thrown the ball just 87 times, completing 64.4 percent of his attempts.
He has also thrown for over 200 yards just once on the season, but Jordan Jefferson did that just once in all of 2010 and that was at the end of the year. Lee still has potential to have a big game, but if Miles wants to stick to small ball then so be it.
Lee's leadership has got this team in the best place it has been in a while, and his confidence and encouragement will help the Tigers to their first SEC title since 2007.
The LSU Tigers proved they were the real deal with their huge 40-27 victory over the Oregon Ducks in Week 1 at Cowboys Stadium. The Tigers don't seem to know how to lose huge games.
Again, in Week 4 against West Virginia under the lights in Morgantown, there were no jitters as the Tigers went on to win that game 47-21.
Big games don't phase the Tigers. For a lot of teams this isn't the case, and they allow nerves to get the best of them. With huge games with Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Arkansas still to come on the schedule, it could be the Tigers' confidence in these high-pressure situations that might win them these games.
The Tigers are made for prime time. The 2011 edition is not built to lose, let alone quiver.
In the battle for the SEC title, every game is a big game, and LSU is fully capable of winning all of their big games. One thing that helps LSU is that they are so in the zone that they don't acknowledge these as "big games," but rather just any other game on the schedule.
It is their composure and dedication that will help lead them to victory and win the SEC.
Of course the top reason the LSU Tigers will win the SEC in 2011 is the amazing work done by head coach Les Miles.
In his sixth season as Tigers head coach, Miles is 66-17, has lost back-to-back games just once, and is 23-10 in games decided by eight points or less. This last stat is especially important because of how close SEC games always seem to be.
Les Miles says that this is the best defense he has had in his time at LSU, and one of the best he's ever coached. He has coached the defense to a 20th overall ranking in total defense and 14th in scoring defense, which makes them the best defensive team in the SEC this year.
Miles does need to focus on getting more points out of his offense, although as long as he has his defense running on all cylinders it seems as though the offense can secure a win by just playing average.
Sure, the players are the ones on the field and making everything happen, but none of LSU's success would be possible this season without the mastermind behind it all.
Keep on eating that grass, Les Miles.