Win can make all the troubles seem minor

Published 9:46 am Tuesday, December 30, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If LSU wants to put a happy face on an uneven season, it’s really pretty simple.

Go out and beat Notre Dame this afternoon in the Music City Bowl.

A thorough kicking would be preferable, but not really necessary.

Bowls are wonderful like that.

Just win, baby.

Sure, this affair — more formally, the mouthful known as the Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl — isn’t exactly knocking on championship’s door, but no matter.

You get a trophy and all, some nice parting gifts, too.

But just win. Style points are preferred but optional in the big picture.

Just look at the South Carolina example.

The Gamecocks had such a disappointing regular season that even their forever blissful fans were grumbling. They were wondering if Steve Spurrier had lost his touch, if maybe this was finally it for the head ball coach and his magic.

Spurrier, in fact, was none too convincing while acting excited to go to Shreveport for the Duck Commander Independence Bowl, and his blindly loyal fans stayed away from Shreveport in droves.

But then South Carolina beat Miami and, meaningless bowl or not, the Gamecocks suddenly forgot a 6-6 regular season to realize that the victory made four straight bowl wins for Spurrier. Voila, suddenly a frustrating year had a positive spin to trumpet during the offseason.

Simple as that.

LSU should pay attention. That could be the Tigers, who had a better season (if no happier fans) and have a better opponent (brand name) in today’s last chance to make a good impression.

“If I had to pick the two most important games of the year,” LSU’s Les Miles said Monday, “I would say the first and the last.”

The first can set the tone for the season, never mind that the Tigers actually threw the ball with some efficiency in a comeback win over Wisconsin in the season opener.

The last can set the tone for next season, of course, but also cancel out a lot of inevitable sins since that first impression.

Lose today, and it’s more proof that the LSU program is slip-sliding further and further out of the national conversation.

Win today, and suddenly Miles did well with a ridiculously young team — not to mention it was a truly remarkable coaching job to keep things together after an 0-2 start in the SEC.

Fans still lost interest to a degree after LSU couldn’t hold a late lead against Alabama. Never mind many questioned if the Tigers would even get bowl eligible after getting hammered sideways by both Mississippi State and Auburn.

“This team didn’t need rallying,” Miles said. “They said OK, coach, tell us what you need because we’re capable.

“I’ve really enjoyed this team.”

So here they are, off-Broadway perhaps, but with a chance to create momentum for what will be a far more experienced and just as talented team next year.

Win today, and the talking point is Miles sixth straight year with at least 9 victories. Lose, and it’s Miles’ first 5-loss season since 2008.

That’s one way of looking at it.

Simplistic, perhaps, but it’s happened before.

A shellacking of Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl set the stage for the 2006 and 2007 seasons, maybe LSU’s best two teams.

Routing Texas A&M in the (January) 2011 Cotton Bowl with a young team was a quick preview of the remarkable 2011 season that followed (and admittedly left an awful final impression in the Superdome loss to Alabama).

Miles understands that that’s the way some look at bowls, but he doesn’t quite, as he says “have that view.”

“I think it absolutely could,” he said of the next-season momentum factor.

But … “I think we lose sight about what’s about to happen talking about that.

“It really is about tomorrow and sending the seniors off in the right way. That sends the exact right message to your juniors about we could have a great team. We’re focused on tomorrow afternoon.”

Well, that is the most important thing.

Win or lose, it’s not likely to be pretty, least of all overwhelming.

The Tigers dominated Ole Miss and needed a goal-line interception at the end to save it. LSU had Alabama stone-cold beat and lost it in overtime. The Tigers ran circles around Texas A&M and needed another late-game interception to escape.

Like it or not, quarterback or not, that’s kind of been their game.

They need one more just like it.(