Zeroing in on a new trend in jerseys

Scooter Hobbs

By all accounts, Maason Smith was the state’s top football prospect last December, the pride of LSU’s most recent recruiting class.

Some of those who care to rank such things even listed him right there as the nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle.

Fine.

For the Tigers, however, right now he means … nothing.

Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Nil.

Mostly zero. Or nought, if you prefer.

Maason, who you’ll notice will never have to buy a vowel, will be an LSU trailblazer the moment he runs out Tiger Stadium’s tunnel.

If his 6-foot-6, 312-pound frame doesn’t give him away, just look for jersey number zero.

Yes, “0.” It’s long overdue for LSU, which is a year late to this nothing party.

The NCAA came to its senses and put zero into play for jerseys last season. Nobody had zilch for the Tigers last year, however.

Who knows why? Perhaps just a dreadful oversight.

Or maybe the Tigers had done their homework, knew Smith might take a liking to it and kept it in reserve as a final recruiting chip.

If so, good job, Tigers.

It’s a welcome addition by zero.

After all, LSU has never been shy about messing with numerical tradition.

Go back to 1952, for instance.

LSU thought it had revolutionized football in general, and the jersey industry in particular, when it unveiled a truly innovative system for the art of jersey numbering.

According to the late Peter Finney’s book “Fighting Tigers II,” it was the brainchild of LSU’s world-renowned Department of Useless Mathematics, which …

No, wait. Check that.

It says here it was dreamed up by then-Athletic Director Jim Corbett, with considerable input from head coach Gus Tinsley.

What they cooked up was using the alphabet and standard numerals.

The letter identified the player’s position, followed by a single-digit number, such as a tackle might wear T3.

It didn’t stop there.

The jersey T3 would specify right tackle, as the odd numbers signified the right side of the line, even numbers the left.

I suppose the center could be C-anything.

That was in the wonderful, simpler time when an offense’s backfield had a “right half” and a “left half.” So those lads might be, for random example, L2 and R3 in your handy program.

It also probably helped them remember where to line up when taking a handoff from, say, Q4. Corbett and Tinsley were pretty proud of their new-fangled contraptions. Both confidently predicted that the rest of college football would soon follow suit. Not exactly.

The schools that didn’t belly over in laughter pretty well ignored it and the system is known as the leisure suit of its day.

Even at LSU, it lasted only for that one 1952 season before it was abandoned, possibly because the Tigers went 3-7 while fumbling 41 times. But it was worth trying.

And though it’s been a long and winding road, it did eventually get us to a more enlightened age in which players can proudly wear zero across their chests and backs.

It’s available to all positions except the long-neglected offensive linemen, who still must sport something in the 50s, 60s or 70s, lest the officials get confused over who’s illegally downfield.

Personally, I’d like to see another stipulation on the zero jersey.

Limit it to players who weigh in with 275 pounds of tonnage or greater, which should probably narrow it to defensive linemen.

While their cohorts across the line on offense remain number-restricted, it has been a hot fad in recent years for those bulkier defenders up front to cover their girth with a single digit. Perhaps they’re going for a more svelte look.

But it’s going to catch on. And as it does you just know the pretty-boy quarterbacks are going to demand it.

“We anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of excitement for who’s going to be the first player to wear zero at their institution,” Steve Shaw, the national coordinator of officials, said when the monumental rule change was announced.

So wear it proudly, Maason Smith, and do it right.

You could have been a T2.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com””Scooter Hobbs updated

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