Month: September 2015


LSU plays Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Oct. 9, 2010. Despite being among the worst teams in the country for committing penalties, LSU (2007) and Florida (2006, 2008) won national championships. Other champions have been among the most penalty-prone teams in the country (Arkorn /

The one where I forget I don’t cover LSU and college football anymore …

So, by my rough calculations (and I’m not a scientist), with zero penalties this season, the LSU football team would be 7-0 right now, Leonard Fournette would have 1,593 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns, and the Very Important Committee that decides the four teams that will compete for the national championship would have to find something else to do this fall. The trophy would be awarded by acclamation. At least that’s what I heard someone with a thick Cajun accent say inside my head this morning as I sipped Community Coffee and remembered the anything-is-still-possible optimism of September in college football.

But OK, maybe there’s some exaggeration in that conclusion. Reigning champion Ohio State is No. 1, one of four teams in the top five of the AP Top 25 from a Big conference. The one that isn’t, “Mississippi” (as it’s known here in the Pacific Northwest), was recently called the nation’s best team in a piece by Business Insider. In the Midwest, people are waking up echoes talking about Notre Dame. Also in the top 10 is Georgia; is it too much to ask for a rematch of the first national championship game I saw in person, the 1981 Sugar Bowl? Then there’s the matter of LSU’s defense, which does not feature a Leonard Fournette.

Conventional wisdom says LSU needs to cut down on its penalties. The Tigers had 14 against Syracuse in a 34-24 victory Saturday, and through four weeks of the regular season, they are one of the worst offenders in the country in littering green fields with yellow flags. Coach Les Miles and his players said a penalty-free game is the goal after that performance. But being penalty-prone does not commit a college football team to a dystopian world in which championships are mere rumor, like maybe clean drinking water or safe city streets.

Now, don’t misunderstand: I’m not telling you LSU can win the national championship (I’m also not telling you it can’t). But after hearing and reading about how much better the Tigers would be with fewer penalties, I remembered something I discovered as an LSU beat writer preparing for the second BCS national championship game I covered (in the same venue where I watched Herschel Walker and Georgia soar over Notre Dame). Research the day before LSU’s 38-24 victory against Ohio State for the BCS title on Jan. 7, 2008, revealed an often-overlooked truth: You can have a lot of penalties and win a national championship.

Don’t believe me? Take a look:

Let’s put aside the anomaly that is Alabama coached by Nick Saban. We’ll get to that later. Note that LSU was 117th in the country in the 2007 season in fewest penalties per game at 8.36, an average of more than four flags per game worse than national-best Army (4.00). That’s 117th out of 119 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, so only two teams (South Florida and Cincinnati) were penalized more. In fewest penalty yards per game, LSU was 97th.

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RitaTen years ago today, Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Louisiana-Texas border. Coming less than a month after Katrina’s surge across the Louisiana-Mississippi border, Rita scared millions across the Gulf Coast as it developed into the fourth-most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. Lessons learned from Katrina prompted mass evacuation of Houston and other cities as Rita approached, saving lives. Katrina’s official death toll is just short of 2,000 people; Rita’s is slightly more than 100. In the collective memory of America and the rest of the world, Rita is the forgotten hurricane of 2005.

Not so in my family. Like many others in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama, we lost someone whose terminal illness in the months after the storms was part of the unofficial death toll from the deadly hurricane season of 2005.

My oldest sister and her family live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, 30 miles north of the Gulf, 35 miles east of the Texas state line. They live directly behind the house that was my mother’s home during the summer of 2005. I was living in Baton Rouge, about two hours’ drive east of Lake Charles, where I was born and raised. Affected by Katrina mostly in terms measured in lost power and lost sleep, I had settled into what was the new normal in Baton Rouge: taking alternate routes on surface streets every day because of the crush of people who relocated to Louisiana’s capital from the New Orleans area after post-Katrina flooding.

When it was obvious that Rita, a Category 5 hurricane at its most powerful, was not expected to hit Baton Rouge, we decided that my family’s best evacuation option was to head my way. For two weeks, my two-bedroom apartment was home to me, my mother, my sister, her husband, their two children (a daughter and a son), a dog and a hermit crab (my nephew’s). Tight quarters, for sure, but nothing like the many situations after Katrina in which 20 or more people crowded into a home or an apartment.

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