The Homestretch and the Need to Focus

Beating Ole Miss is always fun - Kevin C. Cox

Time to appreciate our sort-of rivals. They'll come to play, will we?

The national title is certainly off the table. The SEC title is probably off the table unless Auburn pulls the biggest upset in recent SEC history. But that doesn't mean there is nothing to play for. LSU is one Florida loss away from sitting mighty pretty for a BCS bowl bid, and let's not become one of those fanbases that bitches about going to Fiesta Bowl.

One of the more toxic beliefs in sports that has gained currency in recent years is this belief that second place is just the First Loser. The "title or bust" philosophy means that fans can't really enjoy the games themselves, and just see every game as a step towards collecting a flag. If you only care about the flag, you're simply robbing yourself of the enjoyment of the whole season.

Why do we play these games? If it's just to crown a national champion, why does the Sun Belt even bother playing? Or heck, why does Ole Miss even bother? It's because the game themselves have value. They are fun, and it's even more fun if you win. But you shouldn't get less enjoyment out of a win because it's not getting you closer to a title. Sometimes you should enjoy a win because, well, winning is fun.

So, as LSU looks at its last two games of the season, it's worth stressing these games are important - well, as important as football games can be in the grand scheme of things - simply because they are LSU football games. There will be tailgates, TV cameras, and (hopefully) stadiums full of screaming fans. There's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so let's enjoy the rainbow instead of worrying about the end of it.

Now, we've been big backers of Les Miles here at ATVS. He's taken some criticism from the LSU fanbase, but we've been pretty solidly in his corner. I like Les. I like his crazy calls. I like that he plays to win and I like that he stresses that this is a game that's supposed to be fun. He proves you can win while also not being a gigantic scold, telling all of we're enjoying things too much. However, if you see praise, you know the "but" is coming...

I think Les is a great coach, but his biggest issue at LSU, other than clock management, is keeping the team focused down the stretch. He's had great team after great team, and won titles and bowl games, but man, he seems to have real problems with Ole Miss and Arkansas.

In the past five years, LSU is 5-5 versus Ole Miss and Arkansas. These have been the last two opponents on LSU's schedule in each of those seasons, and only once in the past half decade has LSU managed to sweep the two programs that we don't like to think we have a rivalry with. That was last year, when Miles had the best LSU team in memory.

The surest way to know a team is your rival is to emphatically insist that they are not your rival. That's what is so cute about Texas fans in regards to Texas A&M. LSU fans would like to have a rivalry with Ole Miss, and our parents and grandparents remember the days when Rebels-Tigers was one of the most bitter rivalries in the nation. But the years have drained the juice from this rivalry, mainly because Ole Miss has been consistently mediocre while LSU has emerged as one of the very best programs in the nation. It's still a rivalry from a historical standpoint, but it feels more like Notre Dame-Navy than Alabama-Auburn. Sometimes, we're just going through the motions.

But not Ole Miss. Ole Miss cares very deeply about this game, and I don't think they've lost one ounce of that hatred they had back in the 1950s. When LSU-OM kicks off, for three hours, Ole Miss can pretend it's still 1971 and they are still a national power. And they play like it. Every damn year.

OK, we blew their doors off last year. And yes, LSU has won 8 of the last 10, but five of those eight wins were by a single score. Ole Miss always plays above their head in this game, which is kind of great. LSU needs to get up for this game, and then again for Arkansas. The Arkansas game lacks the intensity of a great rivalry, but we're only 6-4 in our last 10 versus the Hogs. It's usually a close, tense game.

There's no title on the line, but the games still matter. Miles needs to get this team to focus and finish up strong if for no other reason that winning is fun. Let's stop looking at the finish line and instead, enjoy the race itself. Let's send Ole Miss to hell.

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