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More thoughts on LSU - Virginia Tech

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As I mentioned below, this was probably the best played LSU game I have ever seen. Scott Rabalais chimes in along the exact same lines. (That said, Scott chides himself for calling it a vanilla offense last week. I did the same. I don't think any chagrin is necessary; I think everyone would have to agree tonight's offense looked much different from what we saw vs MSU last week...and not just because it worked.)

There simply is no limit to the superlatives we could ascribe to this victory; there is absolutely NOTHING of substance to complain about. Sure a penalty here and an overthrown receiver there. But overall, every single one of our complaints coming into this game was answered in a huge way. Running back by committee that I've constantly worried about on this blog? Evidently not a problem. Dependence on Doucet (9 catches last week vs no one else with more than 1)? That LaFell guy can handle his own, thank you very much. Special teams? I think we might have an All American punter on our hands. An inexperienced QB who we can't really trust to win games for us, so he should play DLG (Don't Lose Games) style? I don't know that I've ever been as confident with any team to convert third and longs as I'm beginning to be with Flynn. He's done a masterful job of finding his receivers 10+ yards downfield and zipping the ball to them (through overlapping zones at that) time and time again.

Anyway, the accolades are coming in from all over. Pat Forde thinks the voters should slot us #1. The Sporting News' Matt Hayes is absolutely effusive in his praise:

After two wacky, unpredictable weeks to begin this season, it's time we run home to mamma and embrace what's safe: the SEC. And at this point, there is no team playing better in the league of leagues than LSU...LSU is one damn sexy team.

Glenn Guilbeau's going to do the same with his ballot (and he had us at fifth). SI's Stewart Mandel has generally more of the same thoughts.

Mandel quotes Matt Flynn, who says that "We clicked on all cylinders." Yes, you did Matt. You Tigers clicked on the six cylinders we knew you had, the two we hoped you had, and evidently about 4 more we had no idea you had. The Tigers are running a supercharged V12 right now that went from 0-100 in its first ten plays and coasted the rest of the way. No turnovers, no killer penalties, no letting-them-back-into-the-game-a-little-bit that happens so often in these big bouts.

I mean, who the hell puts up 600 yards of total offense on the Virginia Tech Hokies? Until tonight, this was inconceivable.

Indulge me for a minute. In investing (my full time profession), the last thirty odd years or so have seen the rapid rise of behavioral finance, a field which has A) debunked traditional academic theories of wholly efficient markets and B) produced Nobel winners such as Daniel Kahneman, in validation of the vast importance of these theories. Essentially, the study of behavioral finance enables one to single out the myriad psychological biases investors exhibit when making decisions about their money. One of the most common is that of "anchoring," the act of making one's judgments based on recent or easily-attained variables. (For instance, one may value a stock at $50, but one may be far more likely to offer a number centered nearer the price at which it most recently traded on the market, whether that be $30 or $70.)

Many apologies for that little bit, but stick with me: I make this point merely to draw the analogy to that of poll voters. As Stewart Mandel, for one, rather flippantly mentions in his article, USC evidently shouldn't be docked from the #1 spot because that's where they were last week and they had a bye week. This is absurd logic and it's absolutely akin to the "anchoring" problem so evident in financial markets. I wholly understand the issue when it comes to late season bye weeks, in which a team has proven itself over 10 weeks to be a Top 5 caliber team, and while another team's first 9 weeks may pale in comparison, the simple fact that Team A was on a bye in the 11th week while Team B trounced a quality opponent has the tendency to make voters weigh that particular victory more heavily as an indicator of the team's overall resume. To be sure,

SOME extent of that is perfectly valid, as team quality can and does fluctuate throughout the season. But this early in the season? We have one game to work with for USC, and two games to work with for LSU. It's clear to almost EVERYONE that what LSU has proven so far is superior to that which USC has exhibited. This isn't just a tired and stupid LSU vs USC argument, it has to do with the entire nature of the preseason polling. It's what the Blogpoll tries to eliminate. Don't anchor on last week's poll; tear down the foundation and rebuild it every single week. Pretend there were no preseason polls. If you're a voter, knowing what you know now, it'd be damn near impossible to neglect voting LSU the #1 team in the country.

I'm not asking for it, I don't really care if we get it. I just wanted to address that aspect of polling. Since we began the season in the #2 position, this sort of thing really has a minimal effect on us, since all we have to do is tread water to make it to the title game. It's the teams who start in the teens who are most heavily affected, and this mindset among many journalists has a major deleterious effect on the fortunes of those teams. Some teams (Oklahoma certainly comes to mind) are able to produce such a staggering performance over the first couple weeks that they're able to overcome such hurdles - but how much of that is the simple fact that voters know well that Oklahoma is a traditional power, so they're subconsciously biased to give a team like OU the benefit over a lesser-storied school like, say, Georgia Tech? (Don't laugh: while the polls had Georgia Tech unranked in the preseason, CFN was bright enough to put them up at #10. CFN remains one of the few outside-the-box-thinking stalwarts in the sports media world.)

This brings me to another point in the game: I give a tip of the hat to Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musburger. Those two clearly did their homework before calling this game. They knew that the fan base has an almost maniacal aversion to our "punt ugly" formation, and that virtually all feel as though Keiland Williams needed to be the feature back despite the enormous value of Jacob Hester. Even with that said, though, I do have to rant about one particular bit. I'll start by saying that I'm by no means a "media hates LSU!" guy, and think those chicken littles are by and large comprised of the lower echelons of our nation's intellectual pool. But Musberger's unfailing allegiance to USC's defense tonight had me scratching my head. In my opinion, even going into tonight it was easily arguable that LSU was the #1 defense in the country. Add to that the very annihilation that Musberger sat and witnessed, and he should be well on that wagon too. Kirk tried to get a word in edgewise about our defense being number one, and at some point called us "arguably the best team in the country." At that point, Musberger clearly felt compelled to stifle what he must have felt was a suddenly irrational Herbstreit, by announcing to the country "Don't worry folks, I'll keep him in line!" (paraphrasing) while Kirk tried four times - unsuccessfully - to merely get in a simple hypothetical that I'm guessing was going to be along the lines of "Could you imagine the prospect of that USC team and this LSU squad facing off in the national title game?" Anyway, not an aside I plan on delving into frequently, but I think Kirk tried his best to give LSU its well deserved props so one would hope Tiger fans will all be appreciative of that.

Say what you want of Musberger, though, as even I grew weary of that.

Anyway, it's late. At this point, I'm reminded of what Da Vinci allegedly quipped to Michelangelo after the latter had completed his masterpiece statue of David: "This is incredible. But what can you do next?"

While we can hope beyond all hope that tonight was merely a sign of even greater things to come this season, the overwhelming consensus of zero-complaint praise showered down upon the Tigers from all sides today suggest the odds of our seeing a performance remotely equivalent to tonight's anytime in the near future is slim to none. So cherish it while it lasts. We still have a long way to go.

(Hat Tip to the poster bayourant on the Tigerdroppings.com message board for rounding up many of the above-linked articles recapping tonight's game.)