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2008 Football Preview: Is it All About the National Championship?


You have to love that picture, but is that picture really what it's all about?

The 2008 football season is rapidly approaching, and we at ATVS are trying to give you a realistic assessment of where we stand and what obstacles this team faces for the 2008 season.  This 2008 LSU squad is going to be somewhat different from the 2007 championship squad, but I think that if certain things happen personnel-wise, this team will again have a real shot at winning the SEC Championship.

And that's what it's all about.  The SEC Championship, at least for the LSU football team.  For some other teams, success can be measured more modestly, with a winning season or a bowl-bid.  

A lot of fans take, in my opinion, take much too narrow of a view of what constitutes success, insisting that only the national champion has truly succeeded.

There are well over 100 FBS Division football teams.  Only one of them wins the National Championship each year, though sometimes people say two teams win it, but that's rare.  If only 1 team has a successful season, over 100 others are failing.  If I thought only one football team could consider themselves successful each year, I would not watch football, because I would expect an uninterrupted string of hopeless disappointment, punctuated by the occasional heart-rending near-miss.  

I think people who want only the National Championship are hopelessly pessimistic.  Pessimistic?  Yes, because most teams have no chance at it, and most of the teams who have a chance at it will fall short.  It's a pretty dim view of the world that says a 11-2 record with a conference championship and a BCS Bowl win over a quality opponent is a disappointment.  But a lot of people will say that.

Let's get one thing straight about winning the National Championship.  It's hard.  And I don't mean you have to work hard to get it, though that is certainly true as well.  It's hard to win the National Championship because almost every team that ever wins it has needed breaks to do it.  LSU needed Pittsburgh's shocking victory over WVU.  Florida needed USC's loss to a mediocre UCLA team.  The 2003 LSU team bizarrely needed a results in games between teams we'd never played in the final week in order to prevent USC from getting ahead of us.  

Some teams do everything they can possibly do, but don't get a chance at the national championship because they don't get the breaks.  The 2004 Auburn team is the perfect example of that.  They went undefeated in the SEC, and had one of the more talented teams in recent years, but never had a shot because Oklahoma and USC started the season more highly ranked and never lost.  In any other year, that 2004 Auburn team would probably have gone to the BCSNCG and had a shot at winning it all.  That year, they were completely shut out.  They won the SEC, but they simply never had a chance at the national championship.

Other teams, the ones outside of BCS conferences, have absolutely no shot at winning the BCS.  None.  And I'm not saying they should, but it's a simple fact that about half the FBS teams begin the season without a chance in the world of winning the national championship.  

So what kind of person sets as his minimum goal an achievement that is utterly unattainable for most teams, and may be unattainable for any team even if they do everything right on the field?  A sucker for punishment.

However, the conference championship is within everyone's reach.  Every year, every team except the ones who don't have a conference start the season controlling their own destiny to a conference championship.  It's hard, and only a fraction of the teams succeed.  But everyone has a chance.  All you need to do to win your conference is to just keep winning.  Win one week.  Then win the next.  Repeat until there are no more games.  You can't possibly go wrong with that formula.  Even Auburn wins the conference when they win every game.  Even Vandy is mathematically still in it.

The SEC Championship is achievable.  It's natural.  It's mathematically precise.  

What's more, it gives bragging rights against all of your biggest rivals.  LSU right now has bragging rights over Ohio State.  Who gives a crap?  It's Ohio State.  Most self-respecting LSU fans couldn't even find Ohio on a map.  OK, I hope that's an exaggeration.  We all know that Ohio is that state tucked right between Minnesota and Wisconsin.  There's some sort of arch there, right?

But we also have bragging rights over Florida, Auburn, Bama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  That means something.  And heck, if we encounter an Arkansas or Kentucky fan (I'm sure there are some out there somewhere), we can say, "You may have come out on top in the scoreboard, but we won the conference and you didn't."

Football fans have never been known to be especially mature.

So forget about the national championship.  It's a nice bonus, but it's mainly just for fun as far as I'm concerned.  The conference is serious.  And that's where we begin our analysis.