Obscurity suits LSU Tigers just fine

Sunday, December 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ LSU punter Donnie Jones says LSU, ranked No. 2 and in the BCS championship game January 4th, has developed a following around the Gulf South. That doesn't mean people recognizes the players.

He had first-hand experience with that at the beach in Destin, Fla., where he spent a weekend after finals, tooling around in an LSU cap and sweatshirt.

When people asked if he was a Tigers fan, Jones just said ``yes''. After all, the Baton Rouge native had spent his life before college cheering for LSU. And he was in Florida to relax, not to play big man off campus.

He said they'd tell him, ``We're from Florida, but we're pulling for ya'll.''

Compared to Oklahoma, LSU's opponent in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, the Tiger players are relatively unknown.

LSU has a consensus All-American in defensive tackle Chad Lavalais, but interior linemen rarely get their names up in lights. Michael Clayton piqued a lot of early media interest as a potential two-way player _ wide receiver and safety. But Clayton's fame and notoriety in a way became a victim of the Tigers' surprisingly strong development in the defensive secondary. You don't need a utility player if there's nothing broken.

The Sooners by comparison are college football's dream team, even though they suffered a nightmare 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game.

LSU placed only Lavalais on The Associated Press All-America first team. Oklahoma placed five.

LSU players won no major individual awards, though Lavalais was one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy.

``When Chad and I went to that ESPN deal because he was an Outland finalist, they had six or seven guys there and we had one,'' coach Nick Saban said. ``We decided that was not the time to pick a fight.''

Oklahoma players won seven individual awards. Quarterback Jason White won the Heisman Trophy and the Davey O'Brien Award; linebacker Teddy Lehman the Butkus and Bednarik awards; cornerback Derrick Strait the Thorpe and Nagurski awards; and defensive tackle Tommie Harris the Lombardi Award.

Aside from individual honors, LSU and Oklahoma in many ways aren't that far apart. But on the scale of public opinion, it's not even close.

Saban isn't concerned.

``I've never heard any complaints from the players that they're not getting recognized,'' Saban said. ``I'm all for players getting recognition. But I don't want that recognition to be divisive to the team. This team feels that what they accomplish they accomplish as a group.''

Jones said that shows in the way the team structured itself. The Tigers never picked team captains for the season, just individual game captains.

Saban said LSU, particularly on defense, lacks the kind of follow-me-to-the-front leader it's had in the past with Rohan Davey and Bradie James.

``This year we just have a lot of wonderful guys who have sacrificed recognition for the good of the team,'' Jones said. ``I think that's why this team is so special. We have so many hard-nosed players who aren't selfish.''

Familiarity is one reason Oklahoma is the nationwide favorite. For the most part, the Sooners are a known team. LSU may be known in the Gulf South, but lacks the confidence of the masses.

``We know there's a lot of people who doubt us,'' Lavalais said. ``The whole state is behind us. Very few people doubt us here. But in the rest of the country, a lot of people are saying we can't beat Oklahoma. We're not doubting. We have a great team here.''