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How Will Losing Tyrann Mathieu aka Honey Badger Impact LSU?

After taking the weekend to digest and consider everything that went down, this is a topic I think deserves discussion.

Following his breakout sophomore year, Tyrann Mathieu, a.k.a. “The Honey Badger” has been dismissed from perennial national championship contender LSU. Mathieu was booted for “breaking team rules.”

With all my experience around numerous college football programs, I can honestly say that there is probably much more that went on than just failing a drug test. A returning defensive Heisman candidate does not get kicked off the team for failing another marijuana test. He would have been put on a tighter leash, almost until he was living with Les Miles, to keep him on that team.

I don’t want to speculate too much, but I think Tyrann Mathieu became too big for the Tigers; this paralleled with breaking of multiple rules led to his dismissal. How does this affect LSU? How will books and sports bettors view this loss?

Losing Tyrann Mathieu – The Bad

Tyrann Mathieu was arguably the most electrifying person on Saturday’s during the 2011-2012 football season. He had game-changing plays against Oregon, Arkansas and Georgia. You simply cannot teach a player to be a gamer, on defense and special teams, and have as big of an impact as Tyrann Mathieu.

We all remember those kids growing up, playing against them or watching them, they just had a knack for being in the right place at the right time on the playground or ball field. The two players that come to mind with this uncanny ability: Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. All are listed in positions they don’t really play. All of them roam the field. All take big gambles that typically pay off. All of these players have packages and playbooks designed around them.

When Nick Saban sits down on Monday to game plan his offense and special teams for the upcoming LSU game, I’d be willing to bet (obviously, I like gambling) that Tyrann Mathieu was the first player he thinks about.

What do you think is in the back of the quarterback’s mind, every time he releases a pass against LSU with Tyrann Mathieu? What do you think a running back is thinking as he breaks through the linebackers? What is a receiver thinking as he crosses the middle of the field?

We all saw Tyrann Mathieu make ridiculous breaks on passes and wreak havoc; we saw him yank the ball straight from the running backs arms and turn around up the field; we all saw the electrifying punt returns. This is what LSU loses with Tyrann Mathieu.

Opposing players no longer have to be wary of his location during every single offensive or special teams play. Last season Tyrann Mathieu was 19/20 years old. Can you imagine another year later how good he could be? The way that he impacts every single thing that happens on the field cannot be replaced. Couple this dismissal with the loss of current Dallas Cowboy Mo Claiborne, Brandon Taylor, and possibly the injured Craig Loston, and the LSU secondary is suddenly younger, and maybe more vulnerable.

Losing Tyrann Mathieu – The Good

The reason I used the words maybe more vulnerable, is because LSU is a powerhouse. They will have players step up, but soon enough? We will soon find out.

I am also a bit of a conspiracist when it comes to college football. Everyone from the President of the University to the frat star know that football in the SEC (and a lot of other areas of the country) are the utmost importance to the school. College football keeps alumni donors engaged as well as brings in revenue.

You have to remember that Les Miles’ livelihood and career are almost strictly based on performance and record of team. If Tyrann Mathieu was seriously going to change the team THAT much, Miles would have gone further to keep him around I think. This move was not made without Miles thinking A). it was better for the team as a whole, and B). knowing there was someone waiting in his footsteps. I just cannot believe that this was a spontaneous decision.

Also, as great as Tyrann Mathieu was, we all have a selective memory. I’m sure if you are an avid LSU fan, you remember the great plays he made, but I’m also sure you remember the multiple times he gambled and was wrong.

Tyrann Mathieu was a double-edged sword in multiple facets of the game. He took big gambles, and sometimes they paid off. How many of you remember the big plays during the National Championship he made? That’s right, he didn’t have too many.

Good coaches can game plan him out, and even game plan against his ability, as Nick Saban did. You know someone like Tyrann Mathieu is always going to get his big plays, you just have to limit them to tackles and pass break-ups, instead of game changers.

Tyrann Mathieu allowed 8.8 yards per attempt when he was targeted as a corner. That is not a flattering number. We also have to remember that he was 20 years old at the time, and was frequently a hot head, drawing penalties.

Replacing Tyrann Mathieu will ultimately allow LSU to play a steadier defense. I’m not saying this will be better, but it is similar to the more risk, possibly more reward scenario. Tyrann Mathieu took big risks, that sometimes led to big rewards, which we all remember.

Final outcome?

Tyrann Mathieu became bigger than the LSU Tigers. I’m not surprised, he was 20. Most teenagers I know would probably do the the same. It was no longer about LSU as a team, but about the Honey Badger. LSU didn’t win games, he did. This situation was only going to get worse, and I’m sure Tyrann played into it. Ultimately, I believe this affects LSU in a few different ways.

This is the “Year of the QB” in the SEC. Granted, LSU only plays two teams with a better than average QB in my opinion: ‘Bama and Arkansas. Those games were already going to be toss-ups regardless of Tyrann Mathieu or not. Those are big games, that a big game player like Tyrann Mathieu shows his colors.  LSU’s secondary is already thin, so I don’t think the game plan changes much for most teams (they will still try and beat them through the air), I just think it becomes easier.

On the capping front, I do not believe that Tyrann Mathieu is a big enough player to create a wholesale change in plays regarding LSU. My capping involves delineating the final score of each team, and the odds of situational things, such as big plays, that could make the score go up or down.

He does cause a shift in big play potential, which is nearly impossible to predict to begin with. I think Tyrann Mathieu added a point to three points to LSU per game (he scored 4 TDs last year in 13 games averaging 1.8 ppg). From @RJinVegas and @CantorGaming, Tyrann Mathieu was worth 1 full point in the spread.

The preseason line of LSU hosting Bama now favors Bama, having previously been considered a pick’em. This is a reason why I do my best not to make plays until 48 hours beforehand, unless I see tremendous value.

Let’s face it. LSU is one of the premier teams in the NCAA. They’re defense will be strong, fast, and athletic (and possibly young). Losing Tyrann Mathieu is a shame (for LSU and for fans), but if any team can recover, it is LSU.

Let me know what you think the loss of Tyrann Mathieu will mean to LSU this season. How many points per game do you think he was worth? For more general college football (and some non-football) commentary, follow me on Twitter @mtsabert.

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