Last week Dabo Swinney of my Clemson Tigers showed some major cajones when he announced a two-game suspension of star wide receiver Sammy Watkins following his offseason arrest on campus for possession of marijuana and pills without a prescription. I took to Twitter as always to heap praise on a coach who I haven’t always defended for sticking by the code of ethics he’s long maintained he holds Clemson players to. After all, talk is cheap if you can’t write the check when it comes time. Throughout his time as head coach at Clemson he’s spoken of Clemson as “different” and wanting players and people outside the community to look at it as a unique place. While it sounds good on radio shows and in newspapers, it still was just words.
However when Sammy Watkins got arrested in the offseason and the discussion shifted to what punishment he would face, I thought “well lets see how he plays this one.” For months there was rumors over his punishment, everything from no game time missed to one half vs Auburn to the most ridiculous of them all, he’d play vs Auburn then sit vs Ball St. Ultimately the suspension came down about a week ago that he would miss the first two games of the year and while many from the Clemson fanbase felt it was excessive, I thought it was a great punishment. Not only did it confirm everything Swinney said about holding his players to higher standards but it sent a message throughout the program and to any future recruits that no matter how fast your 40 time, no matter the production you give the team, you will be held accountable.
For once I was glad to see a coach unafraid of angering a fanbase or upsetting the star player with their decision. After all in a sport where Urban Meyer once suspended Brandon Spikes for a half against Vanderbilt after a dirty play caught by national cameras, many in his position wouldn’t flex their muscles that way.
Friday was yet another example of this decision making as Heisman finalist Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu was kicked off the LSU football team after supposedly another failed drug test. You may remember Mathieu was suspended for the Auburn game a year ago for a similar incident with synthetic marijuana. While the school policy apparently states the second offense for drugs can lead to dismissal, I’m impressed to see that LSU went straight forward with it without trying to finagle around the dismissal. Mathieu was obviously set to be the leader of the defense and the most dynamic defensive player in the country coming into 2012.
While it was probably no doubt a difficult decision for Miles to make a mere three weeks before the season kicks off, it was a positive reinforcement in collegiate athletics that some won’t let their program become a playground for the charades of teenagers regardless of performance. While teenagers may dapper in the world of drugs and alcohol, the fact Mathieu blindly disregarded the policies of the team on a known testing day makes him a difficult figure to feel sympathy for.
Does it ruin the LSU Tigers season? Of course not. The oddmakers have pulled the odds down to update at a later date and some feel this drops LSU down a few pegs. While Mathieu’s presence can’t be overlooked, LSU was already playing from 2-3 rungs above 99% of college football next season. I still think there’s a legitimate case they are the best team in college football going into 2012 even though I personally didn’t have them as such in January when I put out my offseason poll.
In fact the same Alabama team I proclaimed #1 coming into 2012 is the same Alabama team people are throwing to the front of the SEC line now. With all that said, give it time. LSU still has the Tide at home which will probably decide the SEC West race. Either of those teams losing two other SEC games is hard to fathom.
LSU is still loaded on the defensive line, the secondary needs adjustments but has been elite for years and as I’ve said to others already this week, it was Mo Claiborne who was supposed to be the stud in the LSU secondary a year ago before Mathieu broke out. Ruling out a similar outburst from a Tigers defensive back is risky. With the staple of running backs they’ll possess and an expected upgrade at QB from a year ago, LSU isn’t fading back to the pack with this loss.
Les Miles made a stand that we often don’t see coaches make with Tyrann Mathieu, electing to kick the team’s best player off for anything less than a heinous violation. While it may not resonate with everyone, I think that’s worthy of a tipped cap.