HOOVER, Ala. - LSU safety Eric Reid wore his 2011 Southeastern Conference championship ring to SEC media days Wednesday afternoon, as did quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Coach Les Miles and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. left theirs back in Baton Rouge, reflecting the somewhat fractured feeling that remains after last season. LSU posted its first 12-0 regular season in school history before throttling Georgia 42-10 at the SEC title game in early December, but the Tigers were surprisingly shellacked 21-0 a month later by Alabama at the BCS title game in New Orleans.
"You go 13-0 and win the West and win the SEC, and those are tremendous accomplishments," Beckham said while glancing down at his bare hands. "You can't say it's a failure by any means, but it's not exactly what we were looking for."
So overpowering were the Tigers last season, winning 12 of their 13 games by 13 or more points, that their ineptitude against the Crimson Tide was all the more baffling. A defensive struggle was expected after LSU won 9-6 in overtime during the regular season in Tuscaloosa, but nobody could have projected the Tigers crossing midfield for the first time in the Superdome with less than eight minutes remaining.
Miles was asked Wednesday what millions of SEC football fans across the South have been wondering for months. What happened?
"What happened was we played our 14th game and we didn't play as well as we did in the first 13," Miles responded. "Our team had a great year and played 13 straight very, very good quality opponents and won. We didn't play our best in the last one, and we understand that. That was last year.
"We also remember, and we look forward to playing like we play. It's about us and some things we need to fix, and I think our team sees that."
Miles admitted he watched tape of the BCS title game a couple of times before panning, "There weren't that many plays for us on offense for me to spend that much time on it."
LSU recognized its SEC championship following the March 31 spring game. It was a celebration to some and an opportunity lost to others.
"I think it was very genuine," Reid said. "Only one team can say they won the SEC this past season, and that's us. I'm proud of it, and we're ready for another season."
Said Beckham: "At the end of the day, they were the better team. You can't dwell on that. You have to move on."
The Tigers are moving on with what likely will be a No. 1 or No. 2 preseason ranking in the major polls, and with a new quarterback. Mettenberger was dismissed from Georgia in the spring of 2010 and played at Butler County (Kan.) Community College that fall before transferring to LSU, where he completed 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown in five games last season.
"I think Zach Mettenberger is going to give us a really nice quarterback," Miles said. "The key for him is to take it a day at a time and not put the cart in front of the horse. He's a very talented guy."
Mettenberger will be aided by four returning offensive linemen, four quality tailbacks and experience at receiver with Beckham and Russell Shepherd. He also will be helped by a defense that is guided by fourth-year coordinator John Chavis and returns ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, linebacker Kevin Minter, and Reid and Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary.
The Tigers have eight games at home, including the Nov. 3 rematch against the Crimson Tide, but their four trips are to Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas. Their goal is crystal clear.
"I want all three of those rings that we should have had," Beckham said.