Before Mayhem dashed to commercial at 7:33 this morning after their opening to Tony Barnhart's segment (brought to you by BMW of South Atlanta, just north of your expectations!), Mike Bell and Barnhart were joking that they need to go to Las Vegas with Les Miles because Miles is really lucky right now. Since I'm already in the position of defending everything the guy does on the chance that he ends up as the next head man in Ann Arbor, I'm going to dispute the notion that Miles and LSU have been lucky. I am also doing so because I enjoy taking positions that can be supported by facts and logic.
On the evidence, there's not much of a case to be made that LSU has been lucky this year. The Tigers have been in four close games and won three of them, which isn't especially reflective of luck. They most certainly aren't Virginia (winners of five of six games decided by one score), Ohio State '02 (winners of all seven games they played decided by one score), or Georgia '02 (winners of five of six games they played decided by one score). Moreover, if you look at LSU's four close games, you can't point to any of them as being instances in which the lesser team won. Here are the yardage and first down totals from the four games:
LSU - 391 yards, 25 first downs
Florida - 314 yards, 19 first downs
LSU - 403 yards, 22 first downs
Kentucky - 375 yards, 26 first downs
LSU - 488 yards, 23 first downs
Auburn - 296 yards, 16 first downs
LSU - 475 yards, 21 first downs
Alabama - 254 yards, 20 first downs
If anything, LSU's opponents, especially Auburn and Alabama, were lucky to be in their games against the Tigers. LSU has won the yardage battle in all four games and has had more first downs in three of the four games (with the one exception being the game that LSU lost). The better argument is that LSU was unlucky to be in close games because the fluky factors (turnovers, special teams returns, their kicker having the worst night of his career, etc.). There is an argument to be made that special teams and turnovers are not necessarily random. I'll buy that special teams aren't random, but LSU's special teams aren't bad at all. The case is weaker that turnovers are not random. Phil Steele says that they are random and he's never wrong about anything. Yardage and first downs are better indica of a team's merit and LSU kicks ass in those departments.
Finally, take a gander at LSU's statistical rankings. They're in the top ten in every defensive category and in the top 25 in scoring offense and total offense. Bearing in mind that LSU has played a very difficult schedule, do they really look like a lucky team? I didn't think so.
Finally, let's compare LSU's yards per play gained and allowed against the other contenders for the national title:
LSU - 5.93 gained, 3.67 allowed, 2.26 margin
Oregon - 6.61 gained, 5.4 allowed, 1.21 margin
Oklahoma - 6.56 gained, 4.43 allowed, 2.13 margin
Missouri - 6.42 gained, 5.02 allowed, 1.4 margin
Kansas - 6.35 gained, 4.19 allowed, 2.16 margin
West Virginia - 6.7 gained, 4.17 allowed, 2.53 margin
Ohio State - 5.96 gained, 3.56 allowed, 2.4 margin
Since LSU has played a demonstrably tougher schedule than any of these teams, save Oregon, it can't be said that LSU is lucky to be where they are. Only West Virginia and Ohio State are ahead of LSU in yards per play margin and they haven't come close to LSU in terms of quality of opponents. The best conclusion from this comparison, by the way, is that Oregon and (to a slightly lesser extent) Missouri are poseurs as national title contenders because of their defenses.
(PS - I did this dance last year and reached the startling conclusion that Notre Dame was a fraud. Actually, in retrospect, the analysis was fairly useful, as it flagged Florida as being in the class of the top contenders and it spied USC's weakness.)
And one other thought: how does Tony Barnhart confidently state out of one corner of his mouth that "if [LSU] play[s] Ohio State, the Tigers will win" (call me crazy, but Barnhart is never this assertive except when he's playing to his audience and mocking the Big Ten) and out of the other corner of his mouth deride LSU as lucky? If LSU is lucky and therefore not as good as their record, then how can it be such a certainty that they would beat Ohio State?