CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Even with its 'secret talent,' LSU dominant heading into Tuscaloosa

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The message -- in case you missed it, Alabama -- was as obvious as the grass in Les Miles' mouth.

Real depth trumps synthetic chronic.

More Barkevious (Mingo), less bar fights.

At this place, true freshmen excel. No lie.

At the end of an altogether cleansing 45-10 win over Auburn, it's obvious one of the few things No. 1 LSU has failed this season is drug tests. Reportedly.

Such is the greatness of LSU (on the field) now that the countdown has officially begun to the Alabama game. The Baton Rouge Tigers beat Auburn's Tigers with ... well, not exactly a skeleton crew, but there was a little less meat on the bone.

Budding superstar cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, backup Tharold Simon and starting tailback Spencer Ware sat out because of those reported failed drug tests. The supposition was that LSU had enough talent left over to set up college football's Super Bowl.

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"LSU," defensive end Sam Montgomery said, "has a lot of secret talent."

Notably, true freshman Kenny Hilliard, who came into the game with five carries. He left it with 65 yards and two pounding, rushing touchdowns.

Senior defensive back Ron Brooks, starting the second game of his career, returned an interception for a touchdown.

The previously mentioned Mingo has yet to start a game but is tied for the team lead in sacks (four) after getting two against Auburn.

Where do these guys come from? That's a larger question that goes back more than a decade to when Nick Saban arrived to make LSU matter on the national scene. Miles took over and didn't miss a beat, fourth-down gambles and all.

"There's a point where you have to enjoy the position that you're in," Miles said.

His team has two weeks to enjoy what could be LSU's most dominant season to date. The Tigers have won each game this season by double digits. Three of the last five wins have come over ranked teams. They have trailed for a total of 6½ minutes all season.

"What we do is recruit talented young players and they go to the field," Miles said. "We don't redshirt them. We don't not play them. Frankly, that's what you're seeing."

LSU was exposed, then, if you consider exposed having to show Alabama and the world just how deep it is.

Hilliard, nephew of former LSU great Dalton Hilliard, got playing time because Ware, the leading rusher, didn't. After being suspended, Mathieu was somewhere all week tweeting Lil Wayne lyrics and advice on how to stay strong.

"I am deeply sorry for what happened this week," he tweeted.

But when Brooks picked off Auburn's Clint Moseley and went 28 yards to the house to make it 42-3, Mathieu was like one of the fellas jumping up and down -- via Twitter: "That's what we do."

If teammate Eric Reid is to be believed, the Synthetic Three will be back for the Alabama game. That's all anyone around here cares about. As for a Saturday afternoon rout in Death Valley being a message to the Crimson Tide ...

"No, no, no, that just was a compliment, a hat's off to 'Bama ...," Montgomery said. "I cannot wait to play them. I think they're the greatest team in college football. Every last warrior loves the thrill of battle."

The whole season seems to have been a triumph over all kinds of adversity. Quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe had to leave his position as offensive coordinator in August after he was discovered to have Parkinson's disease. Jefferson was suspended after the infamous Shady's bar fight.

Then there were the reported suspensions of Mathieu, Simon and Ware for the also reported failed drug test for synthetic marijuana.

"The image of LSU would have to be a group of young men who know how to play football that still has some growing up to do ...," Montgomery said. "Those young guys had to become great men and great ballplayers at a very young age. We're learning and we're going to get it right."

Imagine that: winning a national championship while on a personal journey of self-discovery. If this is as bad as it gets for the nation's No. 1, they will take it.

During a sometimes dreary first half, LSU's faithful actually booed on a couple of occasions. For a while it looked like the Tigers' season would go, well, up in smoke. Those fans' attitude changed after a pair of matching sideline strikes stretching the halftime lead to 21-3.

Jefferson (42 yards) and Jarrett Lee (46 yards) threw almost identical bombs to Rueben Randle within four minutes of each other in the second quarter. The game plan following that -- whether stated or unstated -- was to show as little as possible.

You know who's watching.

After a three-touchdown third quarter by LSU -- Tiger-on-Tiger crime? -- it was time to look ahead. The student section chanted, "Bring on 'Bama." The players did their best not to provide bulletin-board material. Two weeks from today, the nation's No. 1 team will play a de facto national semifinal in Tuscaloosa. The winner goes to New Orleans for the BCS title. Well, not directly -- but the stakes are that high.

LSU got satisfaction for last season's 24-17 loss at Auburn. Don't call it revenge because Cam Newton, the difference in a lot of games for Auburn last season, is gone. Let's just call it the No. 1 team in 2011's first BCS rankings beating last season's final No. 1 in the BCS.

Now it's time to bring on Alabama.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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