Talk about mixed emotions. It was tough enough on LSU players to focus on playing Iowa in the Capital One Bowl knowing coach Nick Saban had already accepted the head coaching job with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Then the Tigers rallied late in the game to take a one-point lead with 46 seconds left, only to blow it by allowing a 56-yard touchdown pass as time expired in a 30-25 loss on New Year's Day in Orlando.
On the same day, the Tigers also learned that Louisville coach Bobby Petrino had pulled his name from consideration for the LSU job, with Oklahoma State head coach Les Miles emerging as the leading contender.
It was probably extraordinary that LSU gave Iowa a game, considering the circumstances.
"It's always disappointing to lose a game like we lost that game," Saban said. "But I can say this: I'm very proud of our players for the way they fought back in the game. We obviously didn't play one of our best games."
Saban's Dec. 25 decision to leave for Miami certainly didn't help the situation, but he and the Tigers refused to use it as an excuse.
"The disappointing thing here is that the last 14 seconds, 20 seconds tarnishes what a lot of good football players, the seniors on this team have been able to accomplish in their career here," Saban said. "I feel badly myself that there's not something that I could do to help the players play better in this game."
While Saban moves on to the NFL, the Tigers now turn their attention to the future, most likely one coached by Miles. If he does indeed become LSU's head coach he will inherit a team with plenty of returning talent, including running backs Alley Broussard, Joseph Addai and Justin Vincent, receivers Dwayne Bowe, Skyler Green and Craig Davis, four of five starters on the offensive line and quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn.
The defense has some key players to replace, including defensive end Marcus Spears, linebacker Lionel Turner and cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels, but there's enough returning talent to suggest the Tigers will enter the 2005 season as the favorite to win the SEC Western Division.
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