LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu returns a punt 62 yards for a touchdown during the first half against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship game Saturday in Atlanta.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU's national championship hopes were hurt Friday when Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the team for breaking an athletic department rule.
The junior defensive back nicknamed Honey Badger was a surprising Heisman candidate last season as the Tigers won the Southeastern Conference championship and reached the BCS title game. They are among the favorites to win the championship this year.
At a news conference Friday, coach Les Miles would not specify the reason Mathieu was dismissed from the team.
"We'll miss the guy," Miles said. "The football team's got to go on. We'll have to fill the void."
Athletic Director Joe Alleva said Mathieu, who was suspended for a game in 2011 for failing a drug test, violated an athletic department rule and had his scholarship revoked.
Mathieu could stay at the school and pay tuition, but Alleva said that was unrealistic.
"He's not going to stay in school," Alleva said.
The Tigers are No. 1 in the coaches' preseason poll and expected to be right near the top of the AP college football poll when it is released Aug. 18.
The 20-year-old Mathieu won the Bednarik Award as national defensive player of the year last season and was big-play machine at cornerback and on special teams. The All-American scored four touchdowns — two on punt returns and two on fumble returns — intercepted two passes and caused six fumbles and recovered four.
He was suspended for the Auburn game and LSU still won 45-10 without him.
"He gave us a lot of examples that we can learn from and I think that he's a quality, quality guy who had a behavior issue and that's it," Miles said. "Certainly the overview of his time with us is positive."
Mathieu, a New Orleans native, has two years of eligibility left and could transfer, but he would have to sit out this season if he went to another school in major college football. If he moved down a level, to FCS, he could play right away.
"I can't imagine he would be here and not want to transfer and go play football," Miles said. "We will help him in every way we can."
LSU isn't quite as deep at cornerback as it was last season, when it had All-American Morris Claiborne and often used Mathieu as a nickleback. Tharold Simon is the other starter opposite Mathieu. Second on the depth chart are redshirt freshman Jalen Collins and freshman Jalen Mills.
As for returning punts, Miles mentioned wide receiver Odell Beckham as a possible replacement for Mathieu.
Even without Mathieu, LSU is loaded with talent and will still be considered one of the country's elite teams.
"The good news is we have good players" to fill the void left by Mathieu, Miles said.
Last season, LSU beat Alabama 9-6 in a regular-season matchup dubbed the Game of the Century. The two SEC rivals met again in the championship but this time the Crimson Tide dominated, winning 21-0.