The LSU Tigers are going to Atlanta. As the ink dries on head coach Les Miles’ new contract, the Tigers can now turn their full attention toward bowl preparation. LSU, ranked No. 8 in the BCS standings, will play Clemson in Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
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Winners of last year’s conference crown, the Tigers (10-2) were hoping that another December trip to the Georgia Dome this season would be for a showdown of much higher stakes. But LSU had to watch from home last Saturday as Alabama defeated Georgia for the SEC title in the same building.
So how exactly does the eighth-ranked football team in the nation wind up in the Chick-fil-A Bowl? After all, LSU has a wildly passionate fan base, and has become a national brand with continued success on the gridiron.
The fact is that only two teams from a conference are allowed to play in a BCS bowl, and yet six SEC teams sit in the Top 10. With one loss each, Alabama and Florida nabbed the conference’s only two BCS slots. This, in turn, led to college football’s unfortunate predicament of having numerous highly-ranked teams, mostly from the SEC, not playing in BCS bowls, further evidencing glaring flaws in the constantly evolving system.
Thanks to that system, a potential series of compelling match-ups has been squashed. Instead, college football fans can look forward to being inundated with a month’s worth of snore-inducing drivel about whether Northern Illinois will be able to withstand the Florida State pass rush in the Orange Bowl, and whether 21st-ranked Louisville, Sugar Bowl-bound, will be able to handle a big-time SEC rushing attack against the Gators.
As far as the non-BCS invites, South Carolina accepted its seemingly annual bid to the Outback Bowl, which has a strong preference for Eastern Division teams. Meanwhile Georgia, Texas A&M, and LSU, all Top 10 teams, were left to fight it out for two spots in New Year’s Day games. Fresh off an impressive showing against Alabama, SEC East Champ Georgia was the first choice of the Capital One Bowl.
The Dallas-based Cotton Bowl gave the nod to Texas A&M, with the draw of freshman Heisman favorite Johnny Manziel, along with an invigorated fanbase, likely putting the Aggies over the top. With unexpected success in its first year in the SEC (thanks to Manziel), A&M is the new flavor of the month. And when that month is December, and time for bowl invites, that can certainly be an enviable position.
In the end, this bowl carousel is simply a gamble associated with playing in, and not winning, the nation’s top conference. In the SEC, you play at your own risk, and when virtually half the conference is ranked in the Top 10, there isn’t much room for error. LSU’s lone slip-ups came against the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country. But those slip-ups happened, none-the-less, and these Tigers had championship aspirations long before the season began.
Of course, playing a nationally prominent school such as Clemson (10-2) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl is not a bad consolation, and this season has no doubt been a very good one for LSU. No, there won’t be a championship, but there exists an opportunity for another 11-win season. A New Year’s Eve victory over the orange-clad Tigers from South Carolina will mark the sixth time in Les Miles’ eight seasons on the job that LSU will have won 11 games or more. That rate of success is nothing to scoff at, Chick-fil-A Bowl or not.
So, it’s off to Atlanta. LSU may deserve better, but the bowls aren’t about fairness. And, as the Tigers can now well-attest, neither is Southeastern Conference football.
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