Vols, LSU Battle For SEC

A spot in the BCS, a trip to the Superdome in New Orleans and a potential national championship were all right there for LSU. After losing its regular-season finale, two of those three are still there for the taking, but the big prize may be unreachable.

The fifth-ranked Tigers will try to rebound from a devastating loss when they meet No. 14 Tennessee on Saturday in the SEC championship game in Atlanta.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made LSU –7.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 52% of bets for this game have been placed on Tennessee +7.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

Ranked No. 1 again after having given up that spot following a triple-overtime defeat at Kentucky on Oct. 13, LSU had only Arkansas standing in its way before the SEC title game and then, assuming all went well, a trip to the BCS championship game on Jan. 7.

But something about triple overtime and the Tigers (10-2, 6-2) just hasn't meshed this season.

Darren McFadden had 206 yards rushing and Arkansas ran right through LSU's SEC-best rush defense, totaling 385 yards on the ground on its way to a 50-48 victory in three overtimes last Friday.

"Right now, there's a goal of our football team taken off the board and it's sad," LSU coach Les Miles said. "(After this), we'll be sick."

As the Tigers look ahead to Tennessee (9-3, 6-2), a victory over the Volunteers would clinch the SEC's automatic BCS bid and likely place LSU in New Orleans - but it would be playing in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 rather than for the national championship six days later.

Should current BCS Nos. 1 and 2 Missouri and West Virginia both lose this weekend, the possibility exists that the Tigers, currently seventh in the BCS, could move up. They might be able to jump ahead of idle Georgia, which didn't win its division in the SEC, idle Kansas, which didn't win its division in the Big 12, and a Virginia Tech team they beat by 41 in September. Ohio State would figure to have a spot sewn up should that scenario unfold, leaving No. 2 up for grabs.

But Miles insists he isn't thinking ahead - particularly coming off a loss.

"Beyond this weekend's games, the opportunity for the champion should be a tremendous opportunity," Miles said. "If you win the conference, that conference championship should carry a lot of weight with a lot of people."

Miles spent a good portion of the week leading up to the Arkansas game trying to silence rumors that he would leave LSU for Michigan, his alma mater. With the firing of Bill Callahan at Nebraska last Saturday, talks of Tigers defensive coordinator Bo Pelini returning to Lincoln - where he once held the same position - have heated up.

"Bo Pelini has not traveled to any place," Miles said. "He is focused on the task at hand and I don't think he would have it any other way."

Buried somewhat because of the poor defensive play against Arkansas was the running of LSU's Jacob Hester. The senior fullback, who leads the team with 897 yards, had his best game of the season, carrying 28 times for 126 yards and two scores.

Matt Flynn has had an up-and-down season, throwing 10 interceptions, and particularly struggled in the Kentucky loss. Though he wasn't accurate against Arkansas, completing just 22 of 47 passes, he threw three touchdowns and ran for another - without turning the ball over.

Tennessee is coming off a wild overtime finish as well. The Volunteers blew a 31-14 third-quarter lead, but outlasted Kentucky 52-50 in four overtimes on the road to clinch a spot in Atlanta.

"To win that game under such circumstances, we were very fortunate," said Tennessee's Erik Ainge, who threw for a career-high 397 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns. "We somehow got it done. It wasn't perfect on either side but we find a way to get it done."

The Volunteers began the season ranked No. 15, but were out of the polls completely following two blowout losses in their first three games. They won their next three to climb back to No. 20, but a 24-point loss at Alabama dropped them out again.

Fans were calling for coach Phillip Fulmer's job after the loss to the Crimson Tide. His players responded by winning their next five games.

"We were 1-2 and everyone had given us up for dead," Fulmer said. "We had one of those Sunday night player meetings, where you pound on the podium and tell them what they need to do to be a better football team, and to their credit, they have listened."

Ainge has been the catalyst, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,908 yards with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions. With decent numbers against LSU and in the Volunteers' bowl game, the senior will be second on the school's all-time yardage list for a season, behind only Peyton Manning.

He's been helped by having Arian Foster in the backfield. The junior tailback's 1,107 yards rushing are tied for the 11th-most in school history for a single season. He had 118 against Kentucky along with 98 receiving yards.

"No one has really given us a shot all season," Foster said. "We play with heart, and we take our wins however we can get them."

These teams met in the 2001 SEC championship game. Tennessee was ranked No. 2 and was set to play for the BCS title with a win, but No. 21 LSU upset the Volunteers 31-20.

Tennessee leads the all-time series 20-6-3. The teams split their meetings in 2005 and 2006, with each winning on the road.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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