Friday, December 28, 2012
Five storylines: LSU vs. Clemson
By Gary Laney
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU wanted to be in Atlanta in the postseason, just not in this game.
The Tigers will play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Monday, the third time the Tigers will play in the Atlanta bowl game in Les Miles' eight seasons as head coach.
No. 8 LSU (10-2) came within a late touchdown by Alabama in a 21-17 loss from having had the chance to play in Atlanta for the SEC championship and possibly a trip to the national championship game. Instead, the Tigers will play in the league's No. 5 bowl (No. 6 when the almost inevitable second SEC team in the BCS is figured in), albeit in a good matchup against No. 14 Clemson (10-2).
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on:
1. Crowd pleaser?: Is this a great bowl matchup, or a disappointing "reward" for the season? It's hard to tell from an LSU perspective.
While the game is technically a sellout, LSU had trouble selling its allotment, with more than a third of its tickets available at Christmas. LSU fans were largely disappointed with the placement mixed with the fan base's "been there, done that," attitude about the Chick-fil-A (LSU has played in it five times, dating to when it was the known as the Peach Bowl).
Will Clemson, playing in the ACC's No. 2 bowl just two hours from campus, have a motivational edge? Or will LSU rise to the occasion in what is, on paper, one of the better matchups of the bowl season?
2. SEC rep: The SEC has six teams with 10 or more wins. Those six teams -- Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina -- are unbeaten against everybody in college football not among the Big Six. LSU will be the first of the six to go bowling. The Tigers will be looking to maintain the league's air of dominance.
3. ACC salvage: In the final week of the regular season, the ACC went 0-4 against the SEC with losses by Clemson (to South Carolina), Florida State (Florida), Georgia Tech (Georgia) and Wake Forest (Vanderbilt). Whether one believes in the perception of SEC dominance, it's very real to members of the ACC. Can Clemson, which did beat lowly Auburn to start the season, salvage some conference pride?
4. Containing Tahj Boyd: Boyd, Clemson's dual-threat QB, is the ACC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 336.8 yards total offense. He threw for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Facing him will come on the heels of the LSU defense looking particularly vulnerable against the pass late in the season, giving up three straight 300-yard passing games at the finish. Will the LSU defense tighten up, or will Boyd make an early case as a 2013 Heisman Trophy candidate (assuming he comes back to school)?
5. Homecoming: Some of LSU's better players are from the Atlanta area, notably quarterback Zach Mettenberger and team MVP and leading tackler Kevin Minter, the Tigers' middle linebacker. They will be key players in LSU's Chick-fil-A Bowl experience.
Mettenberger's development into a quality SEC passer helped the Tigers overcome the porous defensive performances late in the season. Minter, meanwhile, is a big reason LSU's defense remains among the nation's best. If both have big games in their home state, it's hard to imagine Clemson keeping up.