Before the 2012 season started, LSU was picked by the media and many a prognosticator to play a meaningful December Game in Atlanta.
After the wild ride that included dismissing the school’s most decorated player, winning 10 games, losing two and hanging in the balance for hours on bowl selection Sunday, LSU got its ticket to Atlanta.
The Tigers, ranked 8th in the BCS, will close the 2012 calendar year squaring off with another 10-2 Tiger squad-- Clemson-- in the 45th Chick-fil-a Bowl.
“This bowl matchup is better than many of he BCS matchups,” said LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva on Monday morning’s teleconference.
The tandem of Tigers both fall ahead of BCS participants Louisville, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, and LSU is ranked ahead of Florida State who will play Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl
Both schools have become very familiar with the Georgia Dome over the past decade. Under Les Miles, LSU is 9-1 in downtown Atlanta, winning in every possible capacity, those being the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Classic, the SEC Championship Game and the Chick-fil-a Bowl.
“I told my team (Sunday), and Atlanta has a special favor for them,” Miles said. “The reception was extremely warm, and that’s kind of what I got (Monday).”
Clemson kicked off its season in the Georgia Dome against SEC foe Auburn, a game the ACC’s Tigers claimed 26-19 en route to winning 10 of their first 11. The last time out, Clemson scuffled against hated in-state rival South Carolina who invaded Clemson with reserve quarterback Dylan Thompson and emerged 27-17 winners.
And like bowls often do, the 2012 Chick-fil-a Bowl features a stark contrast in styles.
“(Clemson) is the sixth ranked team in the nation in scoring with a high-powered offense at 42.3 points per game,” said Chick-fil-a Bowl President Gary Stokan. “And when you talk about LSU, they are a very stingy defense, ranked 11 in the nation with only 16.9 points per game. Something has to give on December 31.”
Bragging rights are up for grabs as well.
Both schools affectionately refer to their home turf as “Death Valley”, and in 20 ACC-SEC Chick-fil-a Bowls, each conference has won 10.
Kickoff on New Year’s Eve will air on ESPN at 7:30 EDT, unopposed by college football.
So certainly the Chick-fil-a Bowl offers both schools a tremendous amount of exposure, a quality opponent, a tremendous venue, and a payout of $7.4 million which ranks in the Top 5-non BCS Bowls.
Even with all of the positives, many around Baton Rouge scoffed at the notion that a 10-2 SEC team with losses to No.’s 2 and 3 in the BCS schools should slide to the fourth SEC slot after the BCS.
“I haven’t really given a lot of thought to that,” Miles said. “The only thing I was told was that Gary Stokan and the Chick-fil-a Bowl positioned themselves very strongly for an LSU team…I want to go to the place that wants us. I personally enjoy the place that Gary Stoken and Chick-fil- a have arranged.”
Stoken added, “back in 2005 when LSU was runner up in the SEC, we protected LSU as we told the SEC we’d be willing to protect Alabama and Georgia. If you remember in ‘05, we gave LSU the opportunity to come to Atlanta and play against a Top 10 Miami team, and LSU was successful that night, 40-3, and it’s the highest ranked TV rating that we’ve had, and one of the Top 10 ever on ESPN with over a 5.1 rating.”
According to Stoken, LSU has been allotted 16,000 tickets for the contest.
“I know (LSU) had a great presale for us,” Stokan said. “I have full faith in LSU that they’ll sell through to their 16,00, and they’ll probably bring more than that to want to follow the Tigers.”