LSU returned to the practice field Thursday for the first time since it finished the regular season with a 20-13 victory at Arkansas three weeks ago.
Afterward the Tigers spoke publicly for the first time about winding up in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson on New Year’s Eve night in the Georgia Dome.
They entered the final third of the season controlling their own fate for a berth in the BCS Championship Game, but a 21-17 loss to Alabama on Nov. 3 essentially removed them from that picture.
A berth in a BCS bowl, most likely the Allstate Sugar Bowl, went by the wayside a day after LSU beat Arkansas when Florida defeated Florida State and guaranteed itself the Southeastern Conference’s at-large BCS bid.
A possible trip to the AT&T Cotton Bowl also vanished as the Tigers, ranked ninth in the country, wound up sixth in the SEC bowl pecking order.
“It’s definitely not what we wanted,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “We definitely wanted to be in a BCS bowl. Unfortunately the teams we needed to lose didn’t lose. But this is still a very good bowl.”
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry said the players expected to hear that they were headed to the Cotton Bowl when head coach Les Miles called a team meeting Dec. 2 to tell the team where it was going.
“We weren’t expecting it to be the Chick-fil-A Bowl,” Landry said. “But we started to get excited when coach Miles told us how excited he was. This is a great opportunity for us. It’s two great teams. It’s the only game that night so the whole world will be watching.”
This game represents a trip home for five prominent Tigers from Georgia — Mettenberger, linebacker Kevin Minter, fullback J.C. Copeland, tackle Vadal Alexander and long snapper Reid Ferguson.
“I’m excited,” Mettenberger said. “It’s definitely convenient for me and the others from the Atlanta area.”
Copeland said he has about 30 relatives and friends hitting him up for tickets to the game, though he probably can’t accommodate more than 12.
“I get to see a lot of people I don’t get to see during the season,” Copeland said. “A lot of teams aren’t even going to a bowl game, so it’s an honor to be in this game. I just like the opportunity to play football. It’s another chance for us to show how dominant we are.”
Guard Trai Turner, who redshirted as a freshman while LSU went to the BCS Championship game last season, said he’s excited for his first opportunity to play in the post-season.
“I’m ready to go there and be able to play in a bowl game for the first time,” Turner said. “Everybody wants to be in a BCS bowl game, but at the end end of the day we made our bed and we have to lay in it. We’re going to play hard.
“This is the last game for the seniors. We want to send them out with a win.”
Tackle Josh Dworaczyk is one of the seniors and his six-year career will come to and end just as 2012 is coming to an end.
“I enjoyed our experience there the last time,” Dworaczyk said of the Tigers’ victory against Georgia Tech in the 2008 Chick-fil-A Bowl. “It’s a great atmosphere. Every year we try to get there for the (SEC) Championship game. This is our championship game.”
Turner said the players enjoyed the break from practice while they took their final exams, but once school ended they were antsy to get back to work. Clemson is ranked No. 14 after finishing 10-2 and 7-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“Now we know who we’re playing and we’re getting after it,” Turner said. “We know Clemson is getting ready for us and we have to be ready too.”
Landry said the Tigers are focused on getting what would be their 11th win and using it as a springboard into offseason work.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s two great teams. It’s a chance to play a team from another conference and bring a W back to Baton Rouge.”