LSU might well be able to get into the BCS title game regardless of what happens when it plays Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game on Saturday in Atlanta.
LSU (12-0, 8-0 SEC) is the only unbeaten team among automatic-qualifier conferences, a unanimous No. 1 in all the major polls and has a perfect score of 1.000 in the BCS rankings.
The consensus seems to be that the Tigers, the SEC West champions, have a mulligan to play in the SEC title game, but don’t try telling that to anyone around the team. Even if a berth in the title game is assured, hey, this is for the SEC championship.
“That’s what you come to LSU to do,” safety Eric Reid said before practice Monday. “That’s what you play in the SEC for, to win an SEC championship. To get a championship in this division says a lot. It’s not a game you can overlook, even though the national championship is after that. We’ve just got to go into this week staying focused and keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“This is a championship game. You get a ring for this game. That’s what we came here to do, so we’re going to take this game very seriously.”
The Tigers have been ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll for the past 10 weeks, and they’ve been at the top of the BCS rankings each of its eight weeks. But they didn’t win the SEC West Division outright until they finished the regular-season with a 41-17 victory against Arkansas on Friday. Going into that game, the top three teams in the BCS were all in the same division, with Alabama sandwiched between LSU and Arkansas.
LSU coach Les Miles said he addressed the issue of the outcome of the SEC championship possibly not affecting the Tigers’ BCS title hopes “only to describe it and deflect it.”
“There is a fundamental to this game that we are about to play,” Miles said. “We won the West. That really is an accomplishment, and certainly this year, it is a great accomplishment. There are quality teams in the Western side.
“Certainly on the Eastern side, Georgia is the champion, and they are a quality champion. Now, we get to play for the conference honors. I promise you, there is not going to be review of what is next. That is not something that will come out of my mouth. It will all be about the very next game that we prepare for, play and how we would play.”
LSU’s seniors clinched the West title in their final home game and now can win the overall SEC title on their way to whatever awaits next.
“We feel like before you can worry about winning a national title, you’ve got to win your conference; you’ve got to win your division,” senior cornerback Ron Brooks said. “Every year we talk about it. That’s one of our goals: to win our division, to win our conference. Before you can even think about the BCS or anything like that, we want to make sure that we accomplish those two things.”
One down, one to go. The Tigers are trying to become the sixth consecutive SEC team to win the BCS title. The most likely scenario appears to be an LSU-Alabama rematch that would guarantee the conference No. 6. The Tigers beat the Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“(Saturday’s game) is extremely important,” defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think the last couple of years. every team that won the SEC did pretty good in the national championship game. That’s our goal right now: It’s to take care of the SEC first.
“It’s definitely going to be extremely exciting this week leading up to the game. We don’t want to lose this game, and then the rest of those games that came before that pretty much don’t mean anything.”
A loss on Saturday would not only deny the Tigers the SEC title, it would end their dream of an undefeated season. The only other FBS team that hasn’t lost is Houston.
“This is what we work for,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “We work to win it all. We don’t want to lose a game. That’s what keeps us going, keeps us driving to win this game. We don’t want to let anything go. We want to take it one week at a time and go out and get this one.”