Each time he travels home for the holidays, LSU defensive tackle Christian LaCouture has to suffer through listening to country music his mother plays.
He’ll get a double dose this Christmas. LSU is heading to the country music capital of the world to play one of the nation’s most successful college football powers.
The Tigers meet Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee, on Dec. 30, rekindling an old rivalry with the Fighting Irish in a unique setting for LSU.
“Couldn’t be more excited,” bowl president and CEO Scott Ramsey said Sunday, a few hours after the bowl bids were announced. “Hosting two of the most iconic brands in football.”
LSU (8-4) and Notre Dame (7-5) meet for the 11th time — the series is tied at 5 — in a series that dates to regular-season meetings starting in 1970 and stretching deep into the 1990s.
The Tigers, ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25, will play in Nashville for the first time since beating Vanderbilt in 2010. They’ll play in the Music City Bowl for the first time in the bowl’s 17-year run with the Southeastern Conference.
This year’s game will kick off at 2 p.m., will be televised by ESPN and will be played at LP Field, home of ex-LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his Tennessee Titans. The Tigers will arrive in Nashville on Dec. 27.
LSU fans and players will stay in a city known for its sidewalk guitarists, riverside honky tonks and country music legends.
“Heard it’s a great town,” running back Terrence Magee said.
The clash of college football titans might be the only thing to drown out Nashville’s popular tunes — even if the teams did combine for nine losses this season. Coach Les Miles called the game “a national matchup” and “a very attractive television game.” Ramsey said LSU-Notre Dame was No. 1 on the his bowl’s wish list.
It pits an SEC team against an Atlantic Coast Conference team — kind of. Notre Dame is an independent in football but is part of the ACC in most other sports, and the Irish fall into the ACC’s bowl tie-ins.
Two other ACC bowls wanted Notre Dame, Ramsey said. The key was the matchup.
“We basically drew out of a hat for the opportunity to invite (Notre Dame) based on the opponent,” he said. “You’re looking more for matchups that appeal to fans.”
The game pits two teams that took a tumble from lofty spots this season.
LSU was ranked as high as No. 8 heading into a September game against Mississippi State. Notre Dame was No. 5 entering a game against Florida State in October. The Tigers have their most regular-season losses since 2009, and the Irish have their most since 2010.
Notre Dame ended its regular season on a four-game losing skid after winning its first six games, and LSU had a roller coaster of a year that included consecutive losses for just the second time in Miles’ 10 years.
Still, it’s Notre Dame and LSU, right?
“It’s going to be a great matchup,” LaCouture said. “Growing up, I just always remember Notre Dame. It was a team that you always saw on TV, playing in big-time bowls, playing big-time opponents.”
That includes LSU. The schools played in regular season games in 1970, ’71, ’81, ’84, ’85, ’86, ’97 and ’98, and they’ve previously been paired together in bowl games twice.
Heck, in 1997, they played twice in a matter of about six weeks. They split those games, with LSU losing in the regular season and then beating the Irish in the Independence Bowl.
Then there was that Sugar Bowl following the 2006 season — a 41-14 LSU drubbing of the Charlie Weiss-coached Irish in New Orleans. That matchup featured two first-round draft picks at quarterback: LSU’s JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn.
“I’ve heard about it,” Magee said of that game. “Matter of fact, right before we came here (for interviews), I heard somebody talking about it.”
LSU sold about 1,500 of its allotted 8,000 tickets in the first two hours after the announcement, the school said. Interest from LSU fans appears to be much higher in this one than the Tigers’ matchup against Iowa in the Outback Bowl last season.
This will be LSU’s 46th bowl appearance and 15th straight. Before 2000, the Tigers had never made more than five consecutive bowl appearances. The Tigers’ previous bowl appearance in Tennessee was a 21-7 loss to Baylor in the 1985 Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
The Tigers’ bowl destinations narrowed to three over the past few days: the Music City Bowl, the Texas Bowl in Houston or the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. Players said Sunday that those three bowls, including the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, were tossed around the program as possibilities.
The Taxslayer, Music City and Texas bowls each had LSU on its list of preferred teams it sent to the SEC. Under the league’s new bowl process, the SEC selected the representative for six of its bowl tie-ins: the Outback, Taxslayer, Texas, Liberty, Music City and Belk. Schools were allowed to rank their bowl preferences 1-6, and the bowls were allowed to rank their team preferences in the same manner.
Before news broke putting the Tigers in Nashville, some reports had LSU matched up with Texas in the Texas Bowl.
That never materialized. Instead, LaCouture and the Tigers will head to the country music capital along the banks of the Cumberland River for a game with a storied program.
Said Miles: “Very fitting end to a very quality season.”