LSU punter Josh Growden needed one word this year to describe his team’s bowl destination: Again.
Growden quoted Sunday his own tweet from his reaction last December to the Tigers’ landing in the Citrus Bowl. “We’re going to Disney World!” his 1-year-old post on the social network said. On Sunday, he added that singular word.
The 17th-ranked Tigers (9-3) are heading back to the Citrus Bowl for a second straight year, this time playing one of college football’s bluebloods, No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3). The teams are scheduled to meet at noon CT on Jan. 1 in a game televised on ABC.
It’s a familiar opponent and a familiar site.
LSU is the first Southeastern Conference team since Tennessee in 1995-96 to make consecutive trips to the Orlando-based bowl, and the Tigers meet a squad they’ve played 11 previously times. LSU and Notre Dame duel in a bowl game for the third time in the past 12 seasons, most recently a 31-28 Tigers loss in the Music City Bowl in 2014.
“Time to shake back from that L freshman year,” receiver DJ Chark tweeted Sunday.
“Two teams with great traditions, great fan bases and two nationally ranked teams,” ND coach Brian Kelly said. “It’s going to be a heck of a football game.”
Coach Ed Orgeron brings his team to the site of his first victory as LSU’s permanent head coach — a 29-9 win over Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville. The Tigers trade Jackson for Irish running back Josh Adams, who's averaging 115 yards a game and 7.3 a carry. They swap the Atlantic Coast Conference Cardinals for independent Notre Dame, a program Orgeron is oh-so-familiar with.
He played the Irish 14 times while on the staffs at Southern Cal and Miami, winning six of those. Each was a raucous rivalry duel, none bigger than No. 4 Notre Dame’s 31-30 win over top-ranked Miami in 1988 in South Bend, Indiana.
“Going up to Notre Dame and playing in the '88 game was a very memorable game, and then them coming down to the Orange Bowl (in 1989)," Orgeron said. "Being at SC for all those years. (That’s) two of the greatest rivalries in college football. I have the utmost respect every time you play Notre Dame. It’s going to be a physical game, a war.”
LSU will play Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. Here's more about the game and the Tigers' bowl history:
As for the repeat bowl trip, there will be changes, said Citrus Bowl CEO Steve Hogan. The bowl plans to adjust LSU’s schedule and will even house the Tigers at a different hotel than last year, all an effort to avoid similarities.
Bowl game repeats are rare. LSU is doing it for the first time since playing in consecutive Sugar Bowls after the 1958 and 1959 seasons. Hogan hopes to give the Tigers a “completely different experience” than in 2016.
“We’ll be able to provide different attractions,” Hogan said. “We’re blessed with Universal and Disney having multiple parks.”
Citrus Bowl officials considered two other SEC teams, MississippiState and South Carolina (both 8-4), Hogan said, but LSU “was the best team, for sure, on the board.” The primary concern in a repeat invitation is the reception from the school.
The Tigers wanted to play in the game again.
“If a repeat is a potential opportunity, you want to hear from administration, coaching staff and others about how they feel about that,” Hogan said. “LSU was very much open to the opportunity. I think they viewed this as the highest level competition and a huge stage that they could be on.”
“This is a tremendous matchup for our fans and college football,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement. “These are two historic programs with loyal fans all over the world.”
The Tigers will receive an allotment of 9,500 tickets, the school confirmed. A plus for those fans, maybe: This year’s game is on New Year’s Day, not New Year’s Eve, and is two hours later in the day. The 2016 Citrus Bowl kicked off at 10 a.m. CT.
Another perk: The Saints play at noon on New Year’s Eve, just 80 miles away in Tampa.
The Tigers say the repeat is a plus. Orgeron said he’ll use the same “blueprint” as last year’s game. Familiarity is a positive.
“When we get down there, the guys are going to know where to go,” he said. “We’re familiar with the great festivities that they did for the Citrus last year. Know where we practice, what the stadium is going to look like.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron expects edge rusher Arden Key to play in the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame, but he can’t be sure on that.
The opponent, of course, is a big difference.
The Irish debuted at No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings this year, rebounding from a 20-19 home loss to Georgia on Sept. 9 by winning seven straight. They faltered down the stretch, though, with a 41-8 beatdown at the hands of 10th-ranked Miami and a loss to No. 13 Stanford in the regular-season finale.
The Irish and their junior running back Adams wield the seventh-best rushing attack in the nation, setting up a run-heavy, grinding type of game.
How will Orgeron get his team motivated?
“Just tell them we’re playing Notre Dame,” he said. “That’s enough.
“I remember growing up watching LSU and Notre Dame play. Great football games. Defensive battle, a lot of goal-line stands. In everybody’s house in south Louisiana, Notre Dame games would play every Sunday morning. You became familiar with Notre Dame football, like an icon nationally.”