LSU goes into its regular-season finale at Arkansas on Friday with an opportunity to win 10 games for the third season in a row, a streak that has happened only once.
This would be the sixth time in coach Les Miles’ eight seasons that the Tigers would have reached that milestone. Just seven LSU teams in the 111 seasons before Miles’ arrival have won 10 games.
Though 12-game regular seasons nowadays make it easier to win 10 games than it used to be, a 10-win season is still pretty significant.
Eighth-ranked LSU is 9-2 and 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas, a preseason Top 10 projection, is 4-7 and 2-5.
“Double-digit wins in anybody’s program is a big deal, but to get 10 wins in this league is a very tough thing,” LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “We haven’t been playing our best ball all year, but right now, we’re playing really well, and hopefully we can keep this momentum going and get another win at Arkansas and then hopefully get our 11th win in the bowl game.”
A victory would keep the Tigers in contention for a BCS bowl berth. Their still-flickering hopes of winning the SEC West would live for at least another day.
If LSU returns to Baton Rouge victorious, it can sit back Saturday and hope Texas A&M beats Missouri and Auburn somehow upsets Alabama, sending the Tigers to Atlanta next week for the SEC Championship game.
“There are no goals yet removed and we’re looking forward to playing it out,” Miles said. “Each team has their own set of circumstances and situations. Some teams can get to that. Some teams can’t. Some teams fight injury, sickness and legitimate issues on and off the field that limit or grant opportunities for them to succeed.
“I think this team is fighting and doing exactly what we have asked them to do. I think that they are as competitive as can be. I have to be honest with you. It is very positive to win 10, but I wish that it was 12. Sometimes 10 is just what you should have won. I am proud of how this team is fighting and playing.”
LSU has won four of its last five games and appears to be playing its best down the stretch.
“We need to finish,” Miles said. “We need to make sure that this season, we operate like we have said we would and turn out to be the best team that we can be and to be a dominant team on (game days).
“That’s the goal; to play best, to improve and to see where this season puts us. We don’t control our destiny, but there are some destinations that this football team would love to be a part of.”
The Tigers’ new-found passing game has given the team a boost, even as the pass defense has become vulnerable.
Mettenberger has thrown for more than 250 yards in each of the past three games, the first such streak since Tommy Hodson did it in 1989.
But LSU has allowed Mississippi State and Ole Miss to pass for more than 300 yards each of the past two games, and Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson’s SEC-leading average is 302.8 yards per game.
“It is our plan to make our secondary more competent and more accountable,” Miles said. “I think that will happen.”
The Tigers have lost eight starters for various reasons since the start of preseason camp.
“We have to improve,” Miles said. “There isn’t any question. It’s something where we have young players that are going to play great and young players that will play ‘I didn’t know that’ or ‘I forgot that’ or ‘I didn’t make that play,’ and we’re going to continue to coach technique, alignments and assignments.”
Arkansas was No. 3 in the country and still alive for the SEC and BCS title games when it arrived in Baton Rouge a year ago Friday. But things have gone downhill ever since.
The Razorbacks scored the first 14 points, then got pounded in a 41-17 Tigers victory. Coach Bobby Petrino was abruptly dismissed during the offseason amid a scandal involving an extra-marital affair.
Though interim head coach John L. Smith inherited a talent-laden team that was projected to again contend in the SEC West and nationally, little has gone right under his watch.
The Razorbacks were stunned by Louisiana-Monroe in a 34-31 overtime loss in the second game of the season in Little Rock. Their only SEC victories have come against Auburn and Kentucky, who are both winless in the league.
They were eliminated from bowl consideration after a 45-14 loss at Mississippi State last week.
So while LSU looks forward to possibly extending its streak of 10-win seasons and whatever reward lies beyond, Arkansas is finishing off one of the most disappointing seasons in the country.
“It has not worked as I would have liked,” Smith said. “I’d sure like to go out with a win.”