No. 1 LSU is 10-0 for just the third time in school history and first time since the 1958 national championship season.
If the Tigers (6-0 in the Southeastern Conference) defeat Ole Miss (2-8 and 0-6) on Saturday night in Oxford, Miss., they will have 11 regular-season wins for just the second time in school history. The 2003 LSU team finished the regular season 11-1 on its way to a BCS championship.
The Tigers are reaching milestones that are merely steppingstones to the only goal that really matters at this point - the fourth national championship in school history and third in the past nine seasons.
After LSU defeated Western Kentucky 42-9 last Saturday, an announcement was made in Tiger Stadium that the Tigers had matched the record marks of the 1958 and 1908 teams.
“A lot of us didn’t know that until they announced it,” safety Brandon Taylor said. “We’re so focused and locked in on where we want to be that we kind of block that out.”
They want to be in New Orleans on Jan. 9. That means taking care of the downtrodden Rebels in coach Houston Nutt’s final home game. It also means taking care of No. 6 Arkansas Friday in Tiger Stadium, which would send LSU to Atlanta for the SEC Championship (likely against Georgia) and the final steppingstone.
“I think we’re so focused on where we’re trying to get we’re not really paying attention to little milestones like that,” running back Alfred Blue said. “We have one goal every week, so we’re not even worrying about the record. As far as we’re concerned we’re 0-0 because the ultimate goal is to win the national championship.”
The Tigers can clinch the SEC West if they beat the Rebels and Arkansas gets upset by Mississippi State on Saturday night. Otherwise, the division title will be on the line when the Razorbacks come to Baton Rouge.
“A lot of people tell me that they’ll flip the channel between our game and (Arkansas’) game,” Taylor said. “They’re saying it’s going to be a good game between both of us. But we still know that we have Ole Miss ahead of us before we play Arkansas. We’ve got to get this win first before we start looking at somebody else.”
Guard Will Blackwell said it’s getting harder to block out all the BCS chatter the deeper LSU gets into what is becoming a history-making season.
“It is tough with all of the attention surrounding possibly going to the national championship game, even the SEC Championship game,” Blackwell said. “We’ve got to focus on winning the West. We’ve got two division opponents left. We can’t go anywhere without doing that.”
Last week the Tigers seemed to lack focus for perhaps the first time this season as they led the Hilltoppers, who were six-touchdown underdogs, 14-7 at halftime before pulling away.
“We’ve got to start faster,” Blackwell said. “We came out flat. We can’t afford to do that against these last two teams. We can’t afford to come out, stutter around, and let teams play with us. We’ve got to take our chances and score early, especially on the road so we can take the crowd out of it.”
Ole Miss’ season has been almost as forgettable as LSU’s has been memorable. Nutt was fired Nov. 7, effective at the end of the season, and the team’s losing streak reached five games in a 27-7 home loss to Louisiana Tech five days later. The Rebels have lost a school-record 12 consecutive SEC games.
Then earlier this week, three players - most notably starting quarterback Randall Mackey (who played at Bastrop High School) and leading rusher and return specialist Jeff Scott - were suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Still, this is LSU and Ole Miss, two teams that often play more competitively against each other than their records might suggest.
“It always goes down to the wire,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said.
The Tigers won by seven points last season, and the Rebels won by two points the year before. Six of the past nine meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
“It has always been a very physical and tough game for us,” said Nutt, who has a record of 6-7 against LSU, including his tenure at Arkansas. “Their guys are riding on an awful big high, and they have good things going for them. They know they are fighting for a national championship berth. We are on the flip side of that, but the bottom line is that we have an opportunity to play the best in the country in our last home game for the seniors. We have a lot to play for.”
But the Tigers have a lot more to play for.
“I think this football team will be reviewed upon the end of the season with the view on how it finished,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “If it finishes, it will be a very special football team. I think they understand that. Now it’s an opportunity to finish.”