The list of honors is starting to stack up for Morris Claiborne.
The LSU junior cornerback on Thursday was named one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given annually by the Charlotte (N.C.) Touchdown Club to the nation’s best defensive player.
The other Nagurski finalists are Alabama safety Mark Barron, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus and Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still.
The Nagurski winner will be announced Dec. 12.
Claiborne’s latest honor comes just one day after he was named one of 15 semifinalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Claiborne was one of just two defensive players to make the Walter Camp list, along with BC’s Kuechly.
Claiborne has 38 tackles and leads the team with four interceptions going into No. 1-ranked LSU’s game Saturday at Ole Miss (6 p.m., ESPN). He also returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown Sept. 24 at West Virginia.
Trusting the system
LSU coach Les Miles said he trusts the BCS system to come up with the fairest pairing for the championship games, whether it has to choose between an unbeaten team and a once-beaten or from among multiple once-beaten teams.
“I think that the system that they have in place will predict the two best teams and that the two best teams will play and decide it,” he said. “I do recognize that depends on the position that you are in as a team. It doesn’t look any different to me as it did in 2007 (when a two-loss LSU team beat Ohio State for the BCS title).
“The reality of it is that you have to keep your head down, play like heck and make your point. With that being said, I can see a number of quality teams qualifying. I wouldn’t want it to be limited to undefeated teams. I can see that undefeated teams have the advantage with their record in the fact they are undefeated.
“The disadvantage could be strength of schedule.”
Tigers respect Nutt
LSU’s game at Ole Miss on Saturday will mark the last time the Tigers face a Rebels team coached by Houston Nutt, whose firing becomes effective at the end of the season.
“We must be prepared for their best shot. Certainly we will prepare that way,” Miles said. “I recognize that Houston Nutt is their coach. They have won a lot of games under him, and he has won a lot of games during his career. I’m certain that they will be prepared and that they will do the right things.
“I have always enjoyed the ways he prepares his teams. They have always been extremely competitive. Games with his team have come down to the wire. I would expect his team to be prepared in a like fashion.”
LSU safety Brandon Taylor noted that Nutt has had some success against the Tigers, compiling a 6-7 record that includes his tenure as Arkansas’ head coach.
“Houston Nutt has a very good record against LSU,” Taylor said. “He’s a great coach, and he has a sense of pride and he still wants to go out on top against LSU.”
Practicing to be great
Taylor said the chatter about LSU perhaps playing in the SEC and BCS championship games is getting louder.
“It’s around us every day, on TV, around campus,” he said. “You’ve just got to stay humble and know that it could be taken away from you at any given moment, so we’ve just got to cherish it and keep pressing toward your goal and knowing that the season is still not ever yet, we’re not where we want to be. There’s a still a lot of room for improvement.”
Taylor said the Unity Council, a group of team leaders, is being vigilant about keeping the team focused.
“You get anxious, because a lot of us have never been to that point, either in high school or college, been in a championship game,” Taylor said. “You’ve got to stay focused on it. It’s going to be our chance, so we’ve got to take advantage of it and keep working hard.
“The Unity Council reminds everybody every day, every day after practice and every day before practice. You can’t just go out there and practice, you’ve got to go out there and practice to be great so we remind each other every day.”
Scott a special teams loss
The suspension of Ole Miss’ leading rusher Jeff Scott for the LSU game certainly hits the Rebels’ anemic offense hard, but his loss will also be felt on special teams.
Scott averages 17.8-yards per punt return on eight attempts, a big loss considering the Tigers lead the SEC in net punting (40.4 yards per attempt) and have allowed a total of 7 punt return yards in 2011.
Scott also ranks second on the team with 17.7 yards per kickoff return on 14 attempts. Tobias Singleton leads Ole Miss with a 24.7-yard per return average to rank seventh in the SEC, still a challenge for an LSU team that gave up a 73-yard kickoff return to Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews last week.
“I felt that we were not as sharp on special teams,” Miles said. “Our kickoff coverage was not what we wanted it to be, and we made some mistakes. There was not attention to detail there.”
Starting quarterback Randall Mackey and H-back Korvic Neat are also suspended for the LSU game.
Series turns 100
Saturday’s game will be the 100th all-time meeting between the Tigers and the Rebels. LSU holds a commanding 56-39-4 lead in the series despite the fact Ole Miss has won two of the past three.
LSU won 43-36 in Baton Rouge last season, after the Rebels won 25-23 in Oxford, Miss., in 2009 and 31-13 in Baton Rouge in 2008. Before that, LSU won six straight.
The Tigers hold a slim 8-6-1 lead in games played in Oxford.
The Ole Miss series is LSU’s oldest continuous series against any opponent. The Tigers and Rebels first met in 1894, with Ole Miss winning 26-6 in Baton Rouge.
The only two opponents LSU played before Ole Miss were Tulane in 1893 and a team called Natchez (Miss.) Athletic Club earlier in the 1894 season.
Advocate on the road
Saturday editions of The Advocate will be available in the following locations free of charge for LSU fans making the road trip to Ole Miss:
• Memphis Marriott;
• Hampton Inn Beale Street, Memphis;
• Hilton Garden Inn, Southaven, Miss.;
• Gold Strike Casino and Hotel, Tunica, Miss.;
• and RV lots, Oxford, Miss.