Jalen Mills was the last person to walk into LSU’s locker room last Saturday night. The same emotions he felt were plastered on his teammates’ faces.
The Tigers had just suffered a drubbing at the hands of rival Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which the 30-16 final score didn’t fully indicate. As a senior leader of a youth-laden team, Mills knew it was time to speak up.
“We’re not out of it,” Mills said he told the team. “We’re going to keep fighting until the season’s over. We’re going to decide our own fate. Nobody is going to decide it for us.”
That was the theme Monday in the wake of LSU’s first loss of the season.
The Tigers (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern) believe they still have much to play for, starting against Arkansas (5-4, 3-2 SEC) at 6:15 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium. The defeat in Tuscaloosa puts LSU in a precarious position as far as its SEC championship and College Football Playoff hopes are concerned.
LSU dropped seven spots in the latest CFP rankings released Tuesday night, falling to No. 9. The top four in the final rankings, released Dec. 6, advance to the four-team CFP. Alabama moved up two spots to No. 2 in the CFP committee’s rankings. Clemson remained No. 1, and No. 4 Notre Dame rounded out the top four.
Three teams with one-loss are ahead of LSU, including No. 7 Stanford, Bama and Notre Dame.
The Tigers’ chances of sneaking into the top four without winning the conference are unlikely, and they can’t claim the SEC West crown unless they win out and Alabama loses to either Mississippi State this weekend or Auburn on Nov. 28. LSU, however, is still firmly in the race with three weeks left in the regular season.
“We’re a team that, if you stay once-defeated, that at the back end of this thing, you just never can tell,” coach Les Miles said Monday at his weekly press luncheon. “There’s just too much to play for.”
Mills was the first player to voice that message, Miles said, and several other leaders “echoed his call” in the locker room. The defensive back said Miles gave him an approving nod before the coach addressed the team.
When Mills spoke up in the bowels of Bryant-Denny Stadium, he drew on what former safety Eric Reid told the team after Florida ruined its perfect season back in 2012. His teammates heard him loud and clear.
“We still have a lot play for. We’re 7-1, we still have three games left and we’re in a great spot,” redshirt freshman offensive guard Will Clapp said. “We can still do everything that we hoped to accomplish before the season. We can’t dwell on this and act like it’s the end of the season. We still have the world to play for.”
The eyes of the nation were on LSU and Alabama last Saturday.
The top-10 SEC showdown was the highest-rated and most-watched college football game so far this season. The game, which aired in primetime on CBS, drew an average national rating/share of 6.4/12 and 11.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings.
This year’s highly anticipated matchup outperformed the Tide’s 20-13 overtime victory in Tiger Stadium last season, earning an increase of more than 21 percent in household rating and more than 22 percent in viewers.