FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Jamal Adams didn’t need a reporter to deliver the news.
He already knew that LSU’s chances of playing in the Sugar Bowl, if the Tigers win their final two games, were greatly boosted by Auburn’s loss Saturday at Georgia.
“We definitely see everything,” the junior safety said Saturday night after LSU's 38-10 win at Arkansas. “Definitely see the Sugar Bowl (stuff).”
LSU fired its head coach and offensive coordinator, its star running back still isn't fully healthy and the team began 2-2 despite starting 2016 as a preseason top-five squad.
And, still, here the Tigers are: ranked No. 16 in the latest Associated Press poll and arguably in the best position of any Southeastern Conference team to play in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
That just makes Saturday’s game against No. 21 Florida that much juicier. There’s plenty of hype to go around.
The Gators (7-2, 5-2) can win the SEC East with a win over LSU (6-3, 4-2) in their noon kickoff Saturday in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers must win to keep their Sugar Bowl hopes alive and continue a resurgence that might just end in the hiring of interim coach Ed Orgeron as the team's full-time leader.
There’s more, too.
The cross-divisional rivalry picked up steam last month, when Hurricane Matthew’s projected path postponed their meeting scheduled for Oct. 8 in Gainesville. LSU’s administration pushed against attempts from the SEC office and Florida officials to keep the game in Gainesville when rescheduled. Athletic director Joe Alleva and LSU officials refused to play three straight SEC road games in a 13-day stretch or lose a home game during such a trying year for a city hit by historic flooding in August.
The Gators ultimately agreed to relocate the game to Baton Rouge after terse negotiations. It resulted in SEC commissioner Greg Sankey chiding Alleva for the athletic director’s public comments about negotiations; then-UF athletic director Jeremy Foley called discussions with Alleva and LSU president F. King Alexander “difficult.”
Meanwhile, a large contingent of LSU fans and some players believe Florida used the hurricane’s predicted path as a way to wriggle out of the game. The Gators were banged up then — and they are now, too, coincidentally.
“They can’t run no more,” LSU running back Derrius Guice said Saturday night.
“Dodging the game? Wow,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said a few weeks ago in response to a question about the matter.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — They were tired and they were cold, but when the clocks in Razorback St…
Florida players spiced things after the Gators’ win over Missouri on Oct. 15. They draped purple and gold beads around a Halloween figure — a cat skeleton that the school said a fan threw onto the field. Players placed the cat skeleton upright on the field and slung the beads around its neck. That same week, LSU’s live mascot, Mike VI, had been euthanized after a battle with cancer.
Yes, the juices are flowing for this one.
“It’s going to be crazy, especially being at Death Valley for a second year in a row,” running back Leonard Fournette said. “We’re ready.”
Adams didn’t need any of those factors to find motivation. The safety from Texas nearly signed out of high school with Florida and its then-recruiting coordinator — Joker Phillips, who's Adams’ godfather. Adams’ father, George, and Phillips, who is no longer at Florida, are best friends, and the Gators nearly lured his son to Gainesville.
Adams chose the other “DBU.” Florida and LSU each claim to be "Defensive Back University" for their legacy of great players in the secondary.
“Man, I was going to the Gators,” Adams said. “Let’s just say … that’s a team that believes that they’re DBU, and we go back and forth with them.”
Adams is undefeated against Florida, with the Tigers posting 35-28 and 30-27 wins over the past two seasons, and LSU has lost at home to Florida just once in the past six tries.
Fournette’s breakout game came in 2014 in Gainesville. He ran for 140 yards, hurdling a defender, running over two more and leaping over a pile of bodies and into the end zone from 5 yards out.
His status for this week is in question. On Saturday night, he reinjured his bruised and sprained left ankle and limped off the field twice, never returning after his final carry with three minutes left in the third quarter.
“I think it’s just a little sore, but I don’t know that for sure,” Orgeron said during the postgame news conference.
Fournette walked fine after the game while speaking to reporters in the bowels of Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“It’s very frustrating, man,” he said of the injury. “I just put all my faith into God as I go out there and play and give it my hardest.”
Now he has a decent shot to end his college career in his hometown.
The Sugar Bowl must invite the second-highest ranked SEC team if the league’s champion advances to the College Football Playoff. Barring a massive upset, No. 1 Alabama is headed to the playoff, leaving Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M and Florida jockeying for that second spot. Auburn, with three losses like LSU, meets Alabama on Nov. 26, and the Tigers visit three-loss A&M on Thanksgiving night.
The decision does not rest with the Sugar Bowl but is strictly based on the final CFP rankings, released Dec. 4. An SEC team will play the Big 12 champion — or the highest-ranked Big 12 squad if the champion is in the playoff.
“We want to get into a 'New Year’s Six' bowl,” Adams said. “That’s our plan. That’s what we’re focused on. We’re just going to keep winning and taking each game one at a time and keep moving forward.”