Tigers and Aggies set to clash
LSU's Peterson key to stopping Texas A&M
LSU had the misfortune of playing in the same conference as top-ranked Auburn, which won the SEC and earned the league's automatic berth to a BCS bowl.
Texas A&M finished in a first-place tie in the Big 12 South, but its BCS fate was decided by a computer.
These programs renew their rivalry in the 75th edition of the Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium on Friday night.
The 11th-ranked Tigers went 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC West, but are in the same division as Auburn, which went 13-0 - 8-0 in conference play - to set up a meeting with Oregon for the national title.
LSU's only losses came at then-No. 5 Auburn and at then-No. 12 Arkansas. The 31-23 defeat to the Razorbacks in the regular-season finale Nov. 27 ended any chance for a BCS bowl appearance.
"We are very excited about going to Dallas for the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic," director of athletics and vice chancellor Joe Alleva told LSU's official website. "Once it looked like we were out of the running for a BCS bowl game, we turned our attention to Dallas and getting into the Cotton Bowl.
"This is the bowl that our players and coaches wanted to play in."
LSU's last appearance in the Cotton Bowl came Jan. 1, 2003 - a 35-20 loss to Texas - following a 37-year absence. The Tigers are 2-1-1 in the event.
After the 2003 season, current LSU coach Les Miles took Oklahoma State to the Cotton Bowl and lost 31-28 to Mississippi.
"The Cotton Bowl is one of the all-time great college bowl games and to be able to participate in what is the 75th anniversary of this legendary game will be special for our team," Miles said. "I've been here before as a head coach so I know firsthand what a first-class bowl this is.
"The atmosphere is no different than if you were playing in the national championship game. ... Texas A&M has an outstanding program and we are looking forward to renewing our long-standing rivalry with them."
The Tigers will face No. 18 Texas A&M (9-3) for the first time since 1995. The rivalry dates to 1899, and the Aggies have won the last five matchups but trail 26-20-3 in the series. They last met in a bowl in the 1944 Orange, won 19-14 by LSU.
"Any time you play a team outside your conference, especially a team the caliber of Texas A&M, gets you fired up," running back Stevan Ridley said. "They come from a competitive conference in the Big 12 and I'm sure they will pack the place with their fans nearby."
The Aggies finished 6-2 against that competition in the Big 12, tying Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for the top spot in the South. The Sooners, though, got into the conference title game with the help of a BCS standings tiebreaker.
Texas A&M defeated Oklahoma 33-19 and beat the other participant in the Big 12 title game, Nebraska, 9-6. The Aggies ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak.
"We have played one of the toughest schedules in the country and it is appropriate we will face a great challenge from a quality LSU program," director of athletics Bill Byrne said. "It should make for one of the best matchups in the bowl season."
Texas A&M's late-season surge came after coach Mike Sherman benched starting quarterback Jerrod Johnson for Ryan Tannehill following a 3-3 start.
Tannehill, who had been one of the Aggies' best receivers while doubling as the backup QB, completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 1,409 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions over the final six games.
A change in the backfield also helped, as Cyrus Gray took over for starting tailback Christine Michael after he broke his leg in October.
Gray finished with six consecutive 100-yard games and ran for 223 in a 24-17 win against Texas in the regular-season finale Nov. 25.
Von Miller had a key interception in the final minutes of that game, and the Texas A&M senior won the Butkus Award as college football's best linebacker. He led the Big 12 in sacks for the second straight season with 9 1/2.
Miller and the Aggies will be trying to stop an LSU offense that has struggled. The Tigers are 107th in the FBS with 155.4 passing yards per game and 92nd in total offense with an average of 332.6.
They are led on the ground by Ridley, who rushed for 1,042 yards and 14 touchdowns. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee split time at quarterback, and they combined for 1,826 yards with six TDs and 10 INTs.
LSU's defense, however, has been stellar. The Tigers are eighth in total defense (301.7), tied for ninth in scoring defense (17.8) and 10th against the pass (165.8).
Cornerback Patrick Peterson won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the top defensive player.
"We get to renew a rivalry with a great Texas A&M team. I watched them against Texas and they are a great team with a traditional offense but can still run spread and I-formation," Peterson said.
LSU, 21-19-1 in bowl games, is making its school-record 11th straight postseason appearance. The Aggies are making their 12th trip to the Cotton Bowl (4-7) and are 13-18 in bowl appearances, losing four straight and eight of nine.
No. 11 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 18 Texas A&M (9-3), 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday (Fox)
•Series Record: LSU leads 26-20-3.
•Last Meeting: Texas A&M 33-17, 1995.
What’s at Stake
LSU is going for its sixth 11-win season, and fourth under sixth-year coach Les Miles, whose name is again being mentioned for the coaching vacancy at Michigan, his alma mater. Texas A&M, playing in January for the first time since the 2005 Cotton Bowl, has a six-game winning streak since losing three in a row, a stretch that included a loss to Arkansas in Cowboys Stadium.
Texas A&M WRs Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller vs. LSU All-American CB Patrick Peterson. Swope set an Aggies record with 67 catches this season while Fuller has 65 catches and 12 TDs. Peterson, a junior likely playing his last game before going to the NFL, is the only player in LSU history with touchdowns on an interception return, a blocked field goal and a punt return.
Players to Watch
LSU: RB Stevan Ridley wasn't sure he'd be able to play in the Cotton Bowl until this week, when the NCAA cleared his eligibility after an unspecificed “one-time” academic violation. He leads the Tigers with 1,042 yards rushing and 14 TDs, including eight in the last four games.
Texas A&M: All-America LB Von Miller led the Big 12 with 9 1/2 sacks during the regular season. Miller has sacks in five consecutive games, a stretch during which he also forced three fumbles and averaged seven tackles a game.
Facts and Figures
Ryan Tannehill is 5-0 since taking over as Texas A&M's starting quarterback. The last Aggies quarterback to win his first five games was Bucky Richardson, whose streak included the 1988 Cotton Bowl. ... The 50th meeting of border rivals will be their first since 1995. Before they quit playing regularly, it was often the season opener. Their only bowl matchup was LSU's 19-14 win in the 1944 Orange Bowl. ... LSU's next game will also be at Cowboys Stadium. The Tigers open the 2011 season against Oregon. ... The Cotton Bowl marks its 75th anniversary with its latest game ever - in date and the prime-time kickoff.
The Associated Press also contributed to this story.