BATON ROUGE, La. — Coach Ed Orgeron makes it clear that he doesn't see LSU's regular-season finale at Texas A&M on Saturday as just another game on the schedule.
While LSU's hopes of sneaking into the College Football Playoff are slim at best, a victory would give the No. 8 Tigers their first 10-win regular season in six years while virtually assuring LSU a spot in a prestigious "New Year's Six" bowl game. The Tigers have not participated in one of these upper-tier post-season games since losing to Alabama in the national title game at the end of the 2011 season.
"Obviously, this is a very big game for our program," Orgeron said. "Getting ten wins and playing in a New Year's Six bowl would be a huge step in building a championship program and getting LSU where it needs to be.
"A win this week would give us a chance to win 11 games. You have to take it a step at a time. I remember at Southern Cal that we went 6-6 and then 11-2. The next year we were (national) champions."
An additional story line exists in this game against the Aggies, who are attempting to finish with a winning Southeastern Conference record for the first time since 2012. First-year Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was a candidate to be former LSU coach Les Miles' replacement a few years ago.
There was much talk about Fisher, a former Tigers offensive coordinator under Nick Saban and Miles from 2000-06, being hired at the end of the 2015 regular season. However, LSU officials decided to retain Miles.
Four games into the 2016 season, Miles was fired. Fisher and current Texas coach Tom Herman were widely reported to be ahead of Orgeron on LSU's wish list at that time. Orgeron recalled the circumstances when the Tigers met the Aggies two years ago in College Station.
"I'm a defensive lineman," Orgeron said. "I know that it is not always the first one who gets the date. Things happen for a reason. Two years ago when we played at Texas A&M, I didn't know what was going to happen.
"On Wednesday, it was Jimbo Fisher. On Thursday, it was Tom Herman. On Saturday, Ed Orgeron got the job. I see why (LSU) wanted Jimbo Fisher. He's an excellent coach. I see why (LSU) wanted Tom Herman. He's an excellent coach. I'm glad I am here. I am happy to have the job."
The Tigers defeated the Aggies 54-39 on Thanksgiving night in College Station in 2016. Two days later, Orgeron was promoted from interim head coach to full-time head coach. Since that day, Orgeron has led LSU to a 19-6 record.
Besides needing a victory to play on New Year's Day, the Tigers will attempt to extend their seven-game winning streak against Texas A&M. LSU defeated the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl following the 2010 season and beat them in all six meetings since they joined the SEC.
"Whether they have beaten us or we have beaten them will mean nothing for the game this week," Orgeron said. "We won't talk about going to a New Year's Day bowl game. I don't need to talk about that. This is our final game and we have to finish strong.
Nobody gave us a chance in August...— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) November 19, 2018
Now we're fighting for 10 wins and even more. pic.twitter.com/3HQzvCDApz
"It is about playing Texas A&M, playing LSU ball and being physical. We have to win the game in the trenches. We have done it on the road (at Auburn) and we haven't done it on the road (at Florida). This is a critical game. We have to play like a top-ten team."
Orgeron acknowledged that Texas A&M under Fisher has a different mindset than the one under former coach Kevin Sumlin.
"This is a completely different Texas A&M team," Orgeron said. "Our players will see the film and understand they are not the team we've been beating the last few years. They are a much more physical team on both sides of the ball."
Each year, two of the New Year's Six bowls double as CFP semifinals — the Cotton and Orange bowls this season. The best of the rest will play in the lucrative Fiesta, Peach, Rose and Sugar bowls. The last time LSU played in the Peach Bowl in 2012 (losing to Clemson), that game was not yet part of the six bowls that have been in the CFP rotation since the four-team playoff's inaugural season in 2014.