No. 11 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 18 Texas A&M (9-3)Friday, 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
Reason to watch: Les Miles is contemplating trick plays and clock management. Need we say more? There's potential for almost anything when the Mad Hatter is on the sidelines -- or at the press conference. Beyond that, one of the season's last bowl games features an intriguing matchup between ranked opponents and old border rivals. In any other year -- or this year, in any other division -- LSU might have been in a BCS bowl. Likewise, Texas A&M played better in the second half of the season than any other Big 12 team -- the Aggies beat Big 12 Championship participants Oklahoma and Nebraska -- only to fall victim to the league's dreaded, three-way BCS tie-breaker.
Keep an eye on: Ryan Tannehill. Texas A&M's season took off when Mike Sherman benched Jerrod Johnson, the Big 12's preseason offensive player of the year, because of a trend of costly mistakes that had led to three straight losses (to be fair, Johnson never appeared fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery). Tannehill, a 6-foot-4, 219-pound junior, had spent most of the last two seasons playing wide receiver while also listed as Johnson's backup. Once A&M made the switch, Tannehill led the Aggies to six straight wins (five as a starter). He completed 65.3 percent of his passes and, while not as athletic as Johnson, was mobile enough to keep defenses honest.
Did you know: This is the 50th meeting between LSU and Texas A&M, which haven't met since 1995. There are no plans to rekindle the rivalry beyond the bowl game. A&M has a nonconference series with Arkansas for the next eight years (all at Cowboys Stadium, which is also home of the Cotton Bowl). For a few days last summer, it appeared A&M might be headed to the SEC, which would have meant the rivalry's resumption. Instead, the Cotton Bowl will provide bragging rights for the foreseeable future.
Final analysis: Les Miles' Tigers were a couple of plays away from another BCS bowl appearance. But there's a reason they didn't make those plays. LSU struggled all season to put up points, ranking 92nd nationally in total offense and 107th in passing. It helps that running back Stevan Ridley, initial ruled academically ineligible, has been reinstated, but Texas A&M's defense is very good at run-stopping. The Aggies' three-game losing skid came to Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma State -- ranked teams that won at least 10 games. During the six-game winning streak, Tannehill's performance has been key, but so has a commitment to a faster pace and an improved running game led by junior running back Cyrus Gray (1,033 yards, including six consecutive 100-yard rushing games). A&M averaged 30 more rushing yards during the winning streak.
The pick: Texas A&M 30, LSU 27
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
LSU: CB Patrick Peterson* -- Peterson is rated as one of the top defensive backs in the nation and is also a dynamic return specialist. He possesses the size to be a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL but needs to polish the details of his game before he'll be ready to start at the next level. His game-impacting skills on special teams add to his already high draft grade. He's expected to enter the draft and will be an early pick in April. Grade: First-round prospect.
Texas A&M: OLB-DE Von Miller --Miller struggled through the early part of the season with an ankle injury but was playing as well as any linebacker in the nation by November. He's a tremendous pass rusher and can also play in space, covering the pass or defending the run. Miller moves toward the draft as the most complete 3-4 outside linebacker prospect who will be available. Grade: First-round prospect.
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