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January 1, 2011

The Cotton Bowl - LSU vs Texas A&M (Part 1)

The Cotton Bowl has a better match up than almost any other bowl this year including the BCS games.  After going 3-3, Texas A&M won their last 6 games to finish 9-3.  Alabama and Texas A&M are probably the best two 9-3 teams in the country.  LSU came within two or three plays of playing for the National Championship while going 10-2.   To make this Cotton Bowl pairing even more interesting these teams not only share a border, they have a history and there is still a distinct possibility that Texas A&M may be added to the SEC West at sometime in the future.  On paper, these two teams both look fairly evenly matched.  Both teams ought to have something to say about the National Championship over the next few years.  Any predictions involving what will happen when these two teams meet January 7 would be wild speculation.  So, here is my first shot.

Both LSU and Texas A&M have lost to a common opponent this year - Arkansas.  On a good day Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett could make any team look silly and he had a good day against both LSU and A&M.  Texas A&M lost to Arkansas by 7 points early in the year and LSU lost to Arkansas by 8 points in the last game of the season.  But none of that matters for either team.  Texas A&M has since changed Quarterbacks and transformed into a totally different offense.  A couple of years ago, when LSU won the BCS National Championship, LSU lost their last game to Arkansas.  It didn't seem to negatively impact LSU's performance in the National Championship game.

Which regular season opponents are most like LSU and Texas A&M?  Once again, this is wild speculation but here is what I think about this question.  Texas A&M is probably most like Mississippi State.  Texas A&M's QB is kind of like a cross between Miss. St. QBs Relf and Russell.  A&M QB, Ryan Tannehill  is not as big of a threat to run as Relf but he is a bit better of a pro style QB than Tyler Russell.  Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray is a strong hard-nosed running back with descent speed much like Miss. State running back Vick Ballard.  A&M's offensive line is about the same height and weight as Miss. State's line.  If LSU's defense handles Texas A&M like they did Mississippi State, A&M will be in for a long night.  

Texas A&M's defense is harder to compare to one of LSU's regular season opponents because of a couple of question marks.  I suspect that Texas A&M linebacker and Butkus Award winner Von Miller will be very much like some of the quicker defensive ends that LSU has faced in the SEC this year.  Miller does a very good job of dropping back in pass coverage but  he is more like a quick defensive end.  The question marks are cornerback Coryell Judie who is the closest thing that A&M has to Patrick Peterson and 6-5 300lbs defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie.  Judie has a shoulder injury and will likely have corrective surgery following soon after the Cotton Bowl.  Judie is a quick cornerback and also a very effective kickoff returner.  I do not know the extent of his injury but he is likely to be taking some shots throughout the game from a very hard hitting LSU kickoff return team and LSU's main receivers are fairly big and athletic.  Jerod-Eddie may be an even bigger factor.  Jerod-Edie is tied for most tackles by an Aggie this year and following the Texas-Texas A&M game, November 25, he had foot surgery.  Aggie head coach Mike Sherman expects both players to be ready for the Cotton Bowl so maybe they will be.

Like Texas A&M's defense LSU's offense is a big question mark.  It has been all year.  The biggest question mark all year for LSU has been how to get solid consistent play from the quarterback position and while that is still a question that the Tigers will need to answer, the question for the Cotton Bowl is who the Tigers will start at running back.  Unlike players at Auburn and Ohio State, LSU's 1000-yard running back Stevan Ridley has committed some act so heinous as to disqualify him from participating in the Cotton Bowl.  LSU should have a final answer from an appeal January 4th.  If Ridley loses this appeal, LSU will certainly miss him.  However, LSU has several excellent backup running backs eager for the chance.  Two years ago LSU was looking at three running back recruits - Trent Richardson, Mike Ford, and Christine Michael.  It is widely believed that when given the choice, LSU chose Ford over Michael.  Unfortunately for the Aggies, co-starting A&M running back Christine Michael's was lost to injury and Ridely's redshirt freshman backup is Mike Ford.  Ford became the backup after injury to true freshman backup Alfred Blue who may also see playing time if Ridley remains ineligible and true freshman running back Spencer Ware seems on the verge of his consensus five star recruiting ranking.  To add to potential Aggie woes, LSU lost two starting offensive linemen that seem to now be at full strength and by all reports are eager to play in the Cotton bowl.  The biggest question for LSU's offense is still Quarterback.

On defense, LSU most resembles Nebraska or maybe Oklahoma State.  As well as LSU's defense has played this year, the comparison may actually be an insult to the Tigers.  One of the most interesting match ups in the Cotton Bowl will be Texas A&M's receivers versus LSU's secondary.  I think LSU's cornerbacks, Mo Claiborne and Patrick Peterson, have the edge versus some very talented Aggie receivers.  Jeff Fuller is the top Aggie wide receiver.  Fuller is 6-4  200lbs, runs solid routes and has great hands.  Fuller will probably be a very good NFL receiver but he is no better that Alabama's Julio Jones or Georgia's A.J. Green. While LSU did not play Georgia this year, Patrick Peterson has played very well against Green in the past and Jones for the last two years.  Fuller is one of those kind of receivers, so it should be a battle.  Aggie wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu is also a very good "SEC type" receiver that warrants close coverage but LSU's defensive backs should be up to the task.  Probably the most dangerous wide receiver that A&M has is Ryan Swope.  With the other two athletic wide receivers Swope sometimes seems to come out of nowhere with a solid reception.  Aggie running back, Cyrus Gray, has had 6 straight games with 100 yards or more. In his last game against Texas, Gray had 223 yards on 27 attempts for an 8.3 yards a touch average.  LSU had better not underestimate this Texas A&M team.

Who do I think will win and why?  I think LSU will win this game but if LSU plays like they have all year it will be close and come down to the last minute.  This Texas A&M team is better than any of the Big Ten teams that LSU would likely have faced had they not been selected by the Cotton Bowl.  Regardless of the outcome both of these teams real look set to dominate next year.  

LSU will win because:

  1. LSU has had time to heal from less serious bumps and bruises that occurred during a really physical SEC West run.  LSU will miss Sam Montgomery and Brandon Taylor but the rest of the team should be much more fresh than they were at the end of the season.
  2. Almost no one prepares a team for a bowl as well as Les Miles.  A 2-point loss to Joe Paterno's Penn. State team last year is Miles' only bowl loss as an LSU head coach.
  3. Texas A&M has big, strong, fast, talented players but LSU has faced and defeated teams with even better athletes.  
  4. The SEC West is the dominate group of teams in the country this year and LSU has only lost twice this year and only to teams in the SEC West.
LSU has beaten North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Miss.State, West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, McNeese State, Alabama, ULM, and Ole Miss.  LSU lost to Auburn by 7 points and Arkansas by 8 points. LSU was on the road in both of these losses.  Both of these teams are playing in BCS games. Auburn is playing for the National Championship.  LSU's offense has yet to play to their potential.  Eight of the teams that LSU played this year are playing in or have already played in bowls this year.  Three teams LSU beat, played today (Jan. 1) Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi State averaged 46 points and allow an average of 15 points in their bowl victories.

Texas A&M has beaten Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor, Nebraska, and Texas.  A&M lost to Oklahoma State by 3 points, Arkansas by 7 points, and Missouri by 21 points.  Texas A&M has not lost a game since October 16th.  Texas A&M tied for the lead in the Big 12 South.  The only reason that A&M did not play for the Big 12 Championship was because after a 3-3 start, A&M had a difficult time getting a ranking in the polls that reflected the team's 6-0 rest of the season success.  Texas A&M is the Alabama of the Big 12.  Despite the details of who and when surrounding the losses, three losses are too many to be considered highly in the polls in conferences like the SEC and the Big 12.  Texas A&M is a young team eager to get noticed.  

LSU had better not underestimate the Aggies.  The Tigers should realize that this game is important and from all reports they are taking this game very seriously.

For those of you that are wondering - I plan on writing each day until the Cotton Bowl and plan on a post game analysis.


Anonymous said...

A Fired up team that is what I expect from Texas A & M..This is a big show on TV to millions of Americans Jan 7.
Miss State,Alabama,Florida,looked like they wanted to win and play football in the Bowl game they won.
Its up to our LSU players now..Do they want to play good,smart,and with fire on a big stage in the Cotton Bowl.
Two good college football team giving it their best shot.

Anonymous said...

This Cotton Bowl Stadium is a very big deal..Really made for Television.
A giant TV screen from 20 yard-line to 20 yard-line..A championship stadium.
I hope the LSU tigers are up to the big time show.

Anonymous said...

Texas A&M has a better coach then LSU's grass eater.
Better Band,School,football team,an fans.
Texas is Big time and Louisiana is nothing more then a lot of bad roads an hwy.
Texas A&M is Class,LSU not so much.

Anonymous said...

Going to the game and need a place to pre-party? Join ESPN at the Captain Morgan Tailgate Zone at 1010 Collins - Entertainment & Event Center (across from Cowboys Stadium) for the 2011 AT&T COTTON BOWL PRE-GAME PARTY! Tickets are just $25 and include Unlimited BBQ Buffet & Bottomless Beer, a Mechanical Bull, LIVE Music, ESPN Radio & much more! Tickets are available, online, at or at the door, on the day of the event. Party is from 3-7pm, so come early and wear your team colors!!!

CT Sports Picks said...

this is one of the better cotton bowl matchups that I can remember. I have LSU -3, think they are too fast and the SEC once again reigns supreme!

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