LSU has plenty of reasons to take UCF seriously

McShay breaks down the best prospects in the Fiesta Bowl (1:02)

Todd McShay discusses who the best NFL prospects are in the Fiesta Bowl, including LSU linebacker Devin White. (1:02)

Say what you want about the dirty details of a 25-game UCF winning streak that includes only three victories over Power 5 competition.

LSU isn't listening.

"They're a good football team," coach Ed Orgeron said after his Tigers arrived in Arizona ahead of the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (1 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN). "But so are we."

A year after UCF listened to talk that it got something short of Auburn's best in a 34-27 Peach Bowl win over the other Tigers of the SEC West, No. 11 LSU will have no problem with motivation on New Year's Day.

So say Orgeron and his players; and there are reasons aplenty -- beyond the incentive to snap an FBS-best run of victories -- in this first LSU visit to the Fiesta Bowl, the 50th bowl game for the program and the longest postseason distance traveled from Baton Rouge.

For instance:

• LSU, 9-3 after a seven-overtime 74-72 loss at Texas A&M in the regular-season finale, last won 10 games in 2013. The milestone is viewed as important for the Tigers in their chase of Alabama, the only SEC West team to reach double-digit wins in 2018.

Further, a 10th win in Orgeron's second full season as head coach would show measured progress for a program that won 10 or more games nine times in 13 years before this ongoing drought.

• The big stage in bowl season has eluded LSU of late. Despite a 19-year bowl streak -- fourth best nationally -- the Fiesta will mark the Tigers' first New Year's Six appearance in the College Football Playoff era.

LSU last played in a postseason game of this caliber following the 2011 season, losing in the BCS championship game to Alabama. And it has been 11 years since the Tigers last won a first-tier bowl game.

• The opportunity to beat a top-10 foe doesn't come around often -- unless, that is, you're talking about LSU this season. The Tigers have defeated three teams ranked at kickoff in the top 10 -- Miami, Auburn and Georgia. UCF enters the game in Glendale, Arizona, at No. 8.

LSU has never beaten four top-10 teams in a season. It also can match the 2007 national title team with five wins over ranked competition, a figure that rates second in school history.

• With a victory over the Knights, LSU can remain unbeaten in nine games after a loss under Orgeron. The Tigers have lived with the sour taste of the loss to Texas A&M since Nov. 24.

"Obviously, we should have won that game," Orgeron said this month, likely a veiled reference to several officiating decisions that extended the game for the Aggies. "So, that's enough motivation for us right there."

There's also the chance to earn a 10th victory for quarterback Joe Burrow, who played every offensive snap for the Tigers against A&M, accounting for 370 yards and six touchdowns while rushing 29 times. Only Zach Mettenberger in 2012 won 10 games for LSU in his debut season as the starting QB.

And Nick Brossette needs 78 yards to give the Tigers a 1,000-yard rusher for the sixth straight season.

Above the numbers and milestones, how about Devin White?

Simply with his decision to play in this game, the Butkus Award winner perhaps best illustrated the Tigers' desire to finish with a victory. White, No. 3 on Mel Kiper's Big Board for the 2019 NFL draft, has yet to announce a decision on his final year of college eligibility.

Trends indicate LSU must rush the ball effectively against UCF. Primarily, a strong running game would work to keep the football away from the Knights' warp-speed offense.

LSU is 7-0 this year when outrushing its opponent and 15-1 under Orgeron when a runner reaches 100 yards. UCF allows 227.4 rushing yards per game, 117th nationally.

"They're more physical than what people give them credit for," Burrow told reporters this month.

So it seemed in the Knights' last matchup with the SEC. Auburn entered the postseason a year ago with a better running game, statistically, than LSU this season. UCF then outrushed those Tigers 169 yards to 90 -- fewer yards on the ground than Auburn gained against every SEC foe it played in 2017.

"Obviously, they have built a great winning culture there," Orgeron said. "And with a change of coaches, it seems like they haven't skipped a beat."

Orgeron, in fact, in his first game as head coach at LSU in 2016 matched against current UCF head coach Josh Heupel, who was then the offensive coordinator at Missouri. LSU won 42-7, but only after Mizzou's offensive pace startled the LSU coaches, according to Orgeron.

LSU will play short-handed on defense against UCF. All-America cornerback Greedy Williams and nose tackle Ed Alexander are skipping the game to concentrate on preparation for the NFL draft.

Tigers cornerback Kristian Fulton (ankle surgery), cornerback Kelvin Joseph (suspension) and defensive end Breiden Fehoko (arm surgery) also will not play. And linebacker Jacob Phillips must sit for the first half after he was ejected for targeting against Texas A&M.