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Nothing to lose for LSU, plenty to lose for UT

It is symbolically apt that the team holding the chance to turn the Bowl Championship Series into a boiling kettle of political chaos, backbiting and skullduggery is the LSU Tigers.

Nobody does political chaos, backbiting and skullduggery better than Louisiana, which often comports itself more like a banana republic than a member of the union.

This is the state that produced Kingfish Huey Long. It produced Klansman David Duke. It produced Edwin Edwards, who is among the more famously corrupt governors in recent American history. (Even after Edwards was up to his armpits in trouble, the four-term governor once boasted that the only way he could lose an election was "if I get caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.")

Controversy is natural in Louisiana as gumbo and zydeco.

When the going gets weird, Louisianans are in their element. And the going could get extremely weird in the Georgia Dome Saturday night. If LSU upsets Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference championship game, it upsets the BCS apple cart, too.

The Volunteers are blocking the path to the Rose Bowl for Nebraska, Colorado and the wishful thinkers at Oregon. It would spur intense public speculation, reaction and pontification if LSU takes them out and opens a vacuum.

So suddenly the Bayou Bengals have new and ardent fans in Boulder, Lincoln and Eugene. Factor in everybody nationwide who thinks the BCS stinks, and LSU is suddenly America's Team.

Now comes the question: Can LSU deliver the sucker punch to SEC commissioner Roy Kramer -- the Dr. Frankenstein who created both monsters in question, the league title game and the BCS standings? Can LSU beat the Vols and continue wreaking underdog havoc on the national title chase?

Beware the spoilers, who have coalesced after an underachieving start. The Tigers head to Atlanta brimming with confidence and bristling at their second-fiddle status.

"We're going through what Tennessee went through last week," said LSU linebacker Trev Faulk. "Then, all people wanted to talk about was how Florida just had to get past them to get to the Rose Bowl. Now all people are talking about is Tennessee getting there. It's a tremendous disrespect. Nobody thinks we have a chance to win the game, but that's fine. That's the role we've taken on and we're embracing it."

Said stellar receiver Josh Reed: "Hopefully we can go into Atlanta and do the same thing to Tennessee that they did to Florida when they were the underdog."

If we've learned anything this season, it's this: Big dogs should embrace the 11-game schedule. They tend to have nothing to gain and everything to lose from playing an extra game.

Ask Colorado. Had the Buffaloes not scheduled Fresno State in one of those August "classics," they'd have just one loss and be headed to Pasadena to play Miami for all the goods.

Ask Texas. The Big 12 championship game loss to Colorado took a potential Rose Bowl bid and hooked the Horns up with a lesser bowl.

Now ask Tennessee, which faces the same scenario in the SEC title game that Texas did in the Big 12.

"The thing that is tough about our conference is that you have to win it twice," Vols coach Phil Fulmer said. "You have to win the regular season, then the championship game."

And along the way the Vols have to beat LSU twice. They beat them the first time in September in Knoxville, 26-18, as receiver Kelley Washington ran wild, catching 11 passes for 256 yards.

At the time Washington appeared to be stamping himself as the premier receiver in the league. Now, Reed has snatched back that title and perhaps established himself as the No. 1 receiver in the nation.

Reed leads America in receiving yards. Only once this season has he been held to fewer than 120 yards in a game, and he had an absurd 293 yards on 19 catches against Alabama. He had 120 receiving yards in little more than a quarter in the SEC West-clinching win over Auburn last Saturday.

Reed, quarterback Rohan Davey (a school-record 3,265 yards passing) and running back LaBrandon Toefield (SEC record-tying 19 rushing touchdowns) have done a fine college imitation of Marvin Harrison, Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James. They've helped offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher construct the most potent attack in LSU history, breaking a number of records from the 1980s on the way to an 8-3 record, which includes four straight wins. The Tigers are averaging 34 points over their last seven games.

The one game the offense couldn't consistently move was against Tennessee. The Volunteers' front seven swallowed the LSU running game, holding it to a season-low 29 yards and spending the entire night in front of Davey's facemask.

"The key for us will be to find a way to run the ball against them," said coach Nick Saban. "We need to get on track right away and establish a running game so our passing game will open up."

Saban provides the spicy side dish to the BCS stew already coming to a rapid boil. He's rumored as a possible candidate to replace Jim Mora with the Indianapolis Colts, should Mora get whacked at season's end.

As if college football needed another element of chaos to consider this Saturday in Atlanta. But, hey, Louisianans are used to it.