For LSU, Chick-fil-A has BCS feel

BATON ROUGE, La. -- All told, it seems most around LSU feel pleased to go the Chick-fil-A bowl.

Now, it's about getting the fans excited too.

LSU coach Les Miles said during a Wednesday news conference that the Chick-fil-A bowl game -- between his No. 8 Tigers and No. 14 Clemson in a matchup of 10-2 teams -- is one of the better bowl pairings of the season. He added that with several players from the area, Atlanta is a place where his guys "love to play" and that Clemson is an opponent they can embrace.

And both Miles and athletic director Joe Alleva seemed to endorse Chick-fil-A Bowl CEO Gary Stokan's claims that their bowl is "BCS without the letters" and is consistently rated as one of the top three or four bowls in terms of how it's run -- regardless of where it is in the bowl pecking order.

Stokan seemed to find the talk of possible fan apathy quite obscure.

He said they are expecting their 17th straight Chick-fil-A Bowl sellout, the second longest streak of bowl sellouts behind the Rose Bowl. He said the bowl could sell out by Dec. 17. The New Year's Eve game has little competition for sports TV audience and he said LSU's 2005 win over Miami is one of the highest rated games in ESPN television history.

If there's dissatisfaction with LSU's bowl placement, you didn't see it Wednesday. Alleva and Miles seemed pleased enough and the big winner is the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which managed to land a 10-game winner from the SEC despite being sixth in the pecking order. One late touchdown by Alabama was all that kept LSU from winning the SEC West, playing for the SEC championship and possibly for the national championship.

"We are ecstatic to have LSU," Stokan said.

If he has his way, Atlanta will become a frequent home of national title contenders.

The city is making a bid to host semifinal and national championship games starting in 2014 when college football goes to a four-team playoff. Atlanta is close to getting a new stadium to replace the Georgia Dome, a 20-year-old former Olympic Games venue in good condition but already the 10th-oldest in the NFL. With its facilities, its city and its ambition, The Chick-fil-A bowl already doesn't feel like a bowl that would only get the No. 5 or No. 6 team in the SEC.

With LSU, which played for a national championship just a season ago, in a matchup of 10-2 teams, as its SEC representative this season, it's already getting that BCS feel.

Stokan also sold his game's matchup. Clemson's offense, led by ACC Offensive Player of the Year Tajh Boyd, is ranked No. 9 in the nation in yardage. LSU's defense, led by Georgia native Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and South Carolina native Sam Montgomery at defensive end, is ranked 11th in the country in yardage allowed. On the other side of the ball, LSU's offense will be led by Georgia native Zach Mettenberger.

It sounds like a big-time pairing, even if it falls a day short of New Year's Day -- when, traditionally, the "power" bowls such as the BCS games begin.

If there is anybody left that needs convincing of that, it's a segment of fans.

The Chick-fil-A matches up the No. 5 team from the SEC vs. the No. 2 team from the ACC. In most years, including this one, the SEC team is the No. 6 team in the pecking order when two SEC teams go to BCS bowls.

The fact that LSU slipped to the No. 6 spot has miffed some Tigers fans. LSU finished at 6-2 in the SEC, the same as South Carolina and Texas A&M, who both also finished 10-2 overall. The Tigers outrank both teams, though, having beaten the Aggies (No. 9) and the Gamecocks (No. 10).

Yet, A&M got the Cotton Bowl invitation that goes to the No. 2 or 3 team from the SEC and South Carolina got the Outback Bowl, the No. 4 bowl in the SEC pecking order.

That, mixed with the fact that LSU will be making its fifth trip to Atlanta since 1996, created some antipathy toward the way the bowls lined up.

Alleva and Miles each made pitches to LSU fans who might not be convinced. Alleva said LSU fans should "come out and support the LSU players the way they deserve to be supported."

Miles had a more outside-the-box thought: that New Year's Eve in Atlanta can be fun, especially when it involves watching the Tigers with time to "freshen up, then find a place to twirl the missus (by midnight)," he said.