NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (7-5) vs. LSU TIGERS (8-4)
DEC. 30, 3 P.M. ET, LP FIELD, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (ESPN)
NOTRE DAME BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: A 6-0 start gave the Fighting Irish plenty to be excited about, particularly a 31-0 win in their last meeting with Michigan in Week 2. A last-second, fourth-down touchdown pass from Everett Golson to Ben Koyack to beat rival Stanford was huge, too. This sounds like faint praise, but a 31-27 loss to then-No. 2 Florida State -- a game that saw Golson go punch-for-punch with 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston and ended with a go-ahead TD being called back because of penalty -- might have earned Notre Dame more respect nationally than any of its six wins prior to that contest.
Season lowlights: Where to begin? Notre Dame followed that 6-0 start by losing five of its last six, including its final four. The Irish were decimated by injuries defensively, doomed by the simplest of special teams miscues and enter bowl season with a quarterback controversy after Golson's regression led to Malik Zaire entering the 49-14 loss to USC in the finale. A loss like that to the Irish's archival won't sit well, but more perplexing is a 43-40 home overtime loss to a Northwestern team that finished 5-7.
Player to watch: He has been far from consistent, but Will Fuller has emerged as the Irish's best offensive weapon, hauling in 71 passes for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns (tied for second nationally). There were questions about who would emerge as the Irish's No. 1 target after DaVaris Daniels' season-long suspension, and Fuller, a sophomore, answered them emphatically early.
Motivation factor: At this point it is about pride for Notre Dame. Do the Irish really want to end the season with five straight losses? Do they really want to become the first Brian Kelly team that fails to reach the eight-win total? On top of that, this is a young team that has most of its starters and key reserves returning next season, when expectations were supposed to be very high. Instead, these same characters could be facing a long, unpleasant offseason if their bowl performance is anything like their final month performance. -- Matt Fortuna
Season highlights: LSU fans rushed the field after the Tigers’ late defensive stand against Ole Miss, moments after LSU scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass from Anthony Jennings to tight end Logan Stokes. LSU’s 10-7 win dealt the Rebels their first loss of the season and created optimism in Baton Rouge after the young Tigers got off to an uneven start.
Season lowlights: Take your pick between a 17-0 loss at Arkansas in which LSU’s offense generated just 123 yards or a 41-7 loss at Auburn in which the Tigers failed to convert on a single third down. Both games served as examples of how bad LSU’s offense could look at times with inexperienced quarterbacks Jennings and Brandon Harris struggling to produce consistent play.
Player to watch: Leonard Fournette. The nation’s top overall recruit generated Heisman Trophy buzz before he had even played in a college game. He never really figured into that conversation after a quiet debut performance against Wisconsin. But the freshman running back still had a strong first season (891 rushing yards, eight touchdowns), capped by a season-high 146 yards in the Tigers’ regular-season finale against Texas A&M.
Motivation factor: Les Miles’ teams rarely seem to struggle with motivation, although Tigers fans who watched the Auburn and Arkansas games might disagree with that assessment. This is a young team that continues to develop, though, and they will be looking to head into what should be an improved 2015 by closing out this roller-coaster season with a victory. -- David Ching