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In-state opponents add spice to schedule

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Bradley Dale Peveto has coached from both sidelines at Tiger Stadium, so he understands better than most what it's like to bring a team loaded with native Louisianans to play in the capitol of this football-crazy state.

Now in his second stint as one of Les Miles' assistant coaches at LSU, Peveto brought his entire 120-man roster from Natchitoches to Baton Rouge in 2011 when he was head coach at Northwestern State -- and he made sure to get to the stadium early.

"We got here 45 minutes earlier than we normally got to the game, just to give our guys 45 minutes to take in Tiger Stadium," recalled Peveto, LSU's special teams coordinator. "What I told them was, ‘Look guys, you've got till the two-hour mark before the game. You've got 45 minutes to go out and take pictures, turn cartwheels, do anything you want.'

"I'll tell you what they did, I walked out of the locker room and they were all taking pictures with Coach Miles."

Peveto's Demons went on to lose 49-3 that day to an LSU club that would go on to win the SEC title. But it was an experience of a lifetime for Peveto's team, 70 percent of whom hailed from Louisiana. And the $405,000 guarantee the Demons received for the trip was awfully valuable in helping an in-state FCS program pay the bills.

"That's a credit, I think, to Coach Miles and our administration. I think they're thinking of the state," Peveto said. "Again, with budget cuts -- and I lived it, so I understand how important a dollar is for your athletic program, for your football program. When you can roll into these places and pick up a nice paycheck, it takes care of a lot of people."

Hosting in-state teams for nonconference games is a relatively new scheduling trend at LSU, but it has become a staple of Miles' tenure. Saturday's game against Lousiana-Monroe will be the 12th time since 2005 the Tigers have faced an in-state club.

Under Miles, LSU is 11-0 against the likes of ULM, Lousiana-Lafayette, Northwestern State, McNeese State, Louisiana Tech and Tulane. The games usually aren't particularly competitive -- LSU won by an average score of 41-6 -- but Miles expects ULM to show up for more than its $975,000 paycheck on Saturday.

"If you look back not too long ago, they beat our Arkansas team that was nationally ranked and several years ago a Monroe team beat Alabama, so we are so warned," Miles said. "We recognize and respect that opponent."

Even if the games have rarely been close, LSU accepts some risk in facing in-state teams from smaller conferences. Beating the state's top dog would provide further legitimacy -- and perhaps even a recruiting boost -- for a program like Louisiana-Monroe.

Some SEC programs will barely acknowledge in-state teams from outside the conference. See Arkansas' treatment of Arkansas State or Alabama's testy relationship with UAB (or Troy and South Alabama). Neither SEC school has played an in-state opponent from outside the conference since 1944.

Meanwhile, other SEC schools have a more inclusive scheduling philosophy when it comes to in-state programs. Mississippi State plays an in-state team nearly every year -- its season-opening 49-0 win over with Southern Mississippi marked the fifth time in the last six seasons the Bulldogs played an in-state nonconference game -- and the strategy has been received with enthusiasm by its fans.

"There's no question that you get more people from the visiting school coming in than you would for an out-of-state, nonconference opponent from a similar conference," Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said. "We've played Jackson State and Alcorn State, who are FCS, historically black institutions and they've traveled really well the times they've been to our campus.

"And Southern brought over 5,000 people for our opener. I don't think another team from their league would have traveled that way if it weren't for the connection to being in-state. ... I think it's good for Mississippi whenever two Mississippi schools can get together and play. We don't do it every year, but when we have the opportunity to, we like to take advantage of it."

The opener marked the first time Mississippi State and USM had met since 1990, although it was once an annual rivalry game. The Bulldogs will visit USM next season in the return game for their home-and-home agreement, but Stricklin said he does not anticipate the series becoming a once-a-year fixture again.

A loss by the SEC program would also add some spice to the rivalries against their in-state little brothers. Even if Peveto's team was taking pictures with LSU's coach before the game, the Demons still threw the kitchen sink at the Tigers after kickoff.

Peveto grinned while recalling a fake punt the Demons attempted during the game -- and his current team knows well enough to expect the same kind of fight from ULM on Saturday.

"Any team that we play from Louisiana kind of has a point to prove," LSU running back Kenny Hilliard said. "They come out and play real hard, but we've just got to start fast and finish fast."

Added another native Louisianan, receiver Travin Dural, "Being that we're supposed to be the team in Louisiana, when we play a Louisiana team, it's that [much] more special to show why we are who we are."