LSU looks to bolster national image in Cotton Bowl

Dave Moormann
LSU head coach Les Miles looks on from the sideline.

The beauty of college football bowl games is the rare intersectional confrontations they can present.

For instance, TCU and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl matched a private school from the talent-rich state of Texas against a public institution from the physical Big Ten Conference.

The Capitol One Bowl featured the Southeastern Conference’s most storied program in Alabama against another Big Ten foe in Michigan State. What’s more, Alabama’s Nick Saban once coached the Spartans.

Numerous other interesting matchups can be found throughout the bowl landscape, including the BCS Championship Game between the SEC’s Auburn and the Pac-10’s Oregon.

Friday’s Cotton Bowl is not among those intriguing postseason affairs. Instead, it’s more the renewal of a border war between neighboring states. When LSU and Texas A&M kick off at 7:27 p.m., it will mark the 50th time they have played one another.

In fact the two teams faced each other every year from 1960-75 and again in every season from 1986-95.  Since 1899, they’ve played in every decade but the 1930s and 2000-09.

Texas A&M ushered in the short-lived Gerry DiNardo era with a 33-17 victory over the Tigers in 1995 in what was the last game between the two.

A lot has happened since that time, and so maybe those too young to remember the rivalry, will be captivated by the contest.

LSU has won two BCS national championships since that time and is looking to bolster its national image. A win would give the Tigers an 11-2 record and certain preseason Top 10 status next fall.

Texas A&M’s fall from grace coincided with LSU’s rise, but the Aggies have clawed their way back into prominence with a six-game winning streak that has left them at 9-3.

In the end, although LSU has been paired against an all-too-familiar opponent for some veteran observers, there is still enough at stake to heighten anticipation.

If nothing else, the Cotton Bowl is the only game to be played Friday. What’s more, it will be played in opulent Cowboys Stadium, the billion-dollar palace that Dallas owner Jerry Jones built with his own money and without benefit of taxpayer dollars.

The real intrigue will come in the 2011 season opener when LSU returns to Cowboys Stadium to play Oregon in the first “Cowboys Classic”

If Friday’s game can serve as a dress rehearsal for the camera crews televising the game, maybe it can do the same for the LSU players participating in it. LSU has been practicing in luxurious surroundings since New Year’s Day so it shouldn’t be in awe when game time rolls around either Friday or against Oregon on Sept. 3.

LSU will be without some of its same players next year, including its 16 seniors and most likely consensus All-America junior cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Tigers might even lose junior running back Stevan Ridley, whose alleged academic impropriety left him with a NCAA bowl-game suspension that LSU has appealed.

In any case, LSU’s 2011 will feature both teams from the BCS national championship game. Talk about appealing.

Fans should love that. LSU coach Les Miles isn’t one to back away from a challenge, either. If LSU could somehow win both those games, it would become a serious national contender.

The seed for all that can be planted in Friday’s Cotton Bowl, which makes the game more important than all the others that have been played in the lengthy series, including the 1944 Orange Bowl that LSU won, 19-14.

LSU could use a victory considering that it lost its regular-season finale and dropped the Capitol One Bowl at the end of the 2009 season to put a damper on all that came before it.

The law of averages indicate that LSU should win. Only once in six years has Miles lost back-to-back games.

There’s a possibility that it could happen again, and that’s enough to generate interest in the game.

Stay tuned.