The Tigers await their bowl destination

Kyle Riviere
Michael Ford stiff-arms an Arkansas defender after an 87-yard kickoff return in the Tigers' 20-13 win last Friday. Photo by LSUsports.net

A lackluster 20-13 victory over 4-8 Arkansas wasn't exactly how LSU wanted to end the regular season, but they'll take it. The Tigers have had to repeat the motto "a win is a win" pretty much all year.

They've looked great at times--like when they demolished Washington, a team that beat both Stanford and Oregon State, by the score of 41-3. They beat two teams currently in the top-10 in South Carolina and Texas A&M--with the latter coming on the road.

And, of course, they outplayed and pushed Alabama, a team that could end up winning the national title, to the absolute limit in a heart-breaking 21-17 loss.

However, there have been many games that have left Tiger fans shaking their heads--like the ugly 38-22 win over FBS Towson.

Everyone has been steam-rolling Auburn but yet, LSU barely escaped the War Eagles with a 12-10 win.

There is certainly no shame in losing a close game in The Swamp against a Florida team that is currently ranked No. 4, but it was LSU's worse offensive performance since last year's BCS Championship Game. They finished with six points, eight first downs and just 200 yards of total offense.

Finally, they ended the season with two razor-thin wins over Ole Miss and Arkansas--two teams that have a combined record of 10-14.

However, considering the Tigers brutal schedule and all of the adversity they've faced before and during the season, 10-2 is something to be proud of--even if some of those wins were ugly.

LSU played seven bowl-bound teams this year. That included five ranked opponents--four of which are currently in the top-10.

And when it comes to unrest, no one had it worse than the Tigers this season.

From a team that finished No. 2 last year, they lost the best cornerback in the nation and Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, their best defensive tackle Michael Brockers, three of their top four linebackers, a solid nickelback in Ron Brooks and a very good safety and defensive leader in Brandon Taylor all to the NFL Draft.

And on offense, they lost their best receiver in Reuben Randle.

Before the season even started, Tahj Jones--a guy that was supposed to become one of their starting linebackers--was ruled ineligible.

Then they lost a Heisman finalist and a guy that was the heart and soul of the defense when Tyrann Mathieu got kicked off of the team.

The season got off to a promising start, but then came the injuries.

Alfred Blue emerged early on as the Tigers' best runner, but he blew out his knee in the third game against Idaho. Three starting offensive linemen have been lost throughout the season.

And a linebacking core that was already thin lost emerging freshman Kwon Alexander to a broken ankle.

The good news is that many players emerged and look to be big-time contributers for the Tigers going into the bowl game and into the future.

Zach Mettenberger was panned all year for underachieving, but he has been stellar ever since the Alabama game. Since then, he's averaging 268 yards a contest.

With Blue gone, Jeremy Hill has stepped up to be the Tigers' feature-back. Ever since his emergence against South Carolina, he's averaging 93 yards a game with eight touchdowns.

Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. have gotten better as receivers with every week, and Kevin Minter has shown to be one of the best linebackers in the nation in his first year as a starter for the LSU defense.

As much as the offense has progressed, the regression of the Tiger defensive unit is a concern heading into bowl season.

In the last three games, they've surrendered 330 yards passing per contest.

It's still unknown who or where they'll be playing for their bowl matchup. A BCS bowl is virtually an impossibility. No conference can have more than two teams in the BCS, and those spots will certainly go to the winner of the BCS Championship Game and most likely 11-1 Florida.

Right now, the Cotton Bowl looks to be their likely destination. In that case, they would play Texas if Kansas State and Oklahoma don't fall victim to upsets this weekend.

They always could end up in Orlando for the Capitol One Bowl as well. If so, Michigan looks to be a shoe-in as their opponent.

The last possibility is the Chick-fil-A Bowl. If that's the case, Clemson will await.