Posted by Adam Jacobi
The Basics: Texas A&M (9-3) vs. LSU (10-2), Jan 7., 8:00 ET
Why You Should Watch: If you're going to the game, you can enjoy the spectacle and experience that is Jerry Jones' masterpiece, Cowboys Stadium. Of course, if you're going, you don't need to be told why to watch, so you can probably click to another article now. EVERYBODY ELSE: Watch this game. Not only is it the only college football game of the day, but its bookends are Thursday's Miami University - Middle Tennessee State pillow fight and tomorrow's clash of the titans between Pittsburgh and Kentucky. Two 6-6 teams facing two teams replacing their coaches. Yeah, you'll want to watch A&M-LSU.
But past all that, LSU has been one of the most must-see teams of the season, with head coach Les Miles turning his endgames into odd exhibitions of anarchy and chaos that end up working out 60% of the time. Imagine this: one-possession game in either favor, ball at either 40-yard line, and 3:45 left on the clock. Are you turning this game off? Of course you're not.
Keys to Victory for LSU: For all the disorder that has characterized the 2010 season, one immutable constant has been LSU's stingy defense. When the Tigers haven't been facing the T-1000 Cam Newton Cyborg, they've been shutting down opponents at prodigious rates; on the entire season, LSU is tenth in the nation in scoring defense and eighth in overall defense, while ranking in the top 20 in passing efficiency defense, rushing defense, sacks, and tackles for loss. This team does not have systemic deficiencies on defense.
That's good, because the Tigers will be tested on defense by a physically talented but inconsistent Aggie offense. Texas A&M has achieved more offensive balance with Ryan Tannehill at QB than when Jerrod Johnson was healthy, but while that's usually just a euphemism for "he's a worse quarterback," Tannehill is actually competent under center, and it's no surprise that A&M has gone on a six-game winning streak (including wins against four bowl teams) with him back there. If the LSU secondary can force mistakes and turnovers, the Tigers will be in good shape, but that's easier said than done; Tannehill hasn't thrown a pick in over 100 straight attempts. That streak may come to an end tonight, but it's not like 13-30 with 4 INTs is a plausible final line.
Keys to Victory for Texas A&M: For all the struggling the Aggies did against Nebraska 's defense in that 9-6 atrocity, they did manage 19 first downs in the affair, and odds are that if the Aggies replicate that effort in moving the chains, they'll score enough to stay in the game for four quarters. And, again, that's when the fun begins when Les Miles is on the other sideline.
The real challenge, then, is going to be getting the ground game going with Cyrus Gray against elite front-level defenders like Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard -- two guys who have made running between the tackles a nightmare for opponents all season long. The Aggies aren't exactly a spread-and-shred type of team, so they'll have to get their yards by grinding and breaking tackles, or anything else in their repertoire to keep LSU from sitting back and taking away the passing game. Want to see how this game goes for Texas A&M? Just watch where the point of attack moves during the first quarter; if Nevis and company are in the backfield with any regularity, it's going to be a long day for the Aggies.
The Cotton Bowl is like: the senior prom. Prom isn't the apex of one's high school arc, and neither is the Cotton Bowl for the bowl season. But they're awfully close, calendar-wise, and this is one of the last chances to see something magical happen. Everyone's getting all dressed up, they're headed to one of the fanciest places in town, and they're going to have one crazy night while they can. Further, if you've ever seen the way a typical high school senior talks to girls, it's remarkably similar to how Les Miles coaches at the end of the game: it's desperate, astonishing, and far more successful than it has any right to be.