LSU has exceeded expectations as much as any team in the country.
Texas A&M has fallen as far short of expectations as any team in the country.
The two surprising teams will conclude the regular season against one another Saturday night in College Station, Texas.
The No. 5 Tigers (9-2, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) have more football ahead of them, facing No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship on Dec. 3, then moving on to a major bowl game or perhaps even the College Football Playoff.
The Aggies (4-7, 1-6) were No. 6 in the AP preseason poll after landing a historically high-ranked recruiting class but have lost their last six SEC games.
“This is as arguably as talented a football team as we’ll see all year,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “They’re young in some areas, but it doesn’t take away from the talent that they have on the field. … Certainly this is their game. Last one that they play this year again LSU, their rival, they’ll play their absolute best against us, and we’ll have to meet and exceed our play.”
The Tigers took the lead in the SEC West when they upset Alabama 32-31 in overtime on Nov. 5. They clinched the division a week later despite not playing their best in a 13-10 win at Arkansas. They bounced back with a strong performance in a 41-10 rout of UAB last Saturday.
“The UAB game might not have been as important to other people outside of the walls, but inside the walls that was a huge game for us. In terms of, you know, doing our job, the way the job needs to be done,” Kelly said. “The wins have been nice, the individual achievements have been really neat, the SEC West championship, but I’m most proud of the mental toughness that this group has shown.”
The Aggies nearly upset Alabama on the road before losing 24-20 on Oct. 8, but their only win since September was a lackluster 20-3 victory against Massachusetts last Saturday.
“Any time you’re not where you want to be you’re constantly looking, pushing, challenging, evaluating, changing, thinking,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It makes you evaluate everything you do.
“You can’t let circumstances dictate who you are. That doesn’t mean you’re content with them. But you can’t let it affect your process, whether you’re 11-0 or you’re having a season like we’re having right now. Hopefully it will make you stronger in the future, but it’s not fun when it’s going on, I promise you that.”
Defensive lineman Albert Regis said the team won’t approach its last game any differently than other games.
“Our mindset won’t change,” he said. “Unfortunately, yes, this is our last game. … We’ll have juice regardless because it’s a blessing to play this sport at this level. What’s not exciting about that? Why not have as much juice as you can?”
Fisher said he’s “very, very optimistic” that leading rusher Devon Achane and leading receiver Evan Stewart will be able to return from injuries and be available Saturday.
Their presence would be a boost to an offense that has struggled all season and hasn’t scored more than 28 points against an FBS opponent.
–Field Level Media
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