By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
The Tigers are going back to Disney World.
LSU is going bowling in Orlando again and will face North Dame in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, the bowl announced Sunday. Kickoff is set for Noon CT at Camping World Stadium.
“We had a tremendous time last year,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Looking forward to going up against a great Notre Dame team. I’ve got the utmost respect for Coach (Brian) Kelly and his program. It should be a big, physical football game.”
Winners of three in a row, LSU (9-3, 6-2 SEC) finished No. 17 in the CFP Rankings, No. 16 in the final AP Poll and No. 14 in the Amway Coaches Poll. Notre Dame (9-3) finished No. 14 in the CFP Rankings, No. 14 in the AP Poll and No. 15 in the Coaches Poll.
Notre Dame won eight of its first nine games and climbed as high as No. 3 in the polls before a humbling 41-8 loss at Miami. The Golden Domers finished out the regular season with 38-20 road loss at Stanford.
Most of their success this season can be traced to an overwhelming downhill running game. Notre Dame ranks No. 7 nationally averaging 279.08 yards per game on the ground. Bruising tailback Josh Adams (1,386 yards, 9 TDs) leads the attack with help from dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who has 14 rushing scores of his own.
“Big and strong. Tough runner,” Orgeron said of Adams. “I know it’s going to be a challenge for our front seven.”
Notre Dame leads the all-time series 6-5 having last defeated LSU 31-28 in the 2014 Music City Bowl in Nashville. The Tigers trounced the Irish 41-17 in the 2007 Sugar Bowl in the most recent meeting before that.
Orgeron, a few weeks shy of joining LSU’s staff, doesn’t recall watching the ’14 Music City Bowl. Kelly was still the Norte Dame coach then and sees a similar LSU team in front of him now, albeit one that’s different schematically on both sides of the ball.
“Outstanding athletes. Physical up front,” Kelly said. “They had a great running back. They’ve got another one now … Only seen a little bit of (Derrius Guce). Got a chance to see him here and there. Physicality and great speed. What stood out to me is his ability to run over guys.”
Orgeron has his own personal history with the Fighting Irish. He coached in annual rivalry games against them during his stints as an assistant coach at Miami and USC. He faced the Irish 14 times as an assistant — once as USC’s interim coach in 2013 — going 6-8.
“Two of the greatest rivalries in college football,” Orgeron said. “Always have the utmost respect for Notre Dame. It’s going to be a physical game. It’s going to be a war. But we’re looking to playing them.”
Three Southeastern Conference teams were selected by the College Football Playoff Committee earlier Sunday. No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama made the playoffs while No. 7 Auburn will go to the Peach Bowl, one of the “New Year’s Six” games.
That left LSU as the highest-ranked SEC team on the board. Citrus Bowl CEO Steve Hogan said the bowl committee also debated Mississippi State and South Carolina to receive the SEC bid. Hogan added that the bowl committee would change up some of the events and attractions so it doesn’t feel like a repeat for LSU.
This will be LSU’s fifth appearance in the Citrus Bowl, having gone 2-2 in the previous four. LSU smothered Louisville 29-9 in last year’s Citrus Bowl. LSU will be the first SEC team to make back-to-back trips to the bowl since Tennessee did so after the 1995-96 seasons.
The Citrus Bowl switched naming rights from Buffalo Wild Wings to Overton since last year, so don’t expect any team-wide wing eating contests this time around.
– LSU edge rusher Arden Key is expected to play in the bowl game, Orgeron said, but the coach added that he’d have a better idea as to Key’s status once LSU begins practice next Monday. “I expect him to play,” Orgeron said. “I can’t say that now (for sure). Been out on the road recruiting. As far as I know, he’s going to play.” Orgeron missed the last three games of the regular season due to a knee surgery and underwent surgery on his pinky finger for an unrelated ailment.