Matchups, not pecking order, got LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. -- There were angry LSU fans Sunday when word leaked out that the Tigers had dropped all the way to the Chick-fil-A Bowl to face Clemson on New Year’s Eve.

It’s an outrage, they said. How is an LSU team ranked No. 8 in the BCS rankings No. 6 in the SEC pecking order?

Fair question. The Chick-fil-A Bowl is tied to the No. 5 team out of the SEC, which, as usual, became No. 6 this year after two SEC teams qualified for BCS bowl game.

If you compared results among the six SEC teams with double-digit wins, it’s hard to rationalize LSU being the sixth choice among those teams.

There are two one-loss SEC teams -- No. 2 Alabama, which will play in the Discover BCS National Championship game, and No. 3 Florida, which will play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Both deserved their spots.

Of the teams with two losses or fewer, only Florida (3-1) and LSU (2-2) played four of them, with the Tigers going 2-0 against fellow two-loss teams.

LSU beat South Carolina and Texas A&M, two teams that were invited to bowls higher in the pecking order than the Chick-fil-A. A&M landed the much-coveted Cotton Bowl spot despite losing to LSU at College Station.

It would seem that would put LSU, which is also the second-highest ranked two-loss SEC team (behind Georgia, which suffered its second loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game) at the top of the pecking order.

But, the bowl invitation process is often a beauty contest based on who looks like it can put hind-ends in seats, bodies in hotel beds and eyes on the tube.

LSU seems to have lost those battles this year.

After Georgia played Alabama to the wire Saturday, coming within five yards of the BCS title game, it became a more attractive choice for the Capital One to play Nebraska. The game in Orlando has a long history of favoring Eastern Division teams.

When Oklahoma was knocked out of the BCS by Northern Illinois’ inclusion, the Sooners got the Big 12’s AT&T Cotton Bowl bid, making it easy for the Cotton to invite Texas A&M. If OU had gone, as many expected, to the Sugar Bowl, Texas would have landed in the Cotton.

LSU would have been the likely Cotton choice if Texas were the opponent since many thought the SEC didn’t want to see the Texas-Texas A&M matchup. But with Texas out of the Cotton Bowl, getting the home-state Aggies to Arlington made sense.

That left the Outback and Chick-fil-A next in the SEC pecking order with two 10-2 teams, LSU and South Carolina, remaining.

Because Clemson is tied to the Chick-fil-A as the ACC’s No. 2 team, it became unlikely that the bowl would want a rematch with South Carolina, which beat the Tigers in the regular-season finale.

So it made sense: South Carolina to Tampa to play Michigan and LSU to Atlanta.

It could be worse.

As for facing Clemson, it lost a little luster with a loss to South Carolina in its regular-season finale. But with Tajh Boyd, the Tigers have a passing game that can test LSU’s young secondary. It will also be the only game going New Year’s Eve.

It might take a while for LSU fans to warm up to it, but it’s a matchup Tigers fans will eventually embrace.