Game of the Week: LSU puts No. 1 ranking on line versus Arkansas
No matter the result, Hogs-Tigers will shape SEC and national title races
Arkansas' outstanding receivers will face a stiff test against LSU secondary
With LSU's punting ability and Arkansas' speed, special teams could be key
From Doug Flutie's miraculous Hail Mary pass that allowed Boston College to stun Miami 47-45 in 1984 to Auburn's improbable rally from a 24-0 deficit in last year's Iron Bow, the Friday after Thanksgiving has seen its share of college football history. This year, No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Arkansas meet on the sport's unofficial holiday and will re-shape the fluid BCS picture no matter the result. LSU is looking for its first unbeaten SEC season since 1970, while 10-1 Arkansas is seeing at least a share of its fifth SEC West title since joining the conference in 1992. Prep the leftovers; the Tigers and Hogs will provide the entertainment.
1. Get ready for an irresistible vs. immovable clash. The Arkansas offense ranks first in the SEC in points (39.3) and yards (463.3), while LSU ranks second in the nation in points allowed (10.0) and yards allowed (247.9). What happens when the two meet? Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson has a stable of fleet and talented receivers who will challenge an LSU secondary replete with speed and athleticism of its own. The key for Arkansas will be protecting Wilson from an LSU front that can apply pressure with just four rushers. The Razorbacks will take plenty of shots downfield and hope some connect in order to take the play to the favored Tigers. Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Chris Gragg and Cobi Hamilton all average at least 12 yards per catch and have combined for 2,495 receiving yards. They will be eager to challenge the LSU back line of Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Taylor and Eric Reid, who have combined for 10 interceptions.
2. The LSU quarterback situation appears resolved, but you didn't hear it from Les Miles. Jordan Jefferson took over for Jarrett Lee following Lee's second interception against Alabama and has essentially run the offense since. He played the first three quarters against Western Kentucky and then the first half against Ole Miss before giving way with a 42-3 lead in the third quarter. Jefferson was 7-for-7 for 88 yards and a touchdown against Ole Miss. Miles has not allowed either player to talk to the media, and he says both will play against Arkansas. "I want them to enjoy the back end of their senior season," Miles said when asked about the gag order. "There will be plenty of time for them to talk later. I want them to focus on the plays." Right now, those plays feature Jefferson, who is more of a dual-threat than Lee and who has proven to be reliable in big games for the Tigers throughout his career.
3. If Arkansas pulls the upset, who gets to play Georgia in Atlanta? Unless Auburn beats Alabama on Saturday, it appears the Crimson Tide will represent the SEC West should LSU go down. To break a three-way tie between LSU, Arkansas and Alabama, BCS rankings will be used -- with a caveat. If the top two teams are within five BCS spots of each other, which is a virtual certainty in this case, the head-to-head winner goes. The top two teams in the BCS standings will very likely be Arkansas and Alabama in this scenario, and since the Tide beat Arkansas 38-14 in September, Alabama would head to the Georgia Dome even if Arkansas jumps to No. 1 in the BCS standings. For Arkansas to get to the title game, it appears the Hogs will have to win Friday and have Alabama lose Saturday.
LSU enters as a 14-point favorite. LSU is 8-3 against the spread this year, but just 2-3 at Tiger Stadium. Arkansas has covered four straight times against LSU and is 12-5 in its last 17 games as an underdog under Bobby Petrino. The trends point toward the Razorbacks.
Arkansas has outscored opponents 316-94 in seven home games, but has been outscored in its four games away from home (Alabama, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt) 128-116.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup. Earlier this season, Pauline profiled LSU defensive end Lavar Edwards and linebacker Karnell Hatcher and corner Morris Claiborne and reciver Rueben Randle.
WR Jarius Wright, Arkansas: The Razorbacks' home run-hitting receiver strikes fear into opponents whenever he steps to the line of scrimmage. Wright is a consistent pass-catcher who's a threat to take it the distance any time the ball is in his hands. He has a big opportunity to show off his skills against the LSU defense, which includes a secondary that has three potential first-round draft picks. Grade: Second-to third-round prospect.
WR-RS Joe Adams, Arkansas: Adams does not possess the same speed as his teammate, but he's still a vertical threat. Besides being a reliable pass-catching target, he's also a devastating special teams player who alters the momentum of games returning punts. The matchup against the Tigers' tough secondary poses a challenge for Adams. Grade: Third-round prospect.
S Brandon Taylor, LSU: Taylor is in the midst of a career campaign and has shown vast improvement in all areas. He does not possess the classic size/speed numbers for an NFL safety, but is an instinctive defender who positions himself to make plays. The ability to cover Razorbacks receivers who dare come over the middle will tell scouts a lot about Taylor. Grade: Sixth-round prospect.
LB Ryan Baker, LSU: Baker is another Tiger defender who relies on hustle and smarts to make plays on the ball. He's slightly undersized and not fleet of foot but will make a solid back-up/special teams player in the NFL. Grade: Seventh-round prospect.
One of the keys will be whether Adams can bust a punt return against an LSU unit that has allowed a mind-boggling six return yards all season in front of punting ace Brad Wing. Arkansas will need that type of spark to overcome the atmosphere that will be deafening if the Tigers start rolling. Arkansas has not played very well on the road, which again does not bode well when facing a team that has yet to give up multiple touchdowns to an SEC opponent. That streak may not continue, but LSU has too much firepower to suffer an upset. LSU 31, ARKANSAS 21