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LSU is playing its best football, but Tigers down the pecking order for bowls

Updated: November 11, 2012, 12:24 PM ET
By Gary Laney | GeauxTigerNation

BATON ROUGE, La. -- When the final score of Texas A&M's 29-24 upset of No. 1 Alabama was announced Saturday night at Tiger Stadium, a raucous cheer came from the crowd.

Perhaps Tigers fans should have been a little more subdued.

[+] EnlargeCraig Loston
Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireLSU is finding balance and playing well, but it might be too late to get to an elite bowl.
With the Aggies joining the long list of SEC teams with a chance to finish with two or fewer losses, LSU runs the risk of finishing its season playing as well as anybody in the SEC, but also being considered a far less sexy bowl pick than many of its SEC rivals, including the Aggies.

With Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel shooting into the Heisman Trophy discussion, Texas A&M -- which needs only to beat FCS member Sam Houston State and Missouri to finish 10-2 -- might have become a more enticing team to invite to a bowl than LSU, despite the Tigers' win at College Station.

With Georgia and Florida both having a chance to finish 11-1 and with Alabama looking at going 11-1 and taking on Georgia in the SEC championship game, LSU could drop as far as No. 5 in the conference's bowl pecking order.

LSU has hardly looked like a No. 5 team in the SEC lately.

After last week's heartbreaking 21-17 loss to Alabama, the seventh-ranked Tigers followed with an impressive 37-17 win Saturday night over No. 21 Mississippi State.

With Zach Mettenberger and the LSU passing game seeming to have come together -- he passed for 273 yards against the Bulldogs after a 298-yard game against Alabama -- LSU seems to be peaking.

The Tigers are light years better than the team that struggled to a 12-10 win over Auburn and was anemic on offense in a 14-6 loss to Florida. They are better than they were when they bounced back from the Florida loss by beating South Carolina and Texas A&M.

"There is a fundamental feeling in this stadium and in our football building that we are just catching speed," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We are just getting the pace that we need."

Indeed, with the passing game coming around, the Tigers are rounding into a team with few flaws. Already one of the best rushing teams in the country, Mettenberger's 571 passing yards in the last two games give LSU balance. Add that to one of the nation's best defenses and the Tigers look like a complete team.

"We are very confident," said wide receiver Jarvis Landry after his 7-catch, 108-yard receiving game against MSU. "A lot of the guys on offense look like we got that swag back."

Where will the swag get them?

With three unbeaten teams remaining nationally, the SEC's string of six BCS national championships is in serious jeopardy. If two of the three remaining unbeaten teams (Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame) meet for the national title, the winner of the SEC championship game will likely play in the Sugar Bowl.

A two-loss SEC championship game loser might also be a prime candidate to take a second SEC BCS bowl bid.

Let's say Florida beats Florida State to go 11-1 and Texas A&M finishes 10-2, as it should. If Alabama and Georgia split up the league's BCS bowl appearances, Florida could get the Capital One Bowl bid while the Cotton Bowl would love to match up in-state Texas A&M with a former Big 12 rival, such as Oklahoma or Texas.

That could leave LSU in either the Outback Bowl or the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, spots that go to the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the SEC. The Outback Bowl tends to favor teams from the SEC East, so South Carolina, another potential two-loss SEC team, might nab that spot.

So it's not hard to imagine a scenario in which LSU could be playing as well as anybody in college football, yet slip to the same bowl in which it played after the 2008 season, when it finished 7-5 -- the Chick-fil-A.

There's still a lot of football to be played. Heck, the Tigers aren't even out of the SEC championship race, although it's unlikely. An Alabama loss to Auburn could propel LSU to a share of the Western Division title and the Tigers could sneak to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.

That, of course, is highly unlikely, the way Auburn has struggled.

There's a better chance LSU will go to Atlanta almost a month later, and Chick-fil-A Bowl officials would be giddy to have them.

After all, Miles said his Tigers can get better, and the bowl that takes the No. 5 team in the SEC might end up with a team playing as well as anybody.

"Our football team will take pride, effort and energy to improve," Miles said. "If they continue to do that, we will be a hell of a football team."

One that's hoping it winds up in a bowl game befitting its level of play.

Gary Laney | email

Reporter, GeauxTigerNation