The National Championship semi-final takes place in Atlanta this Saturday night as second-ranked Tennessee tackles SEC West co-winner LSU. UT advanced in the quarters by unleashing a physical assault on the happy-go-lucky Swamp Gators last week in Gainesville. The game saw a highlight reel performance from the SEC officiating crew who seemed determined to get Florida to Pasadena, no matter what. But after awarding the Gators a couple of undeserved possessions, the Zebras gave up and let the better team win, saving their yellow flags for another opportunity to dispense justice, possibly as soon as this Saturday night at the SEC Championship Game.
LSU won its game with Auburn last Saturday night in Baton Rouge behind a potent witches brew of Ragin' Rostaferrian QB Rohan Davey, pushing, shoving, touchdown-scoring wide receiver Josh Reed and a drinking, howling, civilization-shaking Cajun-fried crowd of home-cooked college football zealots. The combination proved unbeatable, as the Bengal Tigers pushed their record to 8-3 on the way to the SECCG.
This game is a rematch of a September game in Knoxville which the Vols won 26-18, thanks largely to the pass-catching heroics of new star receiver Kelley Washington. In that game LSU fell behind in the first half, but answered late behind Davey's passing in the fourth quarter. Tennessee's defensive line dictated LSU's desperation in Knoxville, shutting down all-conference candidate RB LaBrandon Toefield for most of the night.
This Saturday, it's likely that Bengal Offensive Coordinator Jimbo Fisher will forego the running of TB Toefield in favor of the almost unstoppable athleticism of WR Reed. It will be interesting to see if Tennessee has an answer for Reed as effective as the one they had for Gator wideouts Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell. It will also be interesting to see if Davey can carry the team with his right arm while being chased around by the best defensive line in college football. John Henderson, Will Overstreet, Rashad Moore and Albert Haynesworth can destroy any offensive line, and LSU's is not much above the ordinary.
The thing LSU does have going for it is a nothing-to-lose attitude, while the Vols shoulder the pressure of playing for the National Championship. But it's usually easier to play in the semis than the finals, which, if UT wins, they will do against number one Miami.
Another little-realized advantage for LSU and sly Head Coach Nick Saban could be the fact that LSU played in the Georgia Dome last January in the Peach Bowl and beat favored Georgia Tech with a strong second-half comeback.
Another thing Tennessee will be up against Saturday is the anti-BCS crowd who would love to see the current system thrown into turmoil with a Volunteer loss. Supporters of Nebraska, Colorado and Oregon have their fingers crossed, as do many in the media who love a melee wherever it occurs.
Also, SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer has several dogs in the BCS hunt as well. An LSU victory would move the Bengals up in the bowl pecking order, as they would represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl. Under that scenario, it is also likely that Tennessee and Florida would still get big money bowls and the conference would stand to cash in. But an LSU victory might also leave one of eight probable SEC teams, possibly even Auburn, out of a bowl altogether.
That would cost the conference some money. Well, it's all in the behind-closed-doors negotiating stage right now, and the easiest way to discover which way the wind is really blowing might be just to watch the direction of yellow flags flying Saturday night in Atlanta. My guess is TENNESSEE 30, LSU 27.