Sweet Sugar

A whirlwind day of college football this past Saturday turned the BCS upside down. The Notre Dame football team, with its 10-2 regular season done, got to sit back and watch all the action unfold. When the dust settled, the Irish were slotted for Bourbon Street in New Orleans against the surging LSU Tigers.

Maybe more happy than the players on both teams were the representatives from the Sugar Bowl. They now have the best of both worlds for the contest on January 3rd in the Louisiana Superdome: a local team with a passionate fan base that doesn't have to travel very far to the contest and a program with a national following and a rich and illustrious history. With this being the first Sugar Bowl back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, officials are estimating a boost of over $200 million to the local economy.

"This is an ideal situation for us," Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan said on Sunday night during a teleconference. "I think everyone knows a little bit about LSU. I think everyone knows this is going to be an incredible atmosphere not only for the Tigers but for the Fighting Irish. When they get to town, they are going to bring their own brand of excitement. The two teams in New Orleans, it's what the doctor ordered."

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis expressed his enthusiasm for the bowl destination and how tough it'll be to defeat the Tigers.

"We're very, very excited to be heading to New Orleans, especially to face an opponent the caliber of LSU," Weis said. "I can't say enough about our affinity for New Orleans. A highlight I remember is watching that early NFL game when the Saints came back to the Superdome. We look forward to the challenge of LSU and bringing our troops down to enjoy the BCS game."

LSU head coach Les Miles, whose team was thought to be a lock for the Rose Bowl a week ago, can now rest easy and enjoy a bowl contest close to their campus in Baton Rogue.

"I would like to congratulate Coach Weis on a great year," Miles said. "They're a quality team. We are also very thankful to be invited to the Sugar Bowl. The LSU faithful is looking forward to being able to celebrate the New Year and a great football season."

Notre Dame gets a chance to erase past seasons disappointments and this year's bitter end. The Irish have lost eight straight bowl games and don't want to add number nine to the streak. Also, Notre Dame's last contest was a 44-24 loss at the hands of heated rival USC in Los Angeles. It'll be a tough challenge for Weis to get his team mentally ready for the Sugar Bowl after investing so much time and effort on the Trojans.

Another concerning aspect for Irish fans could be the way their team has lost the past two seasons. Notre Dame has gone down to some elite teams in the time span under Weis. The difference in speed has been noticeable, especially on the defensive side of the ball where opponents have routinely taken advantage of the big play in the passing game. Weis wants his team to be ready for the athletic nature of the Tiger team.

"Obviously when you are playing against a team the caliber of LSU, you make sure your players know about the speed of the game," Weis said. "Having seen no more of LSU than at night, they play with great passion and great emotion. But the speed of the game is the number one thing we're going to have to be ready for because if not, you'll be in for a long night."

If there was any doubt how excited LSU fans are about their team staying in the state of Louisiana, the Tiger faithful have already scooped up the allotted tickets given to them by the Sugar Bowl. Just four years ago, the Superdome was the sight of LSU's national championship win over Oklahoma.

Now, the 10-2 Tigers have a shot at capping a successful 2006 season with a Sugar Bowl win. Where hasn't LSU traveled this season? The Tigers have ventured on the road to play Florida, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee. The tested team are led by quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who has thrown for 26 touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes. LSU ranks 18th in total offense, four spots better than Notre Dame, and 10th in scoring.

The Tigers make their hay on defense. LSU is second nationally in total defense, allowing just 238 yards per game. Want more? The Tigers surrender a paltry 12 points a contest and are third in Division 1A against the pass, which is the strength of the Irish offense. They get to the quarterback as well, ranking No. 6 nationally in sacks per game. Notre Dame has struggled at times against teams with a good pass rush. Miles has talent galore down in Baton Rogue and navigating his way through the rough SEC has given him few chances to see Notre Dame play this season.

"I've seen bits and pieces of Notre Dame games," Miles said. "I saw a little bit of the Southern Cal game. What I can see is a talented quarterback, a great receiving core. We believe they can strike from long distances. They have an athletic and capable defense."


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