What's on the line in the game between Texas A&M and LSU? It's an honest question. This is not one of those tired statements about which team "wants it more" or how the intangibles are going to play out -- but it's legitimate to ask: What's really at stake here?
Both A&M and LSU long ago played themselves out of contention for the SEC West. Because of the SEC's "pooling" system for the middle six teams in the postseason pecking order, and because both A&M and LSU are almost certain to end up in that pool, the result of this game will affect the bowl picture only minimally, if at all. How much mileage do you get out of being able to claim fourth or fifth place in the SEC West?
Then again, those factors might be all the more reason for these teams to try to win this game. Whether you look at the preseason expectations for LSU or the post-South Carolina excitement that surrounded Texas A&M, both teams have had high hopes dashed. At this point, the only thing either team can lock up here is a bit of pride and a better narrative for the end of its season. That's not worth as much as a division title, but it's still something to play for.
1A Lengthy Series. There aren't that many long-running SEC rivalries for the Aggies, given that they just joined the league in 2012. But an exception is the LSU game, which has been played on and off since 1899. The rivalry has mostly been dominated by LSU, which has won 19 of the last 29 games -- with five of the Aggies wins coming in one five-year burst from 1991-95. (The fact that 22 of those games were played in Baton Rouge might have something to do with that.) Overall, the teams have played 52 times, with an all-time record of 29-20-3 in LSU's favor. In years in which the date of the match was recorded, this is only the second time the game has been played in November -- last year was the first.
2Turkey Day Football. This is only going to be a once-every-other-year deal to help Texas A&M make up for the loss of the annual game against Texas, which was often played on Thanksgiving. Once the decision to make up for that game was made, the LSU series was the logical choice, given the two teams' history against each other. While A&M has a tradition of playing on Thanksgiving, LSU has done so 24 times -- and most of them in the not-so-recent past. One of those games was a 1901 battle royal against the New Orleans YMCA, if you think cupcake games are bad now. (The Tigers won, 38-0, which was less than their margin of victory that year against Ole Miss.) And really, don't you want an opportunity to see what Les Miles can do on Thanksgiving?
3Battle in the Skies. In case you haven't noticed all the talk about the Air Raid and such: Texas A&M likes to throw the ball around a little bit. In fact, with 452 passing attempts, the Aggies are 41 clear of Tennessee, the next highest-ranking SEC team in number of attempts. Their passer efficiency rating is above-average for the SEC, and has been very good the last two games with Kyle Allen at the helm; Allen is 43-of-64 for 514 yards, seven touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. LSU just happens to come into this game with the No. 1 passing efficiency defense in the SEC right now. The Tigers are actually holding opponents to a 49.4 percent completion rate. Oddly, the Tigers have just nine interceptions -- tied for 10th in the league -- so turning Allen's mistakes into turnovers might be easier said than done.
4Weakness vs. Weakness. It might be kind to call LSU's offense abysmal this year. The Bayou Bengals score 28 points a game -- edging out Tennessee for 12th in the SEC by 0.1 points. The Tigers are tied for 10th in yards per play -- with Florida, which has probably gotten more press for its bad offense than LSU has. And there's a symmetry to LSU being the only SEC team to hold opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of less than 50 percent -- because the Bayou Bengals are also the only team to complete fewer than half their passes, with the same 49.4 percent completion rate the the defense has held other quarterbacks to. A rushing offense that generates just 4.3 yards a touch isn't helping. But if there's a cure for that, it's the Texas A&M defense, which is allowing 5.9 yards a play (better than only South Carolina) and can't get off the field: The Aggies have allowed opponents to convert 41.8 percent of third-down attempts, which ranks 12th in the league.
5Dropping the QB. It would appear upon a cursory review of the stats that Texas A&M does have an advantage against LSU when it comes to sacks, with the Aggies having brought down the opposing quarterback an average of 2.91 times a game, compared to 1.55 for LSU. But when you consider that 15 of A&M's 32 sacks came against SMU and Louisiana-Monroe -- well, things look differently. In any case, neither team is particularly effective at keeping teh quarterback upright -- they're tied for 10th in the SEC in sacks allowed, with 2.0 per game. Whether the defenses can make them pay for that is another question.
THREE TO WATCH
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M: As noted above, Allen has statistically played pretty well over the last two games. But he's a freshman about to get his second road start in a rivalry-type game on Thanksgiving. Allen can't do it alone -- the Aggies have got to get something out of the running game to win this one -- but it's hard to see A&M winning if Allen doesn't play exceptional football.
Travin Dural, WR, LSU: The Tigers wideout has been relatively quiet of late, having just nine catches for 82 yards in the last three games. But Dural is still a threat -- he's had at least one catch of more than 30 yards in seven of LSU's 11 games this year. If LSU's defense can hold down the Aggies, a long play here and there might be all it takes, and the A&M defense can definitely be had for a long play here and there.
Drew Kaser, P, Texas A&M: The Ray Guy Award might have snubbed Drew Kaser, what with its focus on the best stats and whatnot, but we won't. Kaser was a trailblazer this year, becoming the first punter in quite awhile, at least, to come to SEC Media Days. He's averaged 44.4 yards a punt, kicking the ball 50 or more yards 13 times and placing it inside the 20-yard line 17 times. But he's just a junior, so the Heisman campaign can restart in 2015.
There's a lot to weigh in this game, but it could very well come down to how well the A&M passing attack does against the LSU passing defense. Even an offense as inept as LSU's is going to get its yards against the A&M defense -- but can the Aggies' offense make up for it? What has to worry you if you're an A&M fan is that the team has scored more than 21 points once since they scored 31 in the loss to Mississippi State back on Oct. 4. LSU 24, Texas A&M 17