When LSU and Notre Dame last met it was for at least a share of the national championship way back in 2007. The result was a 41-14 blowout victory for the Tigers and their first and last title under head coach Les Miles. Fast-forward seven years to present-day and the Fighting Irish are on their second head coach in Brian Kelly, while Miles still calls Death Valley home.
The victory locked the all-time series at 5-5, but now one team can break that tie with a victory in Dec. 30’s Music City Bowl at LP Field in Nashville. It’s been a disappointing season for both the No. 22 Tigers and the now-unranked Fighting Irish, but they each have the opportunity to end the year on a high note.
Both Kelly and Miles are seeking consecutive bowl game victories, but only one has been tied to one of the most lucrative and coveted jobs in college sports.
Miles, who’s compiled a 103-28 record with 56 wins in the crowded SEC over the last 10 years, has been linked to rampant speculation regarding Michigan’s head coaching vacancy. The 61-year-old did not want to be quoted by reporters Tuesday, but NOLA.com reported that Miles denied pursuing the position and that neither he nor his agent George Bass has been contacted by his alma mater.
Miles specifically stated he did not want to distract his Tigers ahead of the match up with Notre Dame.
Considering the Tigers’ struggles this season, Miles might be right to keep his team focused on the task at hand. LSU (8-4, 4-4 SEC) began the season with a solid victory over ranked Wisconsin, but were then tripped up three weeks later by upstart Mississippi State. The Tigers were then thumped at Auburn, 41-7, and fell two games back in the SEC West. They regrouped with solid victories at Florida and began Ole Miss’s decline with a 10-7 home victory, despite committing four turnovers.
But LSU eventually fell out of SEC contention with consecutive losses in overtime to Alabama and a 17-0 blanking at the hands of late-surging Arkansas, before silencing Texas A&M, 23-17, behind Leonard Fournette’s 146 rushing yards.
Much of the troubles lie in the Tigers 76th-ranked offense scoring 27.6 points per game, but the defense is still one of the most feared in the country. Led by defensive backs Ronald Martin, Tre’Davious White and Rickey Jefferson, who totaled six of the team’s 10 interceptions on the year, LSU allowed a paltry 16.4 points per game, the third-best mark in the country.
That kind of gifted secondary could pose a significant problem for Notre Dame (7-5) and Kelly, who said he plans to play both redshirt junior Everett Golson and redshirt freshman Malik Zaire under center against the Tigers.
Golson’s totaled 3,335 yards passing and 29 touchdowns to 14 interceptions, but was pulled for Zaire in Notre Dame’s 49-14 loss at USC in the final week of the regular season. It was the fourth straight loss, and fifth in the last six games for the Irish, but Zaire showed some promise going 9-for-20 for 170 yards and rushing for another 18 yards and a touchdown.
Zaire will be getting much-needed experience in a big game leading into next season, and it will give him some real-time reps with top Irish receiver William Fuller. The sophomore caught 71 passes for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns, surpassing the 100-yard mark in four games this season. He’s also scored one or more touchdowns in six straight before the USC loss.
A win could certainly build Zaire’s confidence and the program’s hopes after a lackluster season. Other than the 17-14 win over Stanford, the Irish lost to every ranked opponent they faced this season. However, many argued they were robbed of an upset over Florida State on Oct. 18 after a fourth-quarter touchdown was called back due to an offensive pass interference.
Start Time: Tuesday, Dec. 30 at 3 P.M. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Betting Odds: LSU -7.5
Over/Under: 52 points
Prediction: LSU over Notre Dame, 23-16