During his Citrus Bowl teleconference, Ed Orgeron said, “We feel this is the best thing that could have happened to LSU — Notre Dame, a marquee matchup.”
He’s absolutely right.
LSU fans may be bummed that they drew the same bowl assignment for the second straight year, although there should be enough attractions in a city explicitly invented for tourism to avoid such fatigue. They also might not be wild about facing Notre Dame for the second time in four years. Both things have been done before.
But short of a bid into a “New Year’s Six” bowl game, the Citrus Bowl marks the best possible outcome for the Tigers in Orgeron’s first season. In fact, it’s probably even better than the New Year’s Six.
This year, three of the biggest New Year’s bowl games aren’t even being played on New Year’s. The Cotton Bowl is Friday, Dec. 29. The Fiesta and Orange Bowls are Saturday, Dec. 30.
Sure, the payouts are bigger for those games. But no matter how many zeroes are on the check, a game just feels bigger if it’s being played on New Year’s Day. Like Opening Day in baseball, it’s one of the few days on the sports calendar that feels magnified. People who don’t watch the game religiously still feel motivated enough to tune in on this day.
In the Citrus Bowl, the Tigers get one of the two games leading directly into the Rose Bowl, which is a national semifinal. The other is the Peach Bowl, which is the last of the New Year’s Six games outside of the playoff. The college football world — and beyond — will be tuned in.
That exposure will only be elevated by the fortune of drawing Notre Dame. Sure, there’s a perception that the Fighting Irish are only a big deal for old fogeys. But old fogeys watch network TV, so there will be plenty of eyeballs paying attention to LSU for a game that airs on ABC.
The alternative choice, Michigan State, would not be nearly as appealing to a national audience. The Spartans, bless their hearts, aren’t even the top draw in their own state. In this case, the opponent is every bit as helpful in cultivating a massive audience as the kickoff time. LSU football will be on full display.
No, this isn’t the College Football Playoff. But in a season where any dream of reaching that level was already dashed in September, a Citrus Bowl bid marks the best imaginable outcome. Orgeron’s first full season, which once looked helplessly lost, can be safely marked down as a victory. And now there’s a chance to finish it with an exclamation point.