By BRYAN LAZARE / Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Les Miles wants LSU to embrace the notion that it still has a chance, however slim, to win the Southeastern Conference.
Alabama could have locked up the SEC West's title game by beating Texas A&M on Saturday, but the Crimson Tide was upset by Johnny Manziel and the Aggies in Tuscaloosa.
As a result, the eighth-ranked Tigers can remain in the running to reach the SEC championship game by knocking off its next two opponents: Ole Miss on Saturday and Arkansas on the day after Thanksgiving. Of course, LSU's chances appear remote because fourth-ranked Alabama would have to lose to Auburn, which is winless in the SEC.
"We still have a chance, an outside chance, of being the representative of the Western Division in the SEC title game," Miles said at his weekly media luncheon Monday. "We'll play to that. So, there is a strong need for us to finish strong."
LSU also would need Texas A&M to defeat Missouri on Nov. 24. If there is a three-way tie for the SEC West, the Tigers would be the representative. LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M all beat each other. The Tigers and Aggies would have 5-1 divisional records, while the Tide would have a 4-2 SEC West mark.
That means LSU would then advance to the SEC championship game to face Georgia by virtue of its victory against Texas A&M in the head-to-head matchup.
While Miles wants to instill hope in his players for the best possible outcome, he said he does not want them to become distracted by all the postseason variables at play right now. He merely wants his team to focus on building off its 37-17 victory against Mississippi State on Saturday.
The game offered proof for a second-straight week that first-year starter Zach Mettenberger, his offensive line and the Tigers young receiver corps have turned the corner in the passing game.
"We are in the right position at quarterback," Miles said. "We are looking for balance with the run and pass. That's who we are. Now, defenses will pick their poison. But, the opportunity to throw against certain coverages is an advantage for us."
Mettenberger was 19 of 30 for 273 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs. Jarvis Landry had career-highs in catches (nine) and receiving yards (109) with one touchdown. For the first time in three years, LSU's passing yards more than doubled its rushing yards in a victory. The Bulldogs, normally a strong running team, managed only 47 yards rushing against the Tigers.
The eighth-year LSU head coach sounded confident that the entire team is ready to close out the regular season in impressive fashion.
"You betcha we're going to improve," Miles said. "The offensive line play continues to get better. Our defense was extremely rough against the run last week.
"Mississippi State did throw for (nearly) 300 yards and that's something we'll work on. There are a couple of pieces the defensive coaches will give practice time to. We have some young guys in the secondary who are getting tested in the back end of every game."
LSU's pass defense will get challenged again this week by Ole Miss, which is averaging nearly 250 yards per game passing. The Rebels need one victory in their last two games to become bowl eligible in Hugh Freeze's first season as coach.
"Ole Miss is a much better team than what they've been," Miles said. "We recognize that this is a team that has us marked on their calendar. We'll get Ole Miss' very best shot and we'll be prepared for that."
Although the Tigers' chances of winning the SEC are very small, they are still in the mix of getting a BCS bowl bid. In fact, LSU is one of six SEC teams in the running for the league's two berths in BCS bowls. The No. 4 through No. 9 spots in the BCS standings are occupied by SEC teams this week.
Therefore, the Tigers must continue to win in order to improve their body of work before the bowl bids are issued in three weekends.
"We understand that you have to win to make yourself attractive to the major bowls," Miles said. "This team wants to play a very good team in a prestigious bowl game. This team will play to that goal."