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Cotton Bowl and more

LAS COLINAS — When LSU teammates Terrence Toliver and Jarrett Lee gear up for a trip home to the Brazos Valley from Baton Rouge, La., the travel bags always wind up in Lee’s car for the more than 300-mile trek.

“I’ve never taken him home,” Toliver said Tuesday.

The reason? Lee’s old stomping ground of Brenham is another 20 miles west on Highway 290 from Toliver’s hometown of Hempstead – meaning the receiver Toliver would have to go out of his way to drop off his quarterback.

“Yeah, he’s mentioned that,” a grinning Toliver said of Lee always getting stuck with the keys.

Each of their hometowns, however, is only 40 miles from the campus of their Cotton Bowl opponent Friday night – Texas A&M. The junior Lee, LSU’s backup quarterback and one-time starter, wasn’t a good fit for then-A&M coach Dennis Franchione’s option offense four years ago. As for the senior Toliver, rated the nation’s top high school wide receiver four years ago by ESPN.com, he had a few problems with Franchione’s Aggies at that same time – one completely out of Franchione’s control.
A&M close, but no cigar

“It was really too close to home,” said Toliver, who has 1,708 receiving yards over four seasons for the Tigers. “A&M is a great school, but I wanted to get away from home – but not too far.”

Toliver added that Franchione’s teams didn’t throw the ball enough for his taste.

“Now they pass a lot,” he said of the Aggies’ offense under Mike Sherman.

Any regrets in not staying closer to home?

“Nah,” said Toliver, who unlike Lee didn’t redshirt in 2007. “I’ve got a national championship under my belt.”

The Tigers (10-2), who won the national title three years ago, are taking on the Aggies (9-3) for the first time since 1995. A&M has played in Cowboys Stadium twice in the past two seasons – two nonconference losses to Arkansas – while LSU is playing in the two-year-old home of the Dallas Cowboys for the first time. That’s why Lee placed a call to former Brenham teammate Kyle Mangan, an A&M linebacker, when the Cotton Bowl announced its teams.

“He said I’ll never forget it, and I definitely believe him after being here now,” Lee said following the Tigers’ first practice in the $1.2 billion building earlier this week. “It’s amazing.”

Amazing also describes a couple of plays between the Texans this season, in helping the Tigers earn consecutive last-second victories over Tennessee and Florida. Lee, in alternating with starter Jordan Jefferson, hooked up with Toliver for 21 yards on a fourth-and-14 on what wound up a game-winning drive in a 16-14 victory at Tennessee.

A week later, Lee found the 6-5 Toliver on a fade pass in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown in a 33-29 triumph at Florida, a game winner set up by a fake field goal that resulted in a first down three plays earlier.

“The fade to Toliver to win the Florida game was pretty awesome,” Lee said. “I was happy for the opportunity.”
Patience pays off

Nearly five years ago, Lee was one of four high school quarterbacks featured on the cover of the 2006 Dave Campbell’s Texas Football – along with Ryan Mallett, G.J. Kinne and John Chiles. Only Chiles stayed in state at Texas. Lee started eight games in 2008 at LSU as a redshirt freshman, but he threw 16 interceptions. He’s now used about every third series by the Tigers.

“He’s fought through all of the (adversity), and this season he’s got one interception and is completing about 60 percent of his passes,” LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton said. “He wants to go out there and prove that he can play.”

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Coaches want LSU-A&M rivalry renewed

IRVING, Texas — LSU coach Les Miles and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman were asked about rekindling the rivalry between the two schools.

Friday’s Cotton Bowl will be the 50th time the teams have met, but the first time since 1995. The two used to play each other constantly, usually the first game of the year.

“That is something I have thought about because LSU is so close to us and we do have a previous relationship with with LSU,” Sherman said Wednesday. “We’ve had some great games. Obviously, our commitment with the Big 12 and our current schedule with everyone playing each other and add in Arkansas and with LSU’s schedule, I don’t envision it. But certainly down the road a border rivalry with LSU is something to consider.”

Miles agreed.

“I think any time you play quality opponents and you understand you have to play with a great passion to win, there is a want to renew a rivalry like that,” Miles said.

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LSU’s Miles focused on Cotton, no Michigan contact

IRVING, Texas — LSU coach Les Miles says he has had no contact from Michigan about becoming the coach at his alma mater.

Miles said Wednesday, before Michigan fired coach Rich Rodriguez, that he was focused on preparing his 11th-ranked Tigers for the Cotton Bowl on Friday night against 18th-ranked Texas A&M.

During a Cotton Bowl news conference, Miles said he was there to “speak about LSU.” The former Wolverines player and assistant coach said “Michigan will be fine. They’ll always be Michigan.”

Miles was considered a leading candidate at Michigan when Lloyd Carr resigned three years ago. But Miles held an unusual press conference hours before the 2007 Southeastern Conference championship game saying he intended to stay at LSU.