UPDATE: Alleva, Miles discuss academic speculation

LSU athletic director Joe Alleva released a statement Wednesday afternoon aimed at addressing rumors and media questions about the eligibility of quarterback Jarrett Lee for the rest of the Tigers’ games this season.

Alleva’s statement does not mention Lee in particular but is general in nature:

“Despite media and message board speculation, no LSU student-athletes have been declared ineligible for post-season competition,” Alleva says in the statement. “The current semester is not complete and finals are still ahead, so it is grossly unfair to our student-athletes and it is both premature and irresponsible to speculate on the final grades and postseason eligibility of our student-athletes.”

Speculation about Lee has centered on whether or not he would be ineligible for LSU’s bowl game or appearance in the BCS National Championship Game.

LSU coach Les Miles was asked specifically about Lee’s academic status Monday during a news conference but skated around the issue. Miles later said he expects Lee to play a vital role in the Tigers’ final two games.

Asked again after Wednesday’s practice, Miles downplayed the academic issue.

“Ever since I’ve been here guys are in differing positions academically as we go into the end of the season,” he said. “Very much like I was. You know what? Guys rebound and they make it.

“Look back. How many guys have not been with us in a bowl game? Whoever reported it, in my opinion, didn’t do any real investigative work. What was said could have been said every year that I’ve been here.”

Asked if he has any greater academic concern about a key player or players, Miles said: “It’s pretty much normal.”

Lee started LSU’s first nine games but has seen markedly less playing time since the Nov. 5 Alabama game as Jordan Jefferson has gotten the last three starts. Lee has not spoken to the media since before the Alabama game.

Mathieu named one of five finalists for Walter Camp Award

Chalk up a major national award coup for the Honey Badger.

LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was named Wednesday as one of five finalists for the Walter Camp National Player of the Year Award, one of the biggest postseason awards in college football.

Mathieu is the only defensive finalist on the list. The others are Alabama running back Trent Richardson and three quarterbacks – Andrew Luck of Stanford, Case Keenum of Houston and Robert Griffiin III of Baylor.

Mathieu, who has been named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week twice this year, currently leads the top-ranked Tigers in tackles with 66. He leads the SEC and ranks second in the nation in both forced fumbles (6) and fumble recoveries (4). Mathieu has also intercepted two passes, recorded seven pass breakups and a pair of quarterback hurries. He has 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks to his credit for an LSU defense that is allowing just 10 points and 248 total yards per game.

Mathieu, the only sophomore on the list, started at free safety on Friday against Arkansas for an injured Eric Reid, further demonstrating his standing as one of the most flexible players in college football.

Mathieu has scored three touchdowns in 2011, most recently returning a punt 92 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas. Mathieu scored on a 3-yard fumble return against Oregon in the season-opener and he followed that with a 23-yard fumble return for a score against Kentucky.

In 24 career games, Mathieu has forced 11 fumbles, which ranks second among all active players in college football, and is just three shy of tying the NCAA career mark.

The Walter Camp Award winner will be announced Dec. 8 during the 6 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter” on ESPN. The trophy will be formally presented Jan. 14 in New Haven, Conn.


Report: Kiel returns to LSU for official visit

Quarterback Gunner Kiel (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) of Columbus (Ind.) East, attended Friday’s LSU-Arkansas on an unofficial visit with his family.

Tuesday, the nation’s top quarterback prospect and his folks returned to campus for an official visit, according to TigerSportsDigest.com (Scout.com) recruiting writer Shea Dixon.

Kiel, who earlier this season pulled back on his previous commitment to in-state Indiana, will reportedly also make an official visit to Vanderbilt this weekend and Notre Dame next weekend.

Kiel is expected quickly wrap up the recruiting process and enroll in January at whichever school he chooses.

The nation’s top-rated quarterback prospect according to Scout.com and ESPN.com, Kiel is also rated the top pro-style quarterback by Rivals.com. Kiel is ranked No. 17 on the Scout.com 300, No. 18 on the Rivals 100 and No. 20 on the ESPNU 250.

LSU currently has 20 commitments for its 2012 recruiting class, but none from any quarterback prospects.

Petrino not happy

The Arkansas coach wasn’t happy after LSU’s 41-17 win, apparently thinking LSU tried to run up the score. The Orlando Sentinel has video:


Reid, Loston dressed for LSU-Arkansas game

LSU defensive bac ks Eric Reid and Craig Loston are in uniform and participating in pregame warmpus for the No. 1 -ranked Tifers game against No. 3 Arkansas, which kicks off at 1:40 p.m. Friday in Tiger Stadium.

LSU, however, will not announce any lineups prior to kickoff. Reid sat out most of last week’s 52-3 victory at Ole Miss after suffering a thigh injury and Loston did not make that trip because of a wrist injury.

It is assumed that Jordan Jefferson will make his third consecutive start at quarterback, but no starting positions will be certain until the game starts.

For in-game updates, follow us on Twitter @LesEast, @ScottRabalais, and @GaryLaney.

LSU-Arkansas coverage

Stay with Theadvocate.com for all of your in-game coverage as you watch today’s huge SEC showdown between No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Arkansas.

On Tiger Tracks, you’ll be able to interact live with Theadvocate.com sports editor Gary Laney in the press box with a live chat during the game. Laney will bring you insight from in the stadium and he’ll be with Advocate beat writers Scott Rabalais, Les East and Scott Hotard and will act as your conduit for questions you have for them.

Also, you can follow Laney, Rabalais and East on Twitter and @GaryMLaney, @LesEast and @Scott Rabalais.

Post-game look for post-game coverage, including audio from Les Miles and in Saturday’s paper (and the site) look for the usual in-depth coverage from the entire Advocate team.


Pick Six with CBS Sports announcer Verne Lundquist

Verne Lundquist

Play-by-play announcer Verne Lundquist has had a Hall of Fame career spanning more than four decades, including the last 29 years spent at CBS calling more than 20 sports. The voice of CBS college football telecasts, Lundquist, 71, will call Friday’s LSU-Arkansas game then hop on a charter jet with the rest of the CBS broadcast crew and head to Auburn, Ala., for Saturday’s Iron Bowl. He took a few moments earlier this week to answer a few questions for this week’s Pick Six:

What are the logistics involved in trying to do two games back-to-back?

We’ve done it once before. We had Arkansas-LSU then charted to the Florida-Florida State game when Tim Tebow was a sophomore (in 2007).

The homework is one-tenth of what it normally will be in the middle of the season. We did Arkansas last week and we’ve had LSU four times. We had Auburn two weeks ago at Georgia and had them at LSU, and everyone remembers the LSU-Alabama game.

We’ll be in the air about 90 minutes after the game is over. We were almost at the point that we were going to take (color analyst) Gary (Danielson’s) motor home, but the bus is only going to Auburn this week.

What do you think will be the effect of Arkansas tight end Garrett Uekman’s death on the Razorbacks this week?

I’m sure it will have an affect on their preparation. I don’t see how it cannot. But they’re resilient young men. I do think even though it will be only one week removed from his death that they’ll be focused on the game. I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be. They’ll be saddened by it all, absolutely, but once they kick it off on Friday afternoon, the kids will be resilient.

It may be painting you into a corner with this question, but what are your thoughts on calling a big game in Tiger Stadium?

It’s one of my favorite venues in all of college football, which means it’s one of my favorites in the SEC. I wish we did more night games, just like the LSU fans. Of course, we’re restricted by contract, unless we get the one moved to prime time as we did this year (for LSU-Alabama).

I’m probably the only one on our crew who remembers Billy Cannon’s 89-yard run. I read that this is the first time since 1959 that they’ll have No. 1 vs. No. 3 in Tiger Stadium, and I think that’s just terrific. I fully expect that the crowd will be through the roof. The Georgia game we did there in 2003 was one of the most intense games. I remember that vividly. I expect the atmosphere will be much like that one.

You get to spend time with the coaches during the week leading up to a game – what are your impressions of Les Miles?

Les is very open. He and Gary have had their moments, but they respect each other enormously. It’s fun to see them go at it a bit in our meetings because they do have such great respect for each other. Les is very forthcoming with us. It’s fun for me to see him become – I don’t know if beloved is the right word – but he’s certainly a long way from being the guy who people said won with Nick (Saban’s) boys. You don’t here that much anymore.

It’s fun to see the change in his status with the fans – and the critics. He’s a unique character in the sport of college football. We’re all better off for having him here.

Do you actually hear from fans, including LSU fans, who say you’re harder on their team than the other?

Oh, sure. I don’t think they (LSU fans) are as vocal as the Alabama and Auburn fans are, but I hear about it. People say, ‘You don’t care about Georgia as much as other people.’ I don’t. I can’t. My job is to report them fairly. There’s no bias for Gary or myself. No bias at all. What we hope for is a competitive game every Saturday. But I’m aware that there are Arkansas fans who are convinced we’re in the rooms with the LSU coaches. And people do call-in shows and can’t understand how we can’t love the Tigers as much as they do.

When Howard Cosell was in his prime, he was a magnet or a lightning rod for people. Someone took a poll about the best loved and most hated sportscasters, and he won both sides. That’s the ideal position.

You get to call SEC football games in the fall and are in the tower on the 16th hole at Augusta National for The Masters in the spring. Do you have a favorite?

I can’t rate one over the other. It’s really mixed vegetables. It’s hard to equate the passion you feel in a Tiger Stadium or a Bryant-Denny or at Auburn, any of the places in the SEC really, with the kind of emotion you feel at Augusta. It’s such a different experience. I treasure them equally, I really do. Then there’s something about sitting in a basketball arena in March doing the Elite Eight. Now you’re talking about carrots and peas and potatoes.

I realize how privileged I am to be part of all of it. I never take any of it for granted. Not many people get to do No. 1 vs. No. 3 on Friday, go to the Alabama-Auburn game on Saturday, then Augusta in April.

Miles expects Reid, Loston to play Friday

LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday that he expects safeties Eric Reid and Craig Loston play against Arkansas on Friday afternoon in Tiger Stadium. Reid sat out most of the 52-3 victory at Ole Miss last week after sustaining a thigh injury, and Loston did not make the trip because of a wrist injury.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Loston will play,” Miles said during the Southeastern Conference coaches weekly teleconference. “We’re very optimistic about Eric Reid. He’s much better and he ran yesterday and felt good. Loston is certainly prepared to play safety the entire game. We’re good there either way.”

The top-ranked Tigers will need to us plenty of defensive backs against the third-ranked Razorbacks, who have the highest-rated passing offense in the SEC.

“They have a very talented group of guys that can catch the ball,” Miles said. “They spread the ball around and certainly are a tremendous challenge. Our guys are very excited about the match-up and we’re looking forward to another big game.”

Arkansas has the most productive passing game LSU has faced since its 47-21 victory at West Virginia on Sept. 24. The Mountaineers passed for 463 yards against the Tigers.

“There are some similarities,” Miles said. “I think we saw some of West Virginia receivers in a different light than we were. We felt they were more talented than we probably expected. We probably would have changed some calls and some match-ups.”

Miles said the key to slowing down the Razorbacks’ passing game will be “covering them and getting to the passer.” “The great thing about their offense,” Miles continued, “is they have balance in their ability throwing it and running it. It’s a challenging set of circumstances. They’re a talented group.”

He added that the Tigers likely will play a mixture of man-to-man and zone coverages as they do most weeks.

Miles said he sees a lot of similarities in Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who leads the SEC in passing yards per game, and his predecessor, Ryan Mallett.

“Tyler is maybe a little shorter, but that’s about it,” Miles said. “He’s very talented.”

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino did not make his scheduled appearance on the conference call.