LSU's Ridley glad to be reinstated for Cotton Bowl

LSU leading rusher Stevan Ridley said Tuesday that his "innocence was maintained" now that the NCAA has cleared him to play in the Cotton Bowl.

The running back's eligibility had been in doubt since coach Les Miles said Dec. 22 that Ridley could miss the Cotton Bowl because of an unspecified "one-time" academic violation. Ridley said he couldn't get into specifics of what happened.

LSU appealed to the NCAA and the school was notified Monday that Ridley, who leads LSU with 1,042 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, had been reinstated.

"I have to say I was excited, really was," Ridley said. "I thought I'd have to have my actual hearing and talk with the NCAA today, but it worked out that everything came back positive. I just had to stay positive through it all. I'm just glad to be back with my team and knowing I'm going to be on the field."

The 11th-ranked Tigers (10-2) play No. 18 Texas A&M (9-3) on Friday night in Cowboys Stadium.

Ridley was allowed to take part in workouts and practices while his eligibility was being determined. But LSU also had to prepare for the possibility of him not playing.

"Was I getting as many reps as I wanted to get? No, I wasn't," said Ridley, who likely will start Friday's game. "But we had to get guys prepared because we didn't know what was going to happen."

Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton said he hadn't altered his game plan despite the uncertainty, but was glad that Ridley will be back.

"For one thing, this is nice to have the worry out of your mind," center P.J. Longeran said. "Secondly, I enjoy having him in the backfield because he is one of the most difficult guys to bring down in the league. He makes an offensive line look really good."

Ridley, a junior, ranked fourth in the Southeastern Conference during the regular season with 87 yards rushing a game and was sixth in the SEC with his 14 TDs — eight of those coming in the last four games.

During what he called a "bittersweet Christmas break" because of the pending NCAA decision, Ridley also worried about his eligibility for his senior season next fall.

"I really was. I would be lying if I said I wasn't, but I didn't really know what was going to come from it," he said. "It was really just a big shock for me and put things in perspective. I tell people every day, don't take anything for granted. You just have to keep pushing, and it worked out."