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BATON ROUGE, La. – Zach Mettenberger unapologetically explains why he has a hard time viewing 15th-ranked LSU's regular-season finale against Arkansas as a cause for celebration.
"It's pretty depressing — another chapter in a lot of guys' lives passing by," the Tigers' senior quarterback said this week. "You spend so much time with all these guys that it's going to be tough to not be around them every day."
For Mettenberger, college football has been a sometimes bumpy five-year journey from Georgia — where he was dismissed — to community college in Kansas, to LSU, where he spent one year at third-string before finally taking his first snaps as a starter in 2012.
After leading the Tigers (8-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) into Friday's "battle for the Golden Boot" against the Razorbacks (3-8, 0-7), and one last bowl game, "I'll never get to play college ball again," Mettenberger lamented.
"It's five years I'll never get back," he said. "So I think the word 'depressing' is only fitting. ... I'll never get to play in Tiger Stadium again."
By the time Mettenberger starts preparing for the NFL draft, he could be remembered as the best passer in LSU history. He is 74 yards from becoming only the third quarterback to reach 3,000 yards in a season. Rohan Davey's single-season LSU record of 3,347 yards, set in 2001, is well within reach during the final two games.
Jarvis Landry said LSU's receivers intend to help Mettenberger "leave his name in the record books forever."
The game also holds the potential to alter Arkansas' record books in ways good and bad.
Running back Alex Collins will almost certainly become a rare freshman to surpass 1,000 yards rushing. But the Razorbacks also hope to avoid lengthening their school-record eight-game losing streak, along with a first winless record in SEC play since joining the league in 1992.
"The Boot is very important. We don't have much to play for other than this big trophy and this rivalry game," Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith said. "If we can definitely come out with the win and get this big trophy, it will be a big deal for us."
Here are five things to know about the game:
TRADITION: Arkansas and LSU have met 58 times since 1901, with LSU winning 36 and tying twice. This season marks the 18th meeting since they began playing for the "Golden Boot," a 175-pound trophy standing about 4 feet tall and shaped like the two border states. The Tigers have won the boot 11 times, while the Razorbacks most recently won it in 2010. For 15 of the past 17 years, the game has been played as the regular-season finale on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but it's scheduled for mid-November next year.
Many of the games have been close, regardless of either team's record.
"I feel like every year we play Arkansas the game goes down to the wire," LSU junior defensive tackle Ego Ferguson said.
DYNAMIC DUO: LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry entered this week as the only 1,000-yard receiving duo in the nation. Beckham has 56 catches for 1,101 yards and eight TDs, while Landry has 67 catches for 1,059 yards and 10 TDs.
RUNNING RAZORBACKS: Collins is 2 yards from becoming only the second player in Arkansas history to top 1,000 yards rushing as a freshman, joining Darren McFadden.
"Hopefully we keep him at 1 yard," LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. "But he's a great runner."
Collins is not the Hogs' only productive ball carrier. Jonathan Williams has rushed for 842 yards.
Arkansas has surpassed 200 yards rushing in seven games.
DEFENDING DEATH VALLEY: LSU is 6-0 in Tiger Stadium this season and has won 30 of its past 31 home games. Arkansas last won there in 2007, in triple overtime.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Razorbacks say they don't see this game as an anticlimactic end to a lost season, but as a chance to build momentum for 2014. "It's a trophy game and would give this team a taste of a big win," fullback Kiero Small said. "It would be easy for a staff or for guys to give up in the situation we're in right now, but I think everybody that's inside these walls knows that we're building something."