|Etling, LSU brace for Notre Dame at Citrus Bowl|
LSU quarterback Danny Etling grew up in Terre Haute, Ind., about 220 miles southwest of Notre Dame's campus in South Bend.
Back then, Etling was a huge fan of the Fighting Irish. He attended games with his family and proudly wore the team's gear. An old jersey, No. 3 for Joe Montana, still hangs in his house.
Yet while Etling developed into a high school star, Notre Dame looked elsewhere in its recruiting efforts. Etling signed with nearby Purdue before eventually transferring to LSU.
On Monday afternoon, the senior quarterback will square off against his former favorite team in the final game of his college career when No. 17 LSU (9-3) plays No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl at Orlando's Camping World Stadium.
"Once I began loving football more than basketball, I grew up thinking I'd be a quarterback for Notre Dame," Etling told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "But they barely recruited me. I was a pro-style quarterback and they were going in a different offensive direction. ...
"I've made such good friends and I've had such good teammates (at LSU) that I wouldn't trade it for the world. Coming to LSU has been everything I wanted and more."
Both teams want to make a strong showing in order to secure a 10-win season. Notre Dame has accomplished the feat two times under coach Brian Kelly. Meanwhile, LSU is searching for its first 10-win campaign since 2013 under ex-coach Les Miles, since replaced by Ed Orgeron.
The Fighting Irish flew to Orlando six days before the game to adjust to warmer conditions.
"I actually love it, being from a warmer state," Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe, a Texan, told the Orlando Sentinel. "I think when we left South Bend it was 2 degrees, so I'd prefer this, but it does take a day or two just to get acclimated."
Not everyone on the team made the trip. Notre Dame will be short-handed, particularly in the passing game, without wide receivers Kevin Stepherson (suspension) and Chase Claypool (injury), as well as tight ends Alize Mack (suspension) and Brock Wright (injury).
That means quarterback Brandon Wimbush might have to rely more heavily on targets such as Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin and Chris Finke at wideout. Smythe could play a big role along with fellow tight ends Nic Weishar and Cole Kmet.
Wimbush struggled throughout much of the regular season as he completed only 49.8 percent of his passes for 1,818 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. He proved to be dangerous with his feet as he rushed for 765 yards and a team-leading 14 touchdowns.
Fighting Irish running back Josh Adams (1,386 yards, nine touchdowns) shined behind a behemoth offensive line anchored by Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. The emphasis on the ground game is likely to continue versus LSU, which will be without its top three linebackers because of injuries.
LSU waited until later in the week before traveling to Orlando. The Tigers wrapped up the regular season with victories in three games in a row and six of their past seven.
Etling avoided too many turnovers as he completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,234 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. He added 107 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Senior wideout D.J. Chark led the Tigers with 35 catches for 811 yards and three scores. Wideout Russell Gage (19 catches, 270 yards) and tight end Foster Moreau (20 catches, 214 yards) also hauled in three touchdowns apiece.
In the backfield, Tigers running back Derrius Guice racked up 1,153 rushing yards to go along with 11 touchdowns. Guice missed several bowl practices because of a knee injury but returned to practice on Tuesday and is expected to be ready for the game.
LSU is stout on defense even without its starting linebacker corps. Defensive tackle Greg Gilmore (6 1/2 sacks) and defensive end Christian LaCouture (six sacks) lead the unit.
Notre Dame linebacker Te'von Coney has 99 tackles on the season and is almost certain to top the century mark against the Tigers. Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery is tops with four sacks.
This marks the 12th meeting between the teams. Notre Dame owns a 6-5 series edge, including a 31-28 win in the most recent matchup in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2014.