Clemson is in the midst of a three-game stretch against SEC heavyweights, with tonight’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl wedged between a regular-season finale loss to South Carolina and the 2013 opener against Georgia.

The No. 14 Tigers might win one of the three, but probably not tonight.

Five reasons why No. 9 LSU will squeak by, 23-21.

1. SEC-tough. The Bayou Bengals went 2-2 in a four-game stretch, with wins over South Carolina and Texas A&M sandwiched between loses to Florida and Alabama. Saban, Spurrier, Muschamp, Johnny Football ... They are ready for almost anything.

2. The Hatter. It figures that LSU players are bummed out about a lesser bowl at 10-2 and one year removed from a national title shot. But Les Miles seems like the kind of motivator that won’t tolerate a letdown.

3. M&Ms. LSU defensive lineman Sam Montgomery (Greenwood High School) and Barkevious Mingo are likely first-round draft picks adding to their audition videos.

4. An improved Zach Mettenberger. LSU won with shaky quarterback play early in the season but the maligned Georgia transfer turned it up a notch at midseason.

5. Tough draw. No shame in struggling against a legit top 10 team. Clemson players, coaches and fans want such matchups, which are more helpful in building a program than defeating Louisiana Tech or Kentucky.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff.