Well, it’s finally Alabama – LSU week. The penultimate week of the 2011 college football season. Virtually every prognosticator and pundit predicted this clash of titans and the teams actually backed up the predictions and made it here unscathed. Every blogger worth his salt has contributed to the discussion and described just what it will take for each team to win. Heck, even I added to the discussion. ESPN is going full blast to over-hype the game, even though it’ll be shown on a rival network. As far as college football games go, this is a big deal. This is it.
But for a moment, I’d like to step away from all of the hype and hoopla and just savor the experience leading up to this battle. Before we know it, this one will be over and we’ll be on to the next game of the century, so let’s enjoy this one.
So here are a few thoughts about this week’s game…
**The feeling surrounding this game is weird and it’s taken me a while to figure out just what exactly it feels like: the run up to the inaugural SEC championship game in 1992 vs. Florida. Before that game, there was a great uneasiness about facing a very good opponent, plus the strange feeling of being in a place where you’ve never been before. There was also the feeling that if the team lost, the season wouldn’t mean very much because nothing had been won. That’s pretty much how I feel about this game.
** For some time now the “big” questions have been floating around: Is this the biggest game in SEC history? Is this the biggest home game ever for Alabama? Is this the game of the century? My answer would be let’s wait until after the game to decide where it ranks, but certainly at face value this is the biggest regular season game in SEC history and the biggest home game in Bama history.
** For the record, I would say the 2009 SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida is the biggest game in SEC history. Both teams were 12-0 heading into the game and were ranked 1-2 by AP. The game was a blowout, so if this week’s Bama-LSU game is a real barn burner, it could be the best SEC game of all-time.
** My general feeling – which goes against conventional wisdom – is that this won’t be a close game. In the preseason I picked LSU to win, primarily because I had no clue how our quarterbacks would play. As I type this, I’m still not sure who I’ll pick officially this week. Regardless, though, I don’t think it will be a 1-2 point game. I think the winning margin will most likely be 7-10 points.
** I like Bama because they have beaten their toughest opponents in a better fashion defensively. They shut down Penn State (I know, I know terrible offense) and Arkansas. LSU gave up a lot of yardage to Oregon and West Virginia.
** I like LSU because of their big play advantage at wide out. I know, I know, they are going up against Bama’s secondary, but my point is that they have demonstrated more big play capability. Or another way to put it: I have more confidence that LSU’s wide outs could score on a big play vs. the confidence I have in our wide outs. Julio Jones’ catch-and-run in the 2009 game is the signature moment from that game. Do we have a wide out who can do the same thing?
** Personally, I wish the game remained at 2:30 p.m., but Bryant-Denny will be rocking at 7:00 p.m. Over the last 20 years, BDS has gotten a lot louder. The 2003 Oklahoma game was the loudest I’ve witnessed in person. The 2009 LSU game – with a 2:30 p.m. start – almost seemed a bit subdued at the beginning, but rocked as the sky turned to darkness.
** I kind of like Les Miles. He got his hackles up and had to act like a tough guy for a while after Nick Saban came back to Alabama, but after he settled in, he’s become fairly easy to like. Of course, if LSU wins on Saturday, I’ll probably like him a lot less.
** As fate would have it, I have had several interactions with LSU fans over the last two weeks or so. They are on edge about as much as Bama fans are. There are two general ideas that come out when talking to LSU fans about Saban: 1) they think he’s a better Xs and Os coach than Miles, though they don’t want to outright admit it; and 2) they think Saban is a miserable human being. They may be right about #1. Regarding #2, I think it’s because Miles seems a little more at ease and seems like he’s got a bit more of a family life (especially with school-age children). I do think Saban has mellowed a bit over the last 5-7 years, something most LSU fans don’t have the chance to see.
** Finally, I can’t help but think about how some young man’s life will change dramatically this Saturday. While both coaches will teach and preach for every guy to just do their job, there will be some young man who steps up and makes a play that effectively wins this ball game. It could be a player from either team. It could be a punt return or a punt block. It could be a diving catch in the end zone or a diving interception along the sideline. Who knows? Whatever it is, it’ll be fun to watch. I came awfully close to selling my four tickets on Stubhub.com this week. $2,800 sounded really nice. But, ultimately, as a college football fan I felt I had to go. There’s a good chance my Bama team could lose, but maybe, just maybe we can cook something up for Les and his boys. And if we do, I’d like to be there with most of my family to see it.