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What does Alabama vs. LSU mean? Only everything

Southeastern Conference powers face off in the 23rd meeting of teams ranked 1-2 in Associated Press poll. A case can be made that this is the biggest of them all.

November 04, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Coaches Nick Saban of Alabama and Les Miles of LSU know the pressure of playing in big games and having their teams deliver.
Coaches Nick Saban of Alabama and Les Miles of LSU know the pressure of playing… (Photos by Getty Images and…)

There have been, arguably, bigger events. Some would put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's 1-2 footprints ahead of this football 1-2.

Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis compares favorably with Les Miles' spirit of Baton Rouge.

The collapse of communism versus Alabama's ability to collapse the pocket is an argument any two reasonable people could have.

Football-wise, though, forget about it.

Saturday's game between No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., takes the cake candles Nick Saban blew out on Halloween to celebrate his 60th birthday.

As if Saban had time to contemplate trivial matters such as mortality. "It's hard to think about birthdays," he said.

Other than allowing ESPN to move a battalion in for a game that will be broadcast by CBS, both franchises have been super focused. Saban drove ESPN's Tom Rinaldi around Tuscaloosa to prove he (Saban) was human and even had his radio preset (by the sports information department?) to Michael Jackson.

Then Saban (metaphorically) broke off the engagement and told Rinaldi to get out of the car.

Miles had ESPN's Erin Andrews over for informal "coffee talk" chitchat and spoke devotedly of driving his own kids to school even during this, the father of all weeks.

This is the kind of game where the advocates for both sides whistle while they work.

"The school wins, the team wins and the state wins," Miles said. "It's a beautiful time."

It's a time when all your discipline issues disappear. LSU has had off-field problems dating to preseason, with three of its top players sitting out the last game reportedly for failing a drug test.

When it's No. 1 vs. No. 2, though, all your kids are choir boys who sit, hands folded, at their desks.

"There will be no players withheld from the game," Miles confirmed Monday. "There is no one on this team that is suspended."

There have been 22 previous regular-season meetings of teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the Associated Press poll. Surprisingly, none of those involved two teams from the Southeastern Conference.

Everyone has their favorite 1-2.

Your great-grandpa might remember No. 1 Army vs. No. 2 Notre Dame in 1946 at Yankee Stadium. Army had Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis and Notre Dame had Johnny Lujack and Leon Hart.

Unfortunately, at game's end, neither team had a point.

Notre Dame vs. Michigan State in 1966 ranks among the memorable even though, again, nobody won. That game ended 10-10 after Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian chose to play for the tie to preserve his team's national title hopes. Parseghian was ridiculed for "tying one for the Gipper" but Notre Dame did end up winning the national title.

Texas vs. Arkansas in 1969 was a made-for-TV promotional masterpiece, with ABC moving the game from Oct. 18 to Dec. 6. Texas won a 15-14 thriller. President Nixon declared Texas the national champion before the bowls were played. Penn State also finished unbeaten that year, prompting Coach Joe Paterno to quip years later, "How could Nixon know so little about Watergate and so much about football?"

Nebraska and Oklahoma — remember when they were rivals? — staged a "game of the century" in 1971, with Nebraska winning a contest best remembered for Johnny Rodgers' electrifying 72-yard punt return.

No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Notre Dame played an epic in 1993. The Irish won, 31-24, ultimately clinching the national title for . . . Florida State. That's right. Boston College's subsequent shocking upset of Notre Dame paved the path for the first of Bobby Bowden's two national titles.

Only one game in the post-1998 Bowl Championship Series era — No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18, 2006 — compares in magnitude with Saturday night.

The drama in Columbus was heightened by the death of former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler the day before the game.

A punk-rock band billing itself as the Dead Schembechlers was scheduled to play that night at the Newport Music Hall on High Street in Columbus.

Instead, the band canceled its gig and the hall's marquee was changed to read "God Bless Bo."

Ohio State beat Michigan, 42-39.

Let's see LSU-Alabama top that.

This game is unique in its own way, though.

This is the best of the best — the two best teams from the nation's best conference. The SEC has claimed the last five BCS national titles and both schools have had two weeks to prepare for prime time.

The winner has an inside track to the Jan. 9 national title game in New Orleans; the loser will be pining for a title-game rematch.

The talent on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be unmatched. Alabama might have 15 players who will be drafted and every one of LSU's starters on defense has a chance to play professionally.

In an era of spread offenses and Case Keenum video-game passing numbers, Alabama-LSU figures to be a low-scoring, old-school, field-position game with moving piles and violent collisions.

The schools are so similar LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers noted, "It seems like we're looking in a mirror."

Alabama is No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, allowing 6.88 points per game. LSU ranks third at 11.50.

"We come to play games like this," LSU receiver Rueben Randle said.

The time has come to play.

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