Buckle your chin straps, put on your big-boy britches, and settle in for a primetime SEC slug-fest as fourth-ranked Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) travels to Baton Rouge to face No. 14 LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) this Saturday night on the bayou.
Toe meets leather at 8:10 p.m., well after the sun finds its place in the western sky and its fading beams flicker over the mighty Mississippi River. A full day of tailgating beneath moss-draped oaks on LSU’s campus ensures fans will be well-oiled heading into the 102,321-seat Tiger Stadium.
CBS will televise the nighttime contest to a national audience for a fourth straight year, with good ol’ Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson in the broadcast booth.
The annual tussle between the Tigers and Tide has emerged as the most meaningful, if not best, modern-day rivalry in the nation’s finest football conference.
Consistently one of the season’s most anticipated matchups, the game pairs perennial powerhouses, traditional SEC programs accustomed to the pressures of the national stage. Brute force abounds when LSU and Alabama collide. This is old school football with old school coaches and old school fanbases.
If you’re looking for chrome helmets, all black uniforms, and other such nonsense, look elsewhere.
Alabama and LSU need not resort to gimmicks because their football brands and reputations as minor league NFL teams are well known. The NFL caliber talent on display during this game is perhaps more obvious than in any other game all year.
Take the 2011 affair in Tuscaloosa, for example, when 42 players who played in the game — 42! — were drafted in the NFL. While LSU is not Alabama’s most traditional rival (that title goes to Auburn), this game is frequently the most important for both teams, often with nothing less than an SEC or even national championship game berth on the line.
Either Bama or LSU has been ranked No. 1 in the nation the last four times they’ve met (LSU in both games in 2011; Alabama in 2012 and 2013). The winner has played in the SEC Championship in six out of the last nine years (LSU in 2005, 2007, and 2011; Alabama in 2008, 2009 and 2012). Just 33 points separate the teams in their last 10 meetings, with three of those games heading to overtime.
This year’s edition lacks a No. 1-ranked team, but the Crimson Tide’s College Football Playoff dreams are very much alive and LSU would love nothing more than for those dreams to die in Death Valley. Alabama, which has won three straight over the Bayou Bengals, enters as a 6-point favorite according to the folks in Las Vegas.
SEC Banter polled some LSU and Alabama fans for their thoughts on this annual grudge match. The responses reveal the game’s meaning and emotions run equally high:
“LSU-Bama means epic player performances like Shaun Alexander’s coming out party in Baton Rouge and Rohan Davey throwing to Josh Reid in Tuscaloosa. It means who wins the West. More than anything it means big boy football, old school style. I look forward to this one more than all of them.”
“I flat-out hate Nick Saban and especially their redneck, non-Bama-grad fanbase. I enjoy Alabama losses more than LSU wins.”
“When Hollywood made a movie featuring Alabama football, it was an all-time American classic, ‘Forrest Gump.’ LSU has ‘Waterboy.’ End of story.”
“LSU-Alabama is the most hostile environment in college football. The only question is whether the battle on the field or among the fraternities will be bloodier.”
“Saban walked out on LSU, like a divorce. Then he married the office secretary with the poor reputation. It still stings, and it stings bad.” (Quite obviously edited for decency!)
“No way we’re going to Baton Rouge this year. Last time we went, an LSU fan threw a beer bottle at my wife’s head.”
“I still like to believe that [former Alabama QB] AJ McCarron was named after Backstreet Boy AJ McLean.”
“Shoot, I couldn’t say what I hate about LSU. I really don’t dislike LSU too much.” (This was likely most shocking response I received.)
“I love the pregame atmosphere, the play on the field, and that LSU is not in Alabama.”
“How do you start a conversation with someone with an IQ of 75? ... Roll Tide!”
Visceral emotions and vitriol aside, Saturday night’s tilt in Red Stick could be another classic. LSU is just 8-26-2 versus Alabama in Tiger Stadium and went winless against the Tide in Baton Rouge from 1971 to 2000. But the Tigers tout a 46-3 record on Saturday night home games under Les Miles.
Like past clashes of these titans, the team that runs the ball more effectively will have a decided advantage. LSU is 45-4 under Miles when a running back has over 100 yards rushing, so if budding star Leonard Fournette eclipses the century mark, an LSU victory may be in hand. But Fournette and LSU’s offensive line will have their paws full. Bama leads the league in rush defense and has allowed just two rushing TDs all year.
Since 2008, Alabama is a ridiculous 66-2 when rushing for over 140 yards. If LSU pulls the upset, expect Bama to rush for 139.99 yards because, Les Miles.
Strangely enough, Alabama does not want to lead at the beginning of the 4th quarter. That’s because at LSU, Miles has a winning record (24-23) when trailing in the 4th quarter. Only in the bizarro Les Miles world is this even fathomable.
In the end, Tide junior wideout Amari Cooper may be the difference. Cooper leads the SEC and is fourth nationally in receptions per game, while ranking second nationally in receiving yards. LSU’s defensive backfield, likewise, leads the SEC in pass defense and is fourth nationally in pass yards per game.
But the Tigers haven’t seen the likes of Cooper and, though talented, they lack a Patrick Peterson or a Honey Badger to shut Cooper down. Cooper’s playmaking ability could turn the Tide over the Tigers come late Saturday night.
Bourbon will flow liberally on the bayou and magic, voodoo-type things happen on a Louisiana Saturday night. Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant once said, “Baton Rouge happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team. It’s like being inside a drum.”
But the Bear also compiled an 8-1 record against LSU in Tiger Stadium.
SEC Banter predicts a close Alabama win on a late Amari Cooper touchdown. Alabama 27, LSU 21.
Let’s hope LSU and Alabama deliver once more and cement their status as the SEC’s and, by extension, the nation’s, most meaningful rivalry.