One of the most anticipated matchups of the season takes place Saturday night as No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) rolls into Baton Rouge to take on No. 5 LSU (7-1, 3-1 SEC) in Tiger Stadium. Ever since Nick Saban bolted from the bayou for the NFL, failed, then returned to the college ranks at Alabama, this annual tussle has evolved into the SEC West’s most intense game and one of the country’s premier rivalries.
No two college football teams reflect their coaches’ personalities like the Crimson Tide and Fighting Tigers. The team from Tuscaloosa is precise, disciplined, and predictably successful. The squad from Red Stick is loose, freewheeling, and totally unpredictable. Both embody their coaches’ vastly different core values and approaches to the game of football.
If you think core values from the top of any team or organization don’t translate to on-field performance, think again.
Let’s take a non-football example that we Southerners should be familiar with. I’ll gladly pay a few extra bucks for a spicy chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A because the service, friendliness, and all-around experience at Chick-fil-A is head and shoulders above other fast-food restaurants. Chick-fil-A employees from cashiers to drive-thru folks value top-notch service because the company’s management has instilled a culture of service-oriented success. Sure helps that the food is so tasty, too.
Watch the finely-tuned football machine that is the Alabama Crimson Tide and, while not known for service with a smile like Chick-fil-A, you’ll see how the team reflects Nick Saban’s personality. Disciplined defenders. A crisp offense. Players who know their role, execute it with precision, and have fully bought in to Saban’s mantra that focusing on process — the little things — ensures a successful outcome. Alabama fields a team of football robots programmed by Saban to seek and destroy all that stands in the Tide’s way.
Brief aside: The Alabama football website has a link that reads, “Ever Dream of Lunch with Coach Saban?,” accompanied by an awkward picture of Saban manning a grill. I am not making this up. Do I speak only for myself in saying without hesitation that I have never, ever dreamt of lunch with Coach Saban? Maybe if he’s serving up spicy chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A, but otherwise, no thanks.
At the other end of the football spectrum we have Les Miles’ LSU Tigers. While Bama is disciplined and controlled, the Bayou Bengals are nothing short of controlled chaos. And sometimes it’s not so controlled. LSU’s athleticism carries the day more often than Les Miles’s coaching strategy, if he has a strategy in the first place. LSU’s players are energetic, expressive, and highly talented but seemingly lack direction to the point where you wonder if the team actually conducts practice during the week. The reality is that LSU often must beat Les Miles before turning to the opposition.
Brief aside: The LSU football website does not have a link asking whether you’ve ever dreamed of lunch with Les Miles. But lunch with Les would be a heck of a lot more entertaining than lunch with Nick, no spicy chicken sandwiches required.
We’ll see whether paranoid, obsessive control or laissez-faire, maddening chaos prevails on Saturday night as Alabama and LSU square off for the third time in twelve months. The night-time kickoff gives the Tigers an advantage but it might not be enough to fend off the football-game-winning-robots from Alabama.
- Fans of the nation’s finest football conference hoping for a seventh straight SEC national title should pull for Alabama to go undefeated. A one-loss SEC team will not likely reach the title game if Kansas State, Oregon, and Notre Dame all finish the season undefeated. Let’s not let the Midwest or, heaven forbid, the Pacific Northwest stake claim to what is rightfully a Southern tradition — dominating college football.
- Congrats to Georgia for a potentially season-saving win over Florida last week. Avoid letdowns against Ole Miss and Auburn and the Dawgs punch their ticket for a return trip to the Georgia Dome. Easy, right?
- Hearts out to South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a major knee injury against Tennessee. The SEC is better with Lattimore and we hope to see him in a Gamecock uniform next year.
Best of luck to your SEC team this Saturday and we’ll engage in more SEC Banter next week. In the meantime, I’m hungry and headed to Chick-fil-A. Want to guess my order?
Ben Prevost is a contributing columnist for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @SECbanter or contact him at SECbanter@hotmail.com.