LSU/Alabama game receiving national hype
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. ó It was hard to escape the hype around the LSU-Alabama game when both squads were off last week. Now, itís downright impossible.
Alabama linebacker Dontía Hightower had just finished celebrating a win over Tennessee two weeks ago when he saw the first ad for the LSU game. When Barrett Jones chatted with family and friends back home in suburban Memphis, they didnít want to talk about the Vols game.
Like everybody else, they wanted to talk No. 1 LSU versus No. 2 Alabama.
ěEveryone I saw pretty much was like, ëYouíve got a pretty big game this week,íî said Jones, the Crimson Tideís left tackle. ěI was like, ëYeah, we do. Thatís an underestimation.íî
After a nearly two-month buildup, Judgment Day ó SEC style ó is now just days away.
The Tide and Tigers collide Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium in a game thatís gotten weeks of hype as a potential national title elimination contest.
The winner certainly does have the inside track to play for both the Southeastern Conference and national titles, with no guarantees beyond that. The game is so big that even Alabamaís all-business coach, Nick Saban, didnít try to downplay its magnitude Monday before a room packed with close to double the normal media contingent on his 60th birthday.
LSU coach Les Miles as usual wants his players to embrace the big-game trappings. He said he doesnít want the Tigers coaching or playing like normal for a game thatís anything but.
ěI want the players to enjoy the glare and the light of the big stage,î Miles said. ěI want them to enjoy the opportunity to play for a big victory. Once Iíve prepared the team and after I feel Iíve done a quality job, I want the players to play with freedom.
ěIf there is a chance to make a dominant play, I want them to make that play.î
This isnít altogether uncharted territory for either SEC power. The veterans have played in big games like this. In January. Or even December.
Itís the November part thatís new. Itís the first time two SEC teams have met before the league title game ranked 1 and 2 in the nation.
There hasnít been a regular season No. 1 and 2 showdown anywhere since Ohio State and Michiganís 2006 finale.
ěWe live for games like this,î Tide noseguard Josh Chapman said. ěYou want to go against great teams. Being in the SEC, itís a great matchup. Weíre ready for it.î
The two SEC West rivals have been on a season-long collision course.
Both brushed off their first eight opponents with a series of double-digit wins, walloping East Division foes Florida and Tennessee by a combined 61 (LSU) and 59 (Alabama) points.
The Tigers dispatched No. 6 Oregon by 13 points; the Tide walloped No. 8 Arkansas 38-14. It didnít take long for this one to start seeming like the big one.
Even bigger than usual. The winner of this game has played for the SEC championship game four of the past six years, twice apiece. And last year was the first time in that span that the winner didnít either play in Atlanta or in a BCS bowl.
It seems everyone knows itís not just another game.
ěTwitter, Facebook, weíve been hearing it from everywhere,î Hightower said. ěItís really exciting. Youíve been hearing about it ever since the Tennessee game. As soon as I got home, I saw the commercials for it, LSU versus Alabama. Weíre really excited for it, but we canít let that get to us.î
Saban said instructing players to ignore the hype and keep the TV and laptops tuned away from pre-game coverage is like laying down dating ground rules for your children ó you hope they abide by them but you canít really be sure.
ěIím sure that thereís some players on our team who pay very little attention, and thereís other players who could get caught up in that type of thing,î Saban said.
He isnít dismissing the notion that the loser of the game is bumped from the national title picture, and maybe even a possible rematch in the BCS championship game.
Chances are, that would require a loss by unbeaten teams like No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 Boise State.
ěI think everybody should view that game as these are two of the best teams playing and how that game affects the future should not be relative to just who won and lost, but actually the quality of the teams,î Saban said.
Thatís a down-the-line concern, though. Heís more concerned about stopping LSU quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson and finding a way to score against LSUís defense.
Saban said thereís no ěmagic formulaî for winning such games, just the basics like execution, focusing and winning the turnover battle.
In a region where priorities often go something like faith, family and football, theyíve become intertwined for some fans.
ěPeople are coming up to me and saying they are praying for us,î LSU safety Brandon Taylor said. ěI am getting so many text messages and phone calls. They say, ëBring it to Alabama. You are playing for the state of Louisiana.íî
For Australia, too. LSU punter Brad Wing doesnít have many comparisons for this game from his native country. The stadium will be packed to its 101,821-fan capacity for a primetime game.
ěFrom the culture I came from, there has not been a game like this that Iíve seen,î Wing said. ěThere was the Grand Final (in Australian Rules football). It is the equivalent to the Super Bowl with 95,000 people. But the hype for that game doesnít match the hype for this game.
ěThis is the biggest game Iíve been around. I knew the hype was coming. When the teams are No. 1 and No. 2, the hype keeps getting bigger and bigger.î
The Associated Press