Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama, LSU Clash in Annual SEC 'Battle of the Titans'

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama, LSU Clash in Annual SEC 'Battle of the Titans'

Article excerpt

His new team just beaten by his old one, a drained Nick Saban stepped to the podium after Alabama-LSU in 2007 and explained how he saw this working out.

Saban, who had left LSU three seasons earlier for the Miami Dolphins before leaving the National Football League team to come to the University of Alabama, was the center of attention. He wanted none of that. He said his hands were bruised from smacking them together after so many Alabama mistakes, way too many to beat a better team. He vowed that through coaching and recruiting, Alabama would get better.

Saban's vision came alive, quickly elevating what this rivalry has come to mean.

Alabama has won three national championships since that day. LSU has one, and never vacated from the nation's elite. To Saban's delight, the impact of the series on the field and in the polls made the "Saban Bowl" an afterthought, at least once his first return trip to Baton Rouge, La., was out of the way in 2008.

Now it is expected for the SEC Western Division championship to hang in the balance when these two teams clash. There should be national championship implications, too. They've been in play for Alabama-LSU every year since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.

What was a big game in 2007 has become the game for both teams, and this year continues the trend. Alabama hauls in another No. 1 ranking to square off against No. 10 LSU in what should be another memorable chapter Saturday.

"This is not the kind of game that anybody could not get excited about playing in," Saban said. "Obviously this rivalry in the last few years has always meant a lot, whether it's national rankings, SEC West. A very meaningful game. Two very good programs, really good teams."

SINCE SABAN'S ARRIVAL

The high stakes make the relatively uncertain future of 2007 seem like a century ago, providing plenty of leg room for a series that has had at least one "Game of the Century".

The game has been bolstered by nip-and-tuck results, too. LSU has beaten Alabama three times since 2007, the most of any team in the nation. Home field hasn't meant much, either; LSU coach Les Miles is 3-1 in Tuscaloosa, Saban is 3-1 against LSU in the state of Louisiana.

Most telling of all, they have combined for five BCS Championship Game appearances and four national titles the past six seasons.

Or look at it this way: Things are humming along nicely for a series when this year's meeting - No. 1 vs. No. 10 meeting with Alabama favored by a dozen points or so - is considered a step down from the three top-five matchups in 2011 and 2012.

"Great teams. We know it's going to be blow for blow," said Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who is 2-1 against LSU in his career. He had his biggest moment in the series in the fourth quarter last season, leading the game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to clinch a win in Baton Rouge on the way to a national championship.

"It's always like that no matter what the record is," he said. "It is a great rivalry in a way and it's always two great teams going against each other. Every play does really count."

Take away Alabama's 21-0 win in the 2012 national championship game and the six regular-season meetings since Saban's arrival at Alabama have been decided by 7, 6, 9, 3, 3 and 4 points.

"I think this team, kind of historically at LSU, looks forward to playing Alabama," Miles said. "I think it's the same this week. I think our guys are really looking forward to playing the best against their best opponents. There is just a little more energy in the step of your team. Their attention to detail is greater. I enjoy it very much. I've always enjoyed the competition with some of the better teams in this country, and certainly Alabama is that."

A PHYSICAL SERIES

It's fitting that the teams who battle for the top of the SEC bring the same kind of fight: Ground game, physicality, multiple tight ends, big running backs and trenches littered with NFL talent. …

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