LSU wasn’t surprised when it learned officially Sunday night that it would be playing Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
Ever since the No. 1 Tigers edged the No. 2 Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime in the eagerly-anticipated showdown Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the specter of a rematch has loomed in front of both teams. It intensified after Stanford lost to Oregon and Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State, allowing Alabama to reclaim the No. 2 position last month.
Oklahoma State’s 44-10 victory against Oklahoma on Saturday created the possibility that the Cowboys could move past the Tide, which finished its season last week, in the final BCS rankings, but they came up short.
“We kind of expected this because it was one of the biggest games during the season, and the nation wanted to see us play Alabama again,” Tigers safety Brandon Taylor said. “I kind of knew it because of the strength of our schedules and them playing us and we beating them by three points in overtime.”
LSU safety Eric Reid said this matchup was to be expected.
“In my mind they are by far the No. 2 team in the country and the national championship is supposed to be No. 1 versus No. 2,” Reid said. “So I knew once we beat them that there was a chance that we were going to play them again.”
Taylor said he has never played the same team twice in the same season, but Reid played for Dutchtown High School when it played Hahnville and teammate Alfred Blue twice in 2008. Hahnville beat Dutchtown in the regular season, but Dutchtown turned the tables in the playoffs.
“We just knew that team a little better than we did the first time,” Reid said. “You could say the same for this situation. Alabama knows us better but at the same time we know them better. We just have to use our knowledge of them to our advantage and try to get another win.”
The defenses dominated in the first game, but even though LSU held Trent Richardson, the Southeastern Conference’s leading rusher to 89 yards on 23 rushes, it let him get free for 80 yards on five pass receptions.
“There are a lot of improvements that we have to make,” Taylor said, “like letting Trent Richardson get out of the backfield on screen passes and get big yards and stuff like that. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
“I think we improved tremendously after that game, and I think they did too, so it’s going to be an even better game than it was before.”
Bama was the only team to lose to LSU by fewer than 13 points. The first meeting was a bruising battle that wasn’t decided until Drew Alleman kicked a 25-yard field on the first possession of overtime.
“My neck was just throbbing,” Taylor said. “Everybody was hurt. We all were sore. Everybody came in for treatment the next morning. There was a lot of hard hitting going on in that game.”
After playing 13 games, the Tigers can use the five weeks to heal up before what will surely be another physical battle with the BCS title at stake.
“You’re going to see two teams playing at the end of the season and playing even harder because it’s all on the line now,” Taylor said. “If they win, that game that they lost doesn’t even count anymore because they won the big game. If we win, we just settle the debate about who’s the best team in the country.”
The biggest difference in the rematch is that it will be played in LSU’s backyard. Though it’s a neutral site and Bama will get its fair share of tickets, the Tide won’t enjoy the homefield advantage it had in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“It was very tough to go up there and play them up there because it’s a very loud stadium and the fans are very passionate about their team,” Taylor said, “but we’re coming back to New Orleans and we’ll be closer to home knowing that we have great history in the Superdome of winning bowl games.”
The Tigers are 4-0 in BCS bowl games in the Superdome, having beaten Illinois in the 2001 Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl for the BCS title, Notre Dame in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, and Ohio State in the 2007 BCS title game.
But this one is different because it’s a rematch, though Reid said it will all come down to who plays better on Jan. 9, not what happened on Nov. 5.
“That game has nothing to do with the one that we’re about to play,” he said. “We have to let that game go. We can’t go into this game thinking that because we beat them already that’s going to be enough to get this one done.
“We have to go in with a clean slate, focused. We know they’re going to be hyped up. They want their revenge and they get their shot at us.”