No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama.
As good as it gets.
As big as it gets.
But just how big is big?
It’s bigger than LSU vs. Ole Miss in 1959, with its ghostly Halloween night run to glory by Billy Cannon.
It’s the biggest regular-season game in Southeastern Conference history, no small slab of history to be sure.
It’s bigger than any Texas-Oklahoma game, Florida State-Miami game or USC-Notre Dame game in recent memory.
It’s even bigger than the North Melbourne Kangaroos taking on the Collingwood Magpies in the Australian Football League Grand Final. At least that’s what Brad Wing tells us, LSU’s punter from Down Under.
It’s that big, mate.
You will remember this day as long as you live if ?
? You live and die with LSU.
? You bleed Alabama crimson.
? You simply love college football.
It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2, numbers that light a fire under the imagination, jangle the nerve endings and stir the blood. The kind of matchup that’s as rare as a member of the Kardashian family who shuns the spotlight and 100 times more likely to create an indelible memory.
In a year that has given us so many reasons to be disillusioned about college football and college athletics in general, here on the first Saturday of November comes a colossal showdown to remind us why we care about these games so much.
Actually, it’s more than a game. It encapsulates why sports, particularly college sports, mean so much to us.
It’s not just about a pro franchise, which if the offer is right could one day bolt out of town under cover of night and leave an eternally empty spot in your soul. It’s about where we work, where we live, where we went to school, elements woven into the fabric of who we are.
Of course, every college rivalry worth anything takes on its own unique dimensions.
When it comes to LSU and Alabama, the lines are indelibly drawn.
It’s Les Miles’ high hat vs. Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat - and with apologies to Nick Saban’s crimson-banded straw hat, some things never go out of style.
Politically speaking, it’s the purple and gold state vs. a truly red state - with apologies to Auburn, they don’t call the state “Alabama” for nothing.
Is it good vs. evil? That depends on which side of Mississippi you live on - and what you think of Saban personally.
As for the actual nuts-and-bolts, on-the-field matchup, with two weeks worth of Super Bowl-worthy hype this game has been sliced up and dragged under the microscope in innumerable ways.
These teams are super close in terms of talent and what they’ve been able to do. Alabama’s stats are a shade more impressive - the Tide leads the SEC in total offense and defense, scoring offense and defense - with LSU ranking second in three of those categories. The Tigers have played a more difficult schedule, having faced five ranked opponents to the Crimson Tide’s three.
Alabama gets the edge for playing at home, particularly with the oddsmakers. They’ve installed the Tide as a 4- to 5-point favorite, which is basically the home-field advantage kicking in. That also discounts LSU’s 10-4 record against Alabama in Alabama since 1982.
There’s no denying that the Tide will get an adrenal booster shot from the crowd of 101,000 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, all but a fraction of which will be pulling for Alabama. But from an us-against-the-world perspective, the 7,000-10,000 LSU fans who shoehorn their way in will provide their own boost as well.
LSU fans always manage to make an impression, from the anonymous prankster who put a purple cape on Nick Saban’s statue last month to the droves of LSU boosters who will converge on the Alabama campus with or without tickets in their own Occupy Tuscaloosa movement.
In the end, fans and hats and colors and even coaches won’t be the ultimate decisive factors in this ultimate showdown. Like any game, it’ll still come down to basic elements, like who turns it over the least, who gets the best quarterback play and which team can impose its will on the other with a pounding running game.
Personally, I anticipate a game much like the LSU-Bama matchup in 2005, a physical top-10 grudge match which the Tigers rallied to win 16-13 in overtime.
But deep down, you’re hoping to see a game that leaves its own forever moments, something befitting the never-before-seen matchup, something like Cannon’s run or The Earthquake Game that we talk about for the rest of our lives.
It’s that big.