This is the Southeastern Conference’s price for all its BCS dominance the past half decade.
The SEC’s ultimate game will be waged here Saturday when No. 1-ranked LSU meets No. 12 Georgia, and yet in many circles the SEC championship has been reduced to an afterthought, its massive wooden trophy an ornate doorstop. One can picture the SEC’s grand prize dumped in a corner of LSU or Georgia’s locker room with the dirty socks once they return home, passed over like last year’s Christmas toys as one team — or both — begin making preparations for playing in New Orleans in January.
After plowing undefeated and — save one game — unchallenged during a 12-game regular season, the Tigers have been lauded as the most bulletproof BCS front-runner since Oklahoma in 2003.
You remember the Sooners. Kansas State took a blowtorch to them that year in the Big 12 Championship Game 35-7 (you can’t spell rout without “OU”), but Oklahoma was so far ahead in the BCS computers, nothing could melt its chances of getting to the Sugar Bowl for a date with LSU for the BCS national championship.
That’s pretty much where LSU is today. Almost as unassailable is No. 2 Alabama. The Crimson Tide won’t have to block or tackle today (or try a field goal, heh-heh), just sit in front of the hi-def with a bowl of French onion dip and root against all the one-loss teams that could possibly threaten their national title hopes.
Alabama can’t win the SEC, and it can’t lose, so in some minds the Tide has an advantage.
There is but one answer to that: baloney. Same goes for all of this talk about the SEC championship being irrelevant.
No self-respecting football coach or player should be happy to be missing the chance to play for a championship. Especially one as meaningful as the SEC championship.
Certainly, the LSU players and coaches know the score of the big game that is the entire 2011 season. They know deep down if they play well and win — or even apparently play well and lose — they will be playing for the BCS title on Jan. 9.
But the Tigers are greedy. They want it all. All the prizes, all the rings, and something a little more. The right to end up 14-0 and probably, at the very least, be called the best team LSU has ever had.
The Tigers know they won’t get a chance to be called best all time if they don’t win the SEC Championship Game first.
“There is no view of another game in my mind,” said LSU coach Les Miles, who led the Tigers to the SEC title en route to the BCS title in 2007. “Year in and year out … the opportunity to be an SEC championship team is what we’re after. I promise you. We have no view of what comes after that. What comes after that will take care of itself if we play well.”
If Miles wants it, stamps the SEC Championship Game with his seal of important approval, his players will certainly toe the party line. But they have their own reasons for making the game important.
“I’ve never won a championship in football on any level,” free safety Eric Reid said. “Having an undefeated season would be amazing for me. To win the SEC would be even bigger.”
“We want to win it all,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “We don’t want to lose a game. We’re going to try to go out and win this one.”
Is there any other way to go about it? They’ve been handing out SEC football titles since 1933. LSU has won the SEC 10 times, or pretty much an average of once per decade. That’s a rare achievement, and rare things are worth cherishing. Especially when they are difficult to win, as this title appears like it will be.
Georgia, winner of 10 straight after losing its first two games, is no pushover. Still, expect to see a familiar pattern Saturday. It’ll be close for a half, or 2 1/2 quarters, tooth and nail close. The Bulldog fans will join in a rising chorus with those who always wish for BCS chaos and hoping/wish/fervently pray for an upset.
But then will the come the moment that has come in 11 other LSU games this season. The moment when the Tigers look over their shoulder and do that “Beep! Beep!” thing like the Road Runner and leave the hungry Coyote (or Bulldog or Razorback or Tiger or Mountaineer or Duck) in the dust.
When the dust settles, the Tigers plan to be on the podium lifting the SEC trophy, big smiles on their faces.
That’s when you’ll know it’s important.