There’s a reason why Nick Saban called Alabama-LSU matchups a “sort of War of the Titans” during his radio show on Thursday night.
In terms of college football that’s a very accurate description.
Since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007 the Tigers have been the one team that has consistently matched up with the Crimson Tide in both size and talent. That’s no disrespect to Auburn, as that rivalry has been epic of late but has also included recent scores of 36-0 and 49-0.
These two teams always try to beat the daylights out of each other physically and emotionally, and then afterward stagger off from exhaustion. The series was even elevated to the BCS National Championship Game, with Alabama winning the 2011 title with a 21-0 victory. The Crimson Tide has captured two other crowns since 2007, and LSU one.
“I think that’s what college football is all about, what it’s supposed to be,” said the man who has been on both sidelines at Death Valley.
In addition to featuring the two biggest hotbeds of National Football League prospects in a division that’s absolutely dominating college football this season, Alabama vs. LSU has also become known as the Saban Bowl – and this is the ninth edition.
You know the story, about how after winning the 2003 national title Saban finally gave the NFL a shot, only decide the college game was better for him and left the Miami Dolphins for the Capstone.
Needless to say, the LSU faithful were a little bit upset, especially since was in the same division like former Florida coach Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.
With LSU not having a natural rival like Alabama does Auburn – geographically its Tulane and there’s a trophy game with Arkansas — the Cajun crazies now save their “best” for their former coach. For the first meeting in Tuscaloosa some sported purple-and-gold houndstooth hats as LSU, with 17 of the 22 offensive and defensive starters having been recruited by Saban, came from behind to win 41-34 and went on to play for the national championship.
But the return to Baton Rouge a year later was something that Saban will never forget.
“It was very negative, getting hung in effigy and burned at the stake and just about everything that could happen happened,” he said a couple of weeks ago before offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin made his return to Tennessee.
He then added a very telling line: “I think a lot of people in Tennessee are pissed off at him is because they know he’s a good coach and they were upset when he left,” Saban said. “I get that.
Alabama won that 2008 game in overtime, 27-21, and is now enjoying a three-game winning streak in the series.
The Saban Bowl
Year, location, winning team, score
2007 Tuscaloosa, LSU 41–34
2008 Baton Rouge, Alabama 27–21 OT
2009 Tuscaloosa, Alabama 24–15
2010 Baton Rouge, LSU 24–21
2011 Tuscaloosa, LSU 9–6 OT
BCS New Orleans, Alabama 21–0
2012 Baton Rouge, Alabama 21–17
2013 Tuscaloosa, Alabama 38-17
LSU comes in at No. 16 this year, the lowest its been during this stretch, but the Tigers have won three straight including the 10-7 home nail-biter to hand Ole Miss its first loss.
“We’ve been trying to emphasize to the young guys that if they have to go in it’s unlike anything they’ve ever heard before,” junior center Ryan Kelly said about playing in Tiger Stadium. “It’s loud.”
Actually, it’s even louder as stadium renovations have been finished since the last time Alabama visited two years ago, bringing capacity up to 102,321.
This will also be, believe it or not, Senior Night as LSU has just two road trips remaining on its regular-season schedule. In contrast, Alabama has been at Bryant-Denny Stadium once since Sept. 20.
“I look forward to seeing the media that surrounds a game like this,” LSU coach Les Miles said earlier this week. “Our football team seems to play biggest on a big stage, and we’ll look forward to getting to Tiger Stadium and allowing that fan base to rock the place, make a lot of noise, come early, stay late, eat concessions.
“Our guys will look forward to it. Our team plays best in Tiger Stadium. It’s a magical place. There’s no better place in America to watch a football game.”
It’s Death Valley, where the coach says “Dreams come to die,” including some of his own. Both sides have been ranked in every Miles vs. Saban matchup, usually in the top 10, including the pair of 1 vs. 2 game despite being in the same division
So call it what you will, War of the Titans, Saban Bowl IX, another Game of the Century even. Saban’s right about one thing, it is what college football is all about.