Momentum up for grabs as No. 3 Tide hosts No. 9 Tigers
By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban can downplay its meaning and dismiss its relevance.
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The reality of the rivalry between No. 3 Alabama and ninth-ranked LSU has relevance that extends beyond bragging rights and trash talk. The winner of today’s 3:30 p.m. showdown in Bryant-Denny Stadium is guaranteed a spot in the SEC championship game if it’s the Tide and in control of the West Division if it’s the Tigers.
To the loser goes the burden of regrouping to avoid the domino effect of defeat. Recently, that has been too much to overcome.
The losing team has gone on to drop its next SEC game every year since 2002 as the hangover resulted in more than a headache.
“Losing a big game like this when you do buy into what people are saying and how this game is built up, that can make it worse,” Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said. “If you listen to what everyone says, ‘This is your game; this determines your season.’ If you lost, I guess it could pop your bubble for the next few games.”
That bubble exploded in 2007, when the Tigers took out the Tide 41-34 in the only loss of the Saban era among the 26 games Alabama led at halftime. The loss triggered a four-game slide that included losses to Mississippi State, Louisiana-Monroe and Auburn — all by a touchdown or less. Only an Independence Bowl win over Colorado kept Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa a winning one with a 7-6 record.
Last season, the Tigers followed their overtime loss to the Tide with a homecoming win over Troy of the Sun Belt Conference before dropping back-to-back SEC games against Mississippi and Arkansas.
Regardless of the potential collapse to follow, the passion of the two fan bases for the game has yet to waver. Some premium tickets are reselling for upwards of $1,000 apiece on Web sites such as fansnap.com.
Those figures likely won’t factor into Saban’s pregame speech. He emphasized this week keeping the pressure and stress away from his players by not over-hyping the game. Using the added stakes of the showdown to motivate his team is counter-productive, he said, because using fear and the threat of negative consequences simply isn’t effective.
“Everybody knows it’s a big game, but we can’t focus on that and get stuck up in the hype,” Reamer said. “It’s always going to be a big game; it’s seldom going to change.”
Tide players don’t forget the unspoken connection between Saban and his former employer, although this is his third with game against LSU as the Alabama coach.
“Going in, there’s always that extra whatever you want to say, cherry on the top, that kind of gets us going,” said Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson.
LSU or Alabama has represented the West Division in the SEC championship game three of the past four seasons: the Tigers in 2005 and 2006 and the Tide in 2008. Each time, the winner of the Alabama-LSU rivalry game went to Atlanta, and this year appears like it will be no different.