As to how I feel about this game, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. LSU really needs a big win right now, and I’m not all that optimistic (though a close win would not shock me). I think the win over Alabama in 2010 was what eventually kick-started 2011. Before the game, a lot of people thought Alabama could knock off Auburn that year (which they nearly did) and return to the championship game.
Alabama has only beaten LSU two in a row, the same number LSU had won before that, but it doesn’t feel that way. The bowl game in 2011 was a punch to the gut. I don’t know if LSU has ever had that kind of win over Alabama. I guess I can see an argument for 1993, when LSU was mediocre on a good day and Alabama lost its first game in almost 2 years. I can’t even think of any other candidates though, and that’s not quite the same thing anyway. When you win the year before, it’s not such a disaster. If LSU had won in 2011, the 2012 season wouldn’t have bothered me at all. But it wasn’t just that it took away the national championship that seemed so well within reach, it was also that it basically erased the regular-season win. So that was like two wins in one for Alabama, not to mention that the Tide had another national championship to brag about at LSU’s expense.
Then last year, LSU was probably one first down (or one fourth-down stop) away from beating Alabama. I think that just further cemented a feeling of helplessness that we could outplay them for that much of a game and still lose. It was a flashback to how people older than me described the series before I was born. It didn’t seem to matter how good of a team the Tigers had or how well they played, Alabama seemed to find a way to win. LSU hasn’t snatched away a victory like that anytime recently from Alabama. So the circumstances of those games were so much worse than just happening to lose to a big rival two games in a row.
During the early to mid-2000s, LSU mostly just tried to keep anything exciting from happening and wore out the Tide. Alabama was never in a position where they should have won in the first place (with the possible exception of 2007—more below). The Tide did lead 10-0 in 2005, but LSU tied it with over 20 minutes left in regulation. So other than that overtime game where a three-point deficit is normally considered a good thing (absent some kicking mishap or a ridiculous loss of yardage, the worst that happens is generally another OT), you have to go back to 1988 to find a game where Alabama was leading in the closing seconds only to lose. LSU won that game by a point with a 34-yard field goal following a 68-yard, 149-second drive. The winning points were scored with only 29 seconds left in the game.
Interestingly enough, 2011, 2005, and 1988 were all at Alabama. LSU’s loss last season and the OT loss in 2008 were both at home. Also, that 1993 game I mentioned was at Alabama. Alabama has dominated the series generally, but even when they kept LSU winless at home in the series from 1969 to 2000 (exclusive), the Tigers still won 7 times at Alabama during that time span.
The 2010 game was at LSU, but a similarly crucial game for the Tigers was at Alabama: 2007 after the overtime loss to Kentucky. Had LSU lost that game, it’s actually possible that Les Miles wouldn’t have made it past the 2008 season. I doubt the Tigers would have handled Arkansas (their second triple-overtime loss that season) any better by losing to Alabama, and the season before was good enough for Tiger fans to suffer through a losing conference record in 2008 and four losses (including the clock-management blunder against Ole Miss) in 2009.
2008 might have been an example of what would have happened. When LSU lost in OT to Alabama that season, they barely beat Troy the next week (after rallying from a 31-3 deficit) then lost big to Ole Miss and lost a close game against a losing Arkansas team.
Alabama ended up being the one whose season fell apart instead in 2007, but the Tide had entered that game ranked #17, and didn’t go down easily. Alabama scored 24 unanswered points to take a 10-point lead with just over 16 minutes left in the game and led with as little as three minutes remaining. I guess that’s the closest LSU came to doing what Alabama did last year since 1988.
I’m not saying LSU is not going to show up the rest of the season if the Tigers lose this one or that all hope will be lost for the future, but it could be a sign of the program starting to go downhill: maybe something along the lines of what happened to Tennessee in the last 10-15 years, or what happened to Alabama between Stallings and Saban, or what happened to LSU between 1989 and 1999. Alabama getting a third win in a row in this series would really give them the upper hand going forward, in momentum, with fan and alumni support, and in recruiting. You’re never safe in this conference. At some point, it becomes, “What have you done lately?” The Alabama program, in teenage recruits’ minds especially, is being seen as more and more of a national championship program, and the LSU program is being seen as less and less of one.
Regardless of what LSU does, the national championship probably won’t be on the table like it was in 2007 — even a BCS bowl (what will we even call them next season?) might be hard to accomplish — but having 3 losses (however close) before even playing Texas A&M or going to a bowl game is going to be hard to swallow.
Also, on a lighter note, Oregon wants Bama according to their T-shirts, so we should do our best to make sure the Tide aren’t in the BCS championship game.
Projected Top 10
With the significant top-10 results yesterday, I decided to project the top 10 at the conclusion of the week. I just computed my formula with bye weeks for the teams who haven’t already played and who would not be (or play) a top-10 team. Part of the projection is the teams who are in the top 10 lists and who do play tomorrow would win. Since Alabama is playing a somewhat highly rated team, I did another projection of what it would probably look like with LSU winning.
Projected top 10 if the remaining top 10 teams all win:
1. Florida St.
5. Ohio St.
10. Notre Dame
(LSU would probably fall out of the top 25.)
Projected top 10 if LSU beats Alabama and remaining top 10 teams win:
1. Florida St.
4. Ohio St.
10. Notre Dame
(LSU would probably be #13 behind Fresno St. and Oregon.)
Keep in mind Notre Dame has a bye week next week, so their place in the top 10 would probably be highly temporary if they win Saturday in the first place. Remember also that Pitt was about a 30-yard field goal attempt away from beating the Irish last year. Also, another Michigan loss (they play Nebraska) would hurt the Irish, possibly enough to allow Fresno St. and Oregon to remain ahead of them. Oregon is very close to Fresno St., so it’s also possible that other results would keep the Ducks ahead of both Fresno St. and Notre Dame. Miami will most likely be in the top 10 with a win regardless of other games, but Clemson could get passed up
South Carolina and Michigan St. (as well as Ohio St., Clemson, and Fresno St.) are idle this week and obviously Oklahoma has already played, so absent a slew of losses, they won’t be able to jump over many teams. There is a somewhat sizeable gap between 15 and 16, so I don’t expect any team who is not currently in the top 15 to have much of a shot at the top 10.
Don’t cry for the SEC too much if it doesn’t have a team in the top 2. Alabama plays Auburn, which should help out the winner a lot, and one of them will in all likelihood play for the SEC title.