LSU versus Alabama is fascinating for unusual reasons

Matt Zemek Nov 7, 2019
Alabama --

To be clear, Saturday’s massive game between the No. 2 LSU Tigers and the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide is huge for many obvious reasons.

Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa might decide the Heisman Trophy race.

LSU and Alabama will play for the SEC West Division championship and the right to be viewed as the favorite to win the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Atlanta against the Georgia Bulldogs.

The winner could make the four-team College Football Playoff even if it loses to Georgia in a month.

LSU badly wants to beat Alabama after losing several times in a row to the Tide, the SEC’s current dynastic power.

Yes, this game matters for obvious reasons. Yet, it is supremely intriguing because of the unusual aspects attached to it.

Start with Tua Tagovailoa, who is often referred to like a Brazilian soccer star — by his first name alone.

Tua got injured a few weeks ago. Alabama coach Nick Saban hasn’t flatly announced that Tua would play, but nothing Saban has said created doubts about whether Tua would play. All signs point to the Heisman contender starting for the Crimson Tide.

What we won’t know until this game begins, however, is whether Tua — in his current condition — will be effective enough to lead Alabama past an LSU offense which has dramatically evolved this season and changed the equation for the Tigers.

Sep 7, 2019; Austin, TX, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) is off to the races on his touchdown reception against the Texas Longhorns in the second half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ronald Cortes-USA TODAY Sports

Three years ago, LSU was laboring and struggling under a limited, obsolete Les Miles-coached offense which featured the running game and lacked any sense of imagination. LSU relied on defense and not screwing up — the old-world football formula of the 1980s and prior decades — for its success.

Now, LSU has a modernized passing game which can score — and has scored — 40, 50 or 60 points in the blink of an eye.

Last year, Tua didn’t need to do much against LSU. Alabama shut out the Tigers’ 19th-century offense. This year, that should be different… if Tua is healthy.

We don’t know if he is.

This raises questions about who has the upper hand in Saturday’s game, but more than that, it raises questions about the significance of this game.

I refer you to the 2011 regular-season meeting between LSU and Alabama.

LSU — with that clunky and outmoded Les Miles offense — beat Alabama in overtime because the LSU defense that year was sensational.

If you don’t recall how that 2011 college football season unfolded, here is the simple refresher, in a few simple notes:

No. 1 LSU played No. 2 Alabama in early November. LSU won.

Alabama was nevertheless selected to play LSU in the national championship game.

Alabama won the rematch, even though it didn’t even win the SEC West Division or the Southeastern Conference.

Let me make a complicated reality very simple for you:

If Tua is not healthy, and LSU wins, Alabama would not be dealt a fatal blow in its pursuit of a College Football Playoff bid.

Assuming Tua would be healthy for the bowl game (a playoff semifinal), everyone could say that Alabama’s only loss of the regular season was due not to being a deficient team, but to Tua’s injury. Alabama would have a built-in justification for being included in the four-team playoff.

Alabama could meet LSU in a rematch.

In the 2011 season, the Alabama-LSU rematch occurred in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

Would you want to guess where this season’s national championship game will be played? Yup. The Superdome in New Orleans.

In 2011, there was no four-team playoff, only a two-team national title game in which the participants were selected. Today, under the four-team playoff format, the national title game’s two teams are the winners of playoff semifinals. Nevertheless, Alabama potentially losing to LSU this Saturday and still getting into the playoff would re-create the 2011 dynamic, albeit under a different postseason structure.

As big as this game undeniably is — the winner is a safer bet to make the playoff than the loser — the possibility that the loser can still make the playoff is not a fringe idea. Many people in college football think this, and those people are RIGHT to think as much.

Oct 12, 2019; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) celebrates with head coach Ed Orgeron during the fourth quarter against the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If you are a Canadian reading this piece, you might be thinking, “Gosh, you Americans and your systems for deciding winners — first the Electoral College, now the College Football Playoff. You’re weird!”

Yes we are.

Tigers versus Tide is interesting for all the obvious reasons… but the real intrigue begins AFTER this game ends, not during Saturday’s clash in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Welcome to college football.


Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek has written about tennis professionally since 2014 for multiple outlets. He is currently the editor of and the co-manager of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Tennis With An Accent blends Saqib Ali's podcasts with written coverage of professional tennis. The TWAA Podcast hosted Darren Cahill earlier this year. The podcast is distributed by Red Circle and is available on Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts. See Matt's pinned tweet on his Twitter page for links to the TWAA Podcast. Matt is based in Phoenix and thinks the Raptors winning the NBA title was awesome. Saqib will be covering Montreal for Tennis With An Accent.

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