Does anyone know if Alabama has a football game today?
Mercifully, the paralysis of analysis that has engulfed tonight's game between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium can be counted now in hours. The first 1-2 matchup ever of teams from the Southeastern Conference in the regular season has experienced a two-week buildup, making this more similar to a Super Bowl than a crucial college game that will produce the SEC West front-runner.
"I think that everybody out there probably thinks that there is some special formula or some special magic that, when you play in games like this, that you go do different things to get ready for the game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "The most important thing is that you prepare for the game and that your players are focused on playing their best football, knowing that they are going to play against good football players and a good football team."
Saban, who has been credited with resurrecting both LSU and Alabama, has won 12 consecutive games against teams that defeated his teams the season before. LSU's Tigers toppled the Crimson Tide 24-21 last year in Baton Rouge, but the last team to master a Saban-coached team in two consecutive years was Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators, who thumped LSU during the 2000 and '01 seasons.
LSU went 7-15 in the two seasons before Saban's arrival in 2000, and his rapid turnaround produced a 48-16 record that included two SEC championships and one national title. Les Miles replaced Saban after the 2004 season and has since assembled a sparkling 70-17 mark that includes a national title as well.
"I have great respect for a very strong and capable coach at Alabama in Nick Saban," Miles said. "You watch how he prepares his team and how they play, and if you don't admire how that happens, you don't care much about football. This is a wonderful opportunity to have the chance to compete against the best."
The various angles to tonight's game have been broken down repeatedly.
Both teams have unrelenting defenses. Both teams have outstanding balance, with Alabama averaging 1 more yard rushing than passing (229-228) and LSU averaging 6 more yards (189-183) against the tougher schedule.
And there's Crimson Tide junior tailback Trent Richardson, who is hoping to take a huge step toward the Heisman Trophy against a team that sidelined him last year with knee and abdominal muscle injuries.
"It's always in the back of my head that they took me out last year," Richardson said.
Alabama leads the all-time series with LSU 45-24-5, but the Crimson Tide's home record against the Tigers is much closer at 21-15-2. In its last seven trips to Tuscaloosa, LSU has won five times.
There has never been an Alabama-LSU game like this one, though, as has been repeated infinitely this week.
"We have had a pretty good week this week," Saban said. "I think the players have been able to stay focused on the things we have tried to emphasize each day and really tried to keep their routine pretty constant."