NEW ORLEANS - The Southeastern Conference's record-setting run in college football will notch another milestone tonight when No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama meet in the Superdome for the BCS national championship.
This is the first time two teams from the same conference will vie for the sport's title, assuring the SEC of a sixth consecutive crown. The league's string began with Florida winning the 2006 championship and continued with LSU in '07, Florida again in '08, Alabama in '09 and Auburn last season.
"It's rewarding, satisfying and gratifying to have the eyes of the college football world focused on the Southeastern Conference," league commissioner Mike Slive said Sunday afternoon. "I think this national championship game is a historic moment for the league and for college football, and I'm going to be significantly more relaxed in this game than I have been in the prior five.
"People keep asking me who's going to win, and I say 'the SEC.'"
Before the SEC's current streak, no league had won more than three straight national championships.
The BCS, or Bowl Championship Series, was established in 1998 to pair the two best teams, and Tennessee won the inaugural title by defeating Florida State 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl. Before '98, if a champion from the Big Ten Conference or the Pac-10 Conference was ranked among the top two teams, it was contracted to play in the Rose Bowl.
There has been controversy with the BCS, including this season, as Alabama could become the first team to win the title without winning its league or even its division. LSU and Alabama are in the SEC West, and the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5.
"We love being the team that nobody wants to see in the championship," Tide tailback Trent Richardson said. "This has put a chip on our shoulder, and we're going to show everybody and prove to everybody why we should be in this game."
If LSU wins, the Tigers would become the first team to win three BCS championships. If Alabama wins, Nick Saban would become the first coach with three BCS crowns.
Saban guided LSU to the 2003 championship over Oklahoma before leading the Tide to the '09 title over Texas.
"We only have so many opportunities to play in games that are as meaningful as this to our institutions and our traditions and to the players who have made the commitment to work so hard to have the opportunity," Saban said. "As a coach, you want to do everything you can do to give them the best chance to go out there and be successful and accomplish something that is going to be a great lifetime memory."
The earlier meeting was dominated by the defenses, as neither offense managed 300 yards, and players from both sides were feeling rather rough in the days that ensued.
"That was the most physical game I have ever played in," Crimson Tide offensive tackle Barrett Jones said. "I think it's a cool opportunity to get to do it again, just because there really are no secrets between us."
Said LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers: "Wherever you went to bed after that game is wherever you wanted to stay. I had to get some minutes in the hot tub and the cold tub."