LSU football coach Ed Orgeron is fond of calling Tiger Stadium, also known as Death Valley, a place where "opponents' dreams come to die."
Orgeron's Tigers, who are 8-0 and sit atop the Associated Press poll and are No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, hope their dreams are still intact after this Saturday's trip to Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium. Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are also 8-0, and they are second in the AP poll and third in the playoff rankings.
LSU's dreams not only include a first triumph over Alabama since 2011 but the potential cementing of a Heisman Trophy for Tigers senior quarterback Joe Burrow.
"I could see that, but obviously it's not the focus," Orgeron said. "I've been a part of four Heisman winners (as an assistant coach with Miami and Southern California), and I remember (former USC quarterback) Carson Palmer beating Notre Dame in a big game at the end and winning the Heisman. Being on a national stage helps you, and obviously there will be two big Heisman candidates.
"The one who plays the best and wins the game should have a shot to win it."
This season's Heisman Trophy race is an intriguing subplot to Saturday's 3:30 p.m. Eastern showdown that will include a presidential visit from Donald Trump and be televised by CBS.
In Alabama's corner is junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Heisman runner-up last year who has completed 145 of 194 passes (74.7%) this season for 2,166 yards with 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions for an efficiency rating of 212.4 that ranks second nationally to Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts. Tagovailoa's health could be revealed quickly on Saturday, with the 6-foot-1, 218-pounder returning from a high-ankle sprain sustained against Tennessee on Oct. 19 that required surgery the following day.
Burrow, a graduate transfer from Ohio State, has completed 205 of 260 passes (78.8%) for 2,805 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions for a 204.5 rating that ranks behind only Hurts, who once started for Alabama, and Tagovailoa. Earlier this week, Orgeron referred to the 6-4, 216-pound Burrow as one of the top five recruits in LSU history.
"Joe is very capable of making every throw," Saban said, "and I think he is very bright in terms of throwing the ball to the right place relative to the defense. I think he would do well in any system."
Said Burrow: "I just try to bring some toughness and leadership to the team. I think that's all you can ask out of a quarterback."
Burrow is in his second season with the Tigers after transferring from the Big Ten, and his first attempt at Alabama resulted in a 29-0 loss last November in Baton Rouge. He is currently the Heisman favorite with 6/5 odds, according to one Las Vegas online outlet, with Hurts at 5/2 and Tagovailoa at 3/1 next in line.
In 2015, LSU running back Leonard Fournette entered Bryant-Denny averaging 193.1 rushing yards per game and was a 4/9 Heisman favorite, meaning someone had to wager $90 just to win $40. Alabama held Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries, and Fournette didn't even get a Heisman ceremony invitation.
"I don't even talk about that stuff with Joe," Orgeron said. "Joe is a very unselfish player, and he couldn't give a hoot about all those awards. He wants his team to win."
Ending an eight-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide is LSU's chief goal this weekend. Whether that directly results in LSU's first Heisman winner since Billy Cannon in 1959 would be quite the added bonus.
"I wouldn't say there is any mental hurdle," Burrow said of this week's foe. "We are really confident in our abilities, and we are confident in our coaching staff and our scheme as well. Whatever the defense gives us, we're going to take. Sometimes it will be the slot, and sometimes it will be an out. It will just depend on what the defense is giving away.
"We are trying to approach this like it's any other game. Obviously it's not."