No team outside the College Football Playoff Top 10 plays more meaningful games in November than LSU (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas A&M). Randy Rosetta begins a monthly series of ‘Randy’s Ramblings’ on the Bayou Bengals and the rest of the SEC.
Took a while, but I get it
As you may or may not know, I am not a native Southerner. I’ve been down here almost 13 years now, with a brief stop in Auburn and each of the last 13 football seasons covering LSU – Nick Saban’s final year here, all of Les Miles’ tenure and the advent of the ongoing Ed Orgeron era.
So I kind of feel like I’ve found a home and have embraced a lot of the ways down here – except the sweet tea thing. Can’t do sweet tea.
I grew up in Kansas, so the bigger sports to me were always basketball and baseball in no particular order, although I was a decent enough high school football player, once athletic enough to play quarterback before growth and gravity prompted a shift to fullback/tight end/outside linebacker.
Football fandom-wise, I have always tended to lean more toward the NFL, with a specific affinity for the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs were really bad when I was a kid, so I latched onto the Steelers and wore the bumblebee-looking gear and all. (Side note: I am also a huge Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox fan, so the last three Octobers were cool for me.)
Something happened when I embarked on my career as a journalist, though. First I moved to Texas and fell in deep and irrevocable love with high school football. All that stuff you hear and read about Friday Night Lights in the Lone Star State is spot-on.
Then when I got to Baton Rouge covering LSU, a new sports mistress moved in. My first Tigers game was the 2004 season opener against Oregon State, which was preceded by a couple of streakers during a pregame thunderstorm delay and a highway patrolman placing his Smoky the Bear hat very effectively with one.
Over the last 13 seasons, I’ve developed a major man-crush on college football and games like the one this week is THE prime example why. When I first started covering LSU, the bigger rivalry games were Auburn and Florida.
Then Nick Saban left. Then Nick Saban came back.
Ever since he completed that less-than-desirable (for Tiger fans) circle, the LSU-Alabama game has become the biggest on the schedule for one another. Not saying that either is the other program’s biggest rival, so pump your brakes on the vitriol Crimson Tide and Auburn fans.
But nobody anywhere will convince me differently that the LSU-Alabama game isn’t huge to those two programs, the most important game in the SEC each season right now and arguably one of the three biggest games in the country every autumn.
So, yeah, I get it now. Like I said, it took a while to fully grasp how meaningful football is down here, but it has definitely sunk in now. Very deeply.
So long to ‘The Perfectionist’ vs. Crazy Uncle Les
One regret for me is that there won’t be a Saban-Miles Chapter 11 this week. As overhyped as it was from the very beginning, it was something to look forward to.
A few years ago, CBS launched into LSU-Alabama week with a 60 Minutes segment on Saban titled ‘The Perfectionist.’
Love him or hate him, the story was done well and revealed some elements of Saban’s persona I didn’t know about before.
Here’s what you should know, though: A lot of the same stuff 60 Minutes focused on with Saban were also very true of Miles.
The two men are very different in the public eye – one coming across as uber-driven, the other as the crazy and fun uncle who hangs out at the kids’ table at holidays (and eats grass, of course).
At their cores, there are a lot more similarities than most folks realize. Sit down and talk football with both of them and you catch on to that right away.
They are also very different in the defense mechanisms they put in place and stubbornly refuse to remove.
Saban’s MO has often suggested a tough and sometimes nasty veneer that makes it easy for everybody who isn’t an Alabama fan to churn up hatred toward him. Miles is the opposite — he at times came across as a coach grasping at straws on his way to high-level success.
The truth with both men is more toward the middle. I’ve only had a few private sitdowns with Saban, but have been around him a few times and have spoken to enough fellow writers who know him well to say he simply ain’t all that bad.
I know Miles about as well as anybody who covered him during his tenure at LSU, and that makes it easier to see through the crazy uncle stuff.
The common core shared by the two guys is one of the many reasons this rivalry evolved into one of the best in the present day, and arguably in college football history.
A good friend, Scott Rabalais from The Baton Rouge Advocate, once deemed LSU-Alabama the second wave of the 10-year War, which featured Bo Schembechler of Michigan and Woody Hayes of Ohio State. That fits like a glove because Miles played for one of those legends, while Saban cut his coaching teeth under the other and coaches very similarly to Hayes.
A new matchup, at least this one time
With Miles dismissed in late September and Orgeron installed in charge of LSU, the coaching matchup takes another turn – and a tantalizing one at that.
Saban is still Saban, but unlike Miles, he got past his stubbornness and has adapted to the new style of offenses that have invaded the college game.
That means Lane Kiffin has a big role in every Alabama game, and this one in particular, especially with Orgeron on the opposite sideline.
Orgeron is intricately familiar with Kiffin’s offensive tendencies and play-calling and has one of the best defensive coordinators in the country in Dave Aranda to match wits against Alabama. That’s a new wrinkle for Kiffin as well because in years past, he could study Kevin Steele or John Chavis and identify areas where the Crimson Tide could attack.
With Aranda, there’s not as much to work with. One thing he has shown an ability for that Chavis and Steele didn’t – and I respect both of those men immensely – is to adjust within a game a half or even a series and put players in better position to succeed.
Then there’s this: Under Miles, LSU seemed to play uptight against Alabama the last five meetings, ever since the 21-0 loss in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9, 2012.
From the top of the program to the fans, there was an unhealthy obsession (still is in a lot of ways) revolving around this game. The Tigers played like a desperate team, not one that enjoyed the challenge.
If LSU follows the same script it has the first three games under Orgeron, the Tigers will be loose, they’ll play with nothing to lose, and they will play well.
Will that be enough against what may be Saban’s best Alabama team to date? We’ll see, but it’s refreshing to get ready for a new chapter.
5 on my mind
When I start to ramble, I try to scrounge up enough brain power to rank 5 … of something SEC related.
Guess this one makes a lot of sense this week:
Top 5 current SEC football rivalries
- Alabama-Auburn: Will always be the top of the heap
- (maybe 1A?) LSU-Alabama: Biggest game in the league every year
- Florida-Georgia: No more Urban Meyer, no more Mark Richt, but plenty of piss and vinegar remains
- Texas A&M-LSU: Seems to have a stronger level of historical bitterness than the Tigers against Ole Miss, especially since the Aggies have yet to claim a win since joining the SEC
- Mississippi State-Ole Miss: Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze are both likable men who seem to get along with a lot of people. Once this game arrives, though, nastiness ensues, and competitive, hard-hitting football often follows.
You notice the tilt toward the SEC West? Sort of like life imitating art, at least right now.
In the honorable mention department, LSU-Auburn, LSU-Florida and Ole Miss-Alabama all are right on the doorstep. Suddenly, LSU-Arkansas seems to be regaining some steam.
The one notable omission is Alabama-Tennessee, because I just don’t see that one carrying as much significance as it once did.