LSU Game Is Big, But So Are Others

When there is nothing going on in college football, there are still plenty of "stories" about it in those places where college football is king. Such as Alabama. Two recurring themes we see are: (1.) that the Alabama-LSU game will be the biggest game of the season, and (2.) speculation on whether the Southeastern Conference can win a seventh consecutive national championship.

For about as long as anyone can remember, Alabama and/or its head football coach is a part of any meaningful discussion of college football. Put the Crimson Tide as the number one team in the nation and the Bama coach as the best of his time, and the Alabama interest ramps up exponentially.

Predicting that the Alabama game at LSU on Nov. 3 will be big is like predicting there will be hot days in Tuscaloosa in July. The teams played an overtime regular season game (won by the Bengal Tigers in Tuscaloosa) last season, and were so impressive that they were given an encore performance in the BCS National Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome in January. Alabama won the rematch and the crystal football.

Both teams have been picked among the nation's top three in most pre-season polls, with the Tigers a consensus number one.

But the trip to Baton Rouge will be only as big as other results make it.

Alabama fans best believe – as the coaches and players will – that there are plenty of big games before the LSU contest.

Former Crimson Tide Coach Gene Stallings said, "If you think a game isn't big, just lose it and you'll see how big it was."

At the level Alabama is playing – two national championships and a record of 48-6 over the past four years – makes every game critical.

Before the Tide gets to LSU – the so-called "circle game" – Bama will be playing a lot of teams who have not just the desire, but also the capability to win their "circle game." As Alabama Coach Nick Saban points out, the Crimson Tide has a bullseye on its back for every opponent, and in every game Bama plays it gets the opponent's best game.

Michigan has a chance to get back in the national championship conversation in a big way if the Wolverines can win the nationally-televised Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 1. Right out of the chute, that's one of the biggest games in the nation. If that game was on Nov. 3, it would be the so-called national circle game.

Arkansas has been in the news mostly for the wrong reasons with its coaching change, but by the time Alabama has to go to Fayetteville on Sept. 15 for the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams, the conversation will be primarily about the Razorbacks' powerful offensive weapons going against Saban's Bama defense.

Missouri and Texas A&M are new to the SEC – officially a couple of days new today. Alabama has to go to Columbia to face the Missouri Tigers on Oct. 13 and the Tide hosts Texas A&M on Nov. 10 the week after going to LSU.

Alabama follows that tough trip to Missouri with a Third Saturday in October appearance in Knoxville against Derek Dooley's Tennessee. The Vols could be the most improved team in the SEC this year and there is double incentive for Tennessee in its traditional rivalry with Bama along with Dooley being a protege of Saban.

Auburn is just two years removed from a national championship and the Tigers have replaced the offensive and defensive coordinators from that team, which Auburn seems to consider an improvement. The Tigers have had very good success in Bryant-Denny Stadium and that game is big for both teams regardless of the overall season.

As for the SEC winning a seventh straight national championship, it would seem the odds would be long. In athletics, however, there is a trend that the strong one week and one year tend to be strong in the next week and the next year. The SEC is strong. A team that is good enough to make it through the league unscathed is almost certain to be in the title game.

If Alabama can do that, it will have survived a number of circle games.

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