Does What Has Gone Before Matter?

Two heads better than one? That may depend upon which heads. In a recent discussion between two sports talk radio hosts the subject of the most important team in the Southeastern Conference arose.

It was fairly obvious that one host was goading the other into admitting that Alabama was the most relevant SEC team, particularly in football – which was the overall subject matter. The co-host being questioned seemed to have a tough decision. He obviously is not a fan of the Crimson Tide, but he didn’t want to appear to be even less intelligent than normal.

Let us first agree that one does not necessarily learn a great deal listening to talk shows on radio or television. One does, however, get a feel for what college football fans are interested in and what misconceptions may be floating around.

Today Alabama is hosting LSU in the most important college football game in the nation. This is a match between two teams that were ranked in the top four in the inaugural College Football Playoff poll revealed on Tuesday. Bama, the No. 4 team in the initial rankings, is 7-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC games. LSU, No. 2, is 7-0, 4-0. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. CST in Bryant-Denny Stadium with television coverage by CBS, and the ESPN Gameday crew is in Tuscaloosa for the second time this year.

As for important game, remember what former Bama Coach Gene Stallings said: “If you don’t think a game is important, just lose it and you’ll find out how important it was.”

Anyone, though, recognizes tonight’s game as important in both the SEC and national schemes. If LSU wins, Alabama is out of everything insofar as championships. If Bama wins, the Tide is still dependent on one of three SEC teams (Arkansas today, LSU and Mississippi State later) for the Tide to win a title. And, of course, Alabama has been in single elimination mode since losing to Ole Miss earlier in the year and thus must win all its remaining games.

Alabama vs. LSU in November has been a factor in these championships in recent years. In 2003 when Nick Saban was coach at LSU, the Tigers defeated Mike Shula’s first Bama team (which would finish 4-9), 27-3, and went on to the national championship. Two years later, Saban’s first Tide team (which would finish 7-6), lost by a touchdown to LSU (34-41) and the Tigers of Les Miles won the national title.

That touchdown margin in 2007 is not a surprise. Six of the nine previous games of Saban’s Bama against LSU have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Since Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa, every Alabama-LSU matchup (nine games prior to today) has seen both teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25, and at least one of the teams over that time has been in the top five). The higher ranked team has been the winner in the regular season games except when the Tigers beat the Tide (24-21) in 2010. In 2011, though, Alabama was ranked below LSU going to the BCS National Championship Game at the Sugar Bowl, and the Tide won the game (21-0) and the title.

The Alabama-LSU series also includes the only two coaches active in the league who have won national championships, Saban in 2003 at LSU and in 2009, 2011, and 2012 at Alabama and Miles in 2007 with the Tigers.

Four times since 2005 the Tide and Tigers have gone to overtime, each team winning two (including Alabama’s come-from-behind win in Baton Rouge last year).

This will be the 80th game in the Alabama-LSU series and many are surprised to learn the head-to-head record between these top SEC teams.

Alabama has won 49 games and LSU has won 25. Five games ended in ties.

The Tide has won four in a row.

Four of LSU’s wins came when Saban was coach of the Tigers, Bama winning only once against Saban. At Alabama against LSU, Saban is 6-3.

As for that unfortunate radio host struggling with the question of most important SEC football team, consider:

Alabama has a winning record against every other SEC team.

Alabama has more college football victories and more SEC victories than any other SEC team.

Alabama has easily the best winning percentage of any SEC team.

Alabama has 24 SEC championships, almost as many as the next two teams (Tennessee 13, Georgia 12) combined.

Alabama has the most undefeated and untied teams in regular season play since the formation of the SEC in 1933 (the Tide has 13), the most consecutive wins by an SEC team (28, two times), the most consecutive SEC wins (27).

And that’s before even getting to bowl records, where Bama holds records for most bowl games, most bowl wins, victories in major bowl games.

So does that matter in tonight’s game?

Alabama feels that because of its history and tradition that the Crimson Tide always gets the best the opponent has to offer.

On the other hand, many teams might be intimidated by the Bama name.

LSU, though, won’t be intimidated. Alabama will get the best the Tigers have to offer.

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