NEW ORLEANS – As night settled on this city Sunday and countdown to the BCS Championship Game dwindled under 20 hours, an uncharacteristic quiet moved in.
The sound of destiny perhaps.
After five weeks for No. 1-ranked LSU and six for second-ranked Alabama, the buildup is finally finished. It’s time for the Tigers (13-0) and Crimson Tide (11-1) to step on the Superdome floor and get down to business.
That business: Decide the 2011 BCS Championship in an unprecedented rematch of conference opponents.
The details are quite familiar by now. The teams knocked heads on Nov. 5 and the two defenses stole the show in a 9-6 LSU triumph in overtime.
Now they get a second chance, and for LSU the task at hand is to accomplish a lot of firsts.
A win Monday and the Tigers would:
--- Becomes the first team to win three BCS Championships since the system was begun in 1998.
--- Finish a season unbeaten for the first time since 1958, the first time LSU won a national crown.
--- Wind up with 14 wins for the first time.
--- Beat a fourth top-five ranked team, which hasn’t happened since Notre Dame did so in 1943.
For everything on that checklist, though, there’s something more important to the LSU players and coaches.
There’s a finish line to reach after a season that has been punctuated by controversy off the field and unprecedented success on it.
Six road victories. Eight wins against ranked teams. Nine games with 40 points or more. Twelve wins by at least points, 10 of those by 24 or more.
The only thing left is to add the final piece, one that would elevate these Tigers into a category shared by a select few as one of the best teams in college football history.
“We’ve been on a great journey,” said senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who missed the first four games as he served a suspension from the fallout after a fight outside a Baton Rouge bar. “It’s been a great season for this team. We improved a lot since the first game to this game. I think this team has a quiet understanding of what it means to be a champion.”
To earn that label this year, LSU has to go through the program that has become the Tigers’ biggest nemesis in recent years and a coach who is largely responsible for lifting their program out of the doldrums.
Alabama has been the SEC’s cornerstone program for five decades and the rivalry with LSU has gone back and forth, mostly with the Tide dominating. Since Les Miles got to Baton Rouge to replace Nick Saban and especially since Saban was hired by Bama two years later, there has been renewed energy whenever the two programs get together.
The white-knuckle overtime battle earlier this season was the second time in five games between Miles and Saban the game has leaked beyond regulation. Four of the five games have been settled by a touchdown or less.
In the aftermath of the first game, the second-ranked Tide did not fall in the rankings and hovered right behind the Tigers over the final month of the season.
That included when the BCS standings shook out after the final Saturday of the season and Alabama stayed percentage points in front of Oklahoma State to secure a spot opposite the Tigers and the rematch that made the most sense.
“We understand how important this game is from every aspect,” left guard Will Blackwell said. “The history aspect, the present aspect, everything. There’s no team we’d rather beat than Alabama. They’re our rival. We have to beat each other to be the best, and that’s just how it is.”
How it will be Monday isn’t hard to figure out.
The two defenses are the best in the SEC and among the best in the country. That means every yard of field position will be important to the two offenses to help the special teams units as they try to impact the game.
There are differences, the biggest one being Jefferson’s emergence since the last meeting with Alabama as LSU’s primary quarterback. What effect that has – who makes it an advantage – stands as a big key in how the game plays out.
One thing for sure is there won’t be a shortage of intensity or sense of purpose in this game.
It’s LSU-Alabama. It’s one game for the national championship. It’s for, perhaps, a special place in college football history.
“I’d expect it to be big-boy football,” Miles said. “I’d expect it to very, very physical and that it would be a game that would be very representative of two quality football teams.”
Regardless of the outcome, it’s also the final time this group of Tigers will come together as one. And what better way to go out.
“They’re a group that loves to play,” said Miles, who is looking to join Saban and Urban Meyer as the only coaches who have won two BCS titles. “The lights come on and they want it. I think this will be a game that will be very representative of that. I think every guy’s looking forward to playing at a very high level and again making the plays that they come to make.”
Sounds a little bit like destiny in the making.