Most of the general public seems to be sick and tired of the SEC in college football. Teams from the conference have dominated the polls and have monopolized the national championship to the tune of a still-active streak of seven straight national titles. And at the top of this SEC domination in college football are two teams: the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers. The two have combined for five national titles in the last ten seasons, and their annual game on the first weekend in November has become an event in itself.
Starting in 1969 and stretching through the late-1970′s, the annual game between the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio St. Buckeyes was the most anticipated and many times the most important game of the college football season. The Wolverines were coached by Bo Schembechler and the Buckeyes by Woody Hayes. The intensity both coaches had for this particular game was matched by their players who not only made sure to bring their A-game for this one, but made sure that their team was near the top of the polls by the time the final game of the regular season came around. In all except the tenth of the duels between Bo and Woody at least one participant was in the top-five, five times they both were. The two coaches and their teams met ten times before Hayes’ career ended, hence the “Ten Year War” name for that period in the rivalry’s history.
Now let what you just read sink in and then think about how the rivalry between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers has evolved in the past six seasons. In each of the six seasons at least one have been inside the top-five at the time of the game and both have been in the top-five for their game the last two seasons. Plus this rivalry got one of the true honors of a sports rivalry, but one not often seen in college football: it got to decide a national championship, which it did last season.
That first game is still possibly the best game between the two in this six-season span. A 17-point fourth quarter brought the Tigers back from a touchdown down to give them a 41-34 win in “Saban Bowl I.” The game-winning touchdown game after a late turnover by the Crimson Tide inside their own 10 yard-line. The Tigers went on to win the national championship, their last to date.
The date November 3, 2007 will historically go down as the day that this rivalry went to a whole different level. It always takes something to provide the spark to rivalries that need one. This one did and got it with Saban’s return to college football being with a rival after he had coached the Tigers to a national championship just years before.
The next year, the Crimson Tide were taken to overtime by the Tigers a week after achieving the #1 ranking. The Crimson Tide survived with an interception and then offensive touchdown to remain perfect. That would only last until they met Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the SEC championship game.
The teams engaged in another close one in 2009 with the Crimson Tide needing a big fourth quarter to escape with the win. The Crimson Tide went on to win the national championship. The rankings were a bit lower in 2010, but the game was just as close. A big fourth quarter by the Tigers gave them a 24-21 victory.
Then in 2011, the rivalry shot into the stratosphere. The first #1 versus #2 game in the rivalry’s history became a football extravaganza in the South, disrupting weddings and sending ticket prices for one college football game to ridiculous levels. The game itself was a defensive struggle that saw the Crimson Tide outplay the Tigers for basically the entire game.
However, the Crimson Tide’s kickers kept the game from being what the national championship game between the two of them later that season did become. Because of the Crimson Tide’s missed field-goals, the Tigers were able to force overtime and eventually earn a 9-6 win in a game that had no touchdowns scored. The Crimson Tide didn’t lose again, earned their rematch despite not winning the SEC, and smashed the Tigers 21-0 for the title.
And finally, this past season’s game between the two. Both were inside the top-five, the Tigers had their big home winning streak on the line, and both were looking toward potentially playing for the national title. The Tigers outplayed the Crimson Tide for most of the game despite numerous play-calling mistakes from Les Miles. The Crimson Tide did hold onto their #1 ranking by going down the field on their final drive and scoring when A.J. McCarron hooked up to T.J. Yeldon on a short pass and Yeldon took it the rest of the way for a 28-yard game-winning score.
If people are sick of this rivalry or of SEC football, they may need to wait a bit longer for it go away. The SEC’s recruiting in recent years has become head and shoulders above any other conference in college football and the results have shown that. As for the Crimson Tide and the Tigers, there’s four more years potentially left in this war, and these teams aren’t slowing down.