Alabama-LSU has national rivalry status

Growing up in Baton Rouge, La., LSU junior safety Eric Reid was accustomed to seeing that overwhelming sea of crimson march into his city every other year.

And he hated it more each time.

During his younger days, he detested the sight of that gray elephant and he absolutely loathed two words shouted so confidently by those outsiders from two states over: “Roll Tide.”

Reid, who grew up a staunch LSU fan, was always excited for the Tigers’ traditional rivals, but Alabama week brought more emotion. The hatred he carried around as a youngster was real and just the mere thought of losing to Alabama made Reid sick.

“I had that bitter feeling whenever ‘Alabama’ came off my tongue,” Reid said.

Now, Reid's feelings toward the Crimson Tide have only intensified. After playing Alabama three times in his two-plus years with the Tigers, his hatred has transformed into respect. There’s still bitterness, but he also has gained some civility.

And when Alabama week rolls around, he can’t help but have a different sort of excitement. It feels like a real traditional rivalry game to Reid and has been the game in college football the past two years. It might even be the sport’s best rivalry at the moment.

“I do think it’s up there with the big ones,” Reid said. “Everybody knows when Alabama and LSU are playing each other. It’s grown significantly over the past couple of years.

“Whenever Alabama and LSU play each other, it’s going to be a big game.”

When people talk about college football's best rivalries, no one forgets Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn or Army-Navy. You also have Florida-Florida State, Oklahoma-Texas and Miami-Florida State.

But it’s clear we now have Alabama-LSU, and while it doesn't have the tradition of some of the other national rivalries, recent history has it soaking up all the national spotlight. And with the way these two giants have been able to recruit, it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Like last year’s two meetings, championship implications are on the line for Saturday’s matchup between No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) and No. 5 LSU (7-1, 3-1) in Baton Rouge. There was the national championship quarterfinal in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in Game 1 and the actual national championship in Game 2.

Like most traditional rivalries, trophies are at stake when these two play.

While the national audience is just now catching onto Alabama-LSU, this game is nothing new to the Deep South. Alabama leads the all-time series 46-25-5, but the real bitterness started when Nick Saban returned to the SEC and went to Alabama in 2007. Two years removed from bringing LSU its second national championship, Saban was done with the pros and back in the same division -- and less than 350 miles from Baton Rouge.

There was tremendous buildup to Saban’s first game against LSU in 2007 -- a 41-34 loss for the Tide -- but things reached a boiling point when he returned to the Bayou in 2008 and escaped with a 27-21 overtime win. He won again in 2009 and will enter Saturday’s game tied 3-3 with Les Miles in this series.

It probably doesn’t help LSU fans when they look up and see Saban holding two crystal balls as Alabama’s coach.

What really gives this game life is the national importance it has. The national championship really is on the line for both teams … again.

“People become more and more interested in those kinds of games, regardless of the league that they’re in,” Saban said.

It’s a game that has taken the country by storm, and to LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, its magnitude is something younger players won’t truly comprehend until Saturday.

"Get ready. It's going to be the closest, most competitive thing you ever did in your life -- hopscotch to basketball to playing video games,” Montgomery said.

“They don't understand, but I hope soon they will.

“It's a true battle where only the mean can survive and make plays."

Miles was inside Ohio State-Michigan and isn’t ready to say this rivalry is there, yet. However, he did acknowledge that players and fans have a different look about them during Alabama week.

The same can be said for those in Tuscaloosa, especially running back Eddie Lacy, who attended Reid’s high school (Geismar, La./Dutchtown). He knows all too well that this is a love-hate affair.

“You just know they don't like each other,” Lacy said. “That's pretty much all you need to know.”

Everyone with any ounce of college football fandom will tune into this game. So much talent will be on the field, and just like last year, the winner will be a front-runner on the path to the BCS title.

There’s no turning back, and there’s no time to hide any sort of spite come Saturday night.

“There’s bad blood between the two teams when we play just because of who you’re lining up against,” Reid said.