Alabama-LSU yet again has huge stakes

Alabama-LSU is back, and it’s all the rage -- yet again.

Despite Alabama's loss to Ole Miss and a midseason lull by LSU, Saturday's night game in Tiger Stadium has major SEC and College Football Playoff implications.

Of course it does! It's Alabama-LSU for crying out loud!

“The players understand that this is always a big game for us,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It’s turned into a rivalry game for us.”

This is essentially a play-in game of sorts for both teams.

It’s a chance for No. 16 LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) to get back into the thick of an SEC West race that is literally eating itself alive. By beating the No. 5 Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1), the Tigers could start a domino effect of two-loss teams in the country’s best division. They’d also have a glimmer of hope in the playoff race that once seemed unattainable.

For Alabama, win out and the Tide are headed to the SEC championship game and the playoff. Lose and Alabama likely slips below Ole Miss in the rankings (lost head-to-head) and is stuck in a pit of two-loss West teams with games against No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 3 Auburn approaching.

If either of these teams is going to have a shot at Atlanta or beyond, Saturday is crucial to their future successes.

“Because of the circumstances, this is a huge game,” LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said. “It’s the most important game of the season, and we’re treating it that way.”

This isn’t SEC bias, it’s a game that people well beyond the Mason-Dixon Line will watch and appreciate. Both teams are hitting their strides, having won three straight. They both own bone-crushing running games and defenses with suffocating tendencies.

This game has become a national treasure of sorts, and this Saturday is no different.

“Every year, the calendars are marked for Alabama-LSU,” Alabama center Ryan Kelly said. “Every year, the rivalry grows.”

Are we really surprised that college football’s annual version of the most brutal bare-knuckle boxing bout is yet again the center of attention? All eyes should be on Baton Rouge for what should be a burly Bayou brawl between two teams yet again playing for so much.

Since Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, this movie has looped. What had usually been just a meeting between two SEC West counterparts turned into a hellacious battle of brutes when Saban and LSU’s Les Miles got together.

Since 2007, this annual game has been decided by seven points or fewer five times, with LSU winning three of those games. Four times since 2007 the winner has worn the SEC crown. They’ve met as top-10 teams five times in that span and twice have been ranked No. 1 and No. 2. The winner played in the BCS title game four times, going 3-1, with the only loss coming at the conclusion of the 2011 season when Alabama beat LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship after losing “Armageddon” 9-6 at home earlier in the season.

Without fail, this has been a line-'em-up, punch-you-in-the-mouth game. And while Alabama might be a little less traditional with a more mobile quarterback in Blake Sims, Miles said earlier this week he still expects Saturday to be one of those classic smashmouth games that comes down to the last quarter, or even the last play.

“I’m kind of anticipating that myself,” Miles said.

“You plan on playing four quarters in this game for sure,” he added.

Outside the national implications, this game has been so special because of its incredible physical nature. It’s like swinging two sledgehammers at each other.

Players always leave the game more hobbled, bloody and bruised than any other contest. You haven’t truly felt four quarters of football until you’ve lined up in this one. Skin tears and bones rattle for weeks.

Stand too close to the TV screen and you might feel the punishment yourself.

“It’s the most physical game of the year, and we’re going to make it [that],” Alexander said. “We’re physical teams. That’s our identity, that’s what we love to do. We want to hit people in the mouth, we love to go hard.

“It’s really up there as one of the most physical games across the country.”

Added Kelly: “As the game wears on and it gets down to the fourth quarter, that’s when we want to make them quit and impose our will upon our opponent.”

Monsters meet in these games, and later leave to smash into people on Sundays. The amount of NFL talent these two teams have produced since 2007 is staggering. Since 2007, the Alabama-LSU game has produced 89 NFL draft picks, including 24 first-rounders, and you can bet a handful of guys who line up this Saturday will join those ranks.

“It might be most [talent together] on one field,” Alexander said. “We really take it to heart when you’re lining up against a man and he’s a great player, a potential NFL player. It’s going to be a four-quarter battle because you’re playing a great player every snap.”

Put your mouthpieces in, folks.