Longtime SEC football rivals Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama will meet Feb. 20 not on the field, but on the water.
The LSU and Alabama bass fishing teams will compete that Sunday in the Bassmaster College Classic on Louisiana's Lake Verret. At the same time, the world's top anglers will be competing elsewhere on the Louisiana Delta on the final day of the 41st Bassmaster Classic, the world championship of bass fishing, out of New Orleans.
The one-day, combined-weight college tournament will award bragging rights, a coveted trophy and the right to come back to defend their title next year. All team members will weigh in on the Bassmaster Classic stage just before the final 25 contenders for the Classic crown appear.
A walk across the biggest stage in the sport will be among the trip's highlights for Logan Mount, a junior from Leesville, La., majoring in wildlife ecology and serving as president of the LSU Fishing Team.
"No place we've been is going to compare to the crowd of a Bassmaster Classic, so I'm very excited about the weigh-in," said Mount, who has fished on the LSU team since he was a freshman.
Six anglers will represent each school, two to a boat. The winner will be determined by adding the weights of the fish brought in by each boat. The team with the highest weight will win.
Alabama won the right to compete this year by triumphing last year in the inaugural Bassmaster College Classic. Alabama's 24 pounds, 8 ounces to Auburn's 15 pounds, 5 ounces was a definitive win.
A repeat might be tough. The one official practice day of Feb. 18 will be Alabama's only opportunity to learn the water, said Ben Weldon, president of the Alabama Fishing Team. Tuscaloosa, Ala., is too far away to make a pre-competition trip viable, he said.
"We feel we can figure something out," said the senior from Wetumpka, Ala., who is majoring in urban and environmental planning. "Our anglers are very capable going into a new lake and finding fish. We feel we have a good shot even though we have no experience on this particular lake."
The playing field may be more even than he guesses: Most of the LSU anglers aren't familiar with Verret either, Mount said. But with Baton Rouge about an hour's drive to the fishery, LSU can scout before the off-limits period kicks in Feb. 1, he said.
"Our whole team will be putting in practice time. We want to do well; we want to be victorious," Mount said.
The two teams have met before in the same college-level competitions but never in a team faceoff. The built-in rivalry is enough to fire up both teams.
"It's another Deep South battle," Weldon said. "We're two fishing teams, both with a lot of pride in our fishing and in our schools."
Said Mount: "When we're going against another SEC team, especially Alabama, we'd like to come out on top. But with fishing, it's not as intense as football it's a more friendly competition but that doesn't mean we aren't serious about it."