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October 30, 2012
Less hype may make for a better game
There is an effort going on to give this year's Alabama-LSU game the same sort of "event" status that arose around last November's regular-season contest, a two-week extravaganza of hype leading up to a collision between No. 1 and No. 2.
This year isn't the same.
First, only one team (LSU) had an open date in this year's run-up. Alabama had a game with undefeated Mississippi State before there could be any mention of LSU.
Second, while all sorts of BCS and Southeastern Conference implications exist, the teams aren't ranked No. 1 and No. 2. They aren't both undefeated. That doesn't mean it isn't a big game. It is. But it does mean that you don't have two supremely confident fan bases convinced of their team's invincibility. LSU has lost. It has looked confused offensively at times. The Tigers still have the nation's longest home winning streak, an abundance of talent and a great defense. They do not have the aura of the undefeated.
Third, much of the country is fighting chronic SEC fatigue. Most will be pulling for LSU in hopes of a scenario that keeps the SEC out of the BCS title game entirely for just that reason.
It could, however, be a case of "less hype, better game."
"If there was anything that I would say about last year's game, it is I think there is such a thing as being too ramped-up for a game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday.
The instant analysis of that statement was that he meant the players were too excited to perform in the first game, that emotion was the reason for missed field goals and turnovers and other uncharacteristic mistakes. But I think he may have been talking about the strategy-makers as well, himself included. It is possible that their emotion caused them to play close to the vest, to try to eliminate the potential for offensive mistakes - fatal against great defenses. Perhaps it made the Alabama coaches so conservative that they didn't roll the dice enough. If there was a glaring difference in the November game and the BCS game, it was that offensive coordinator Jim McIlwain, either on his own or under orders from Saban, showed more confidence in quarterback AJ McCarron the second time around, a luxury LSU coach Les Miles did not enjoy with Jordan Jefferson.
"Everybody has a place and a recipe and a formula for how they play their best," Saban said. "That is obviously the goal for every week. Now everyone would say that it is really critical that you play your best in a game like this. (But) the formula and the recipe for that doesn't really change. Even though you would like to change it and put some more sugar in the cake to make it taste better, that usually makes it taste worse."
The fact, though, is that LSU is the team that needs more spice - or sugar, in Saban's analogy - to win. The Tigers cannot stick stubbornly to a plan that did not yield a touchdown in two games last season.
Saban doesn't want to be predictable, either - but that doesn't mean he will abandon business as usual.
"We have to stay with the formula for what helps our players be able to take care of business. You can't go overboard to where the anxiety creates a negative that affects their performance in an adverse way.
"It's a balance."
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or at 205-722-0225.