LSU coach Brian Kelly began his weekly press conference by wishing Alabama’s Nick Saban a happy birthday, hoping “that will lighten things up a little bit.”
LSU-Alabama has been serious business since Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa. It often pits two of the Southeastern Conference’s top-ranked Western Division contenders against each other, despite a few setbacks the Tigers have experienced along the way.
That’s true again of Saturday’s matchup at Tiger Stadium between the sixth-ranked Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1 SEC) and No. 15 LSU (6-2, 4-1).
“This game has always had significant implications — they’re always rated, we’re always rated,” Saban said Monday as he celebrated his 71st birthday by preparing for the latest of many big games. “It’s the kind of rivalry that’s always a very important game.
His status as a former LSU coach helped fuel the rivalry early on. On the field, games often needed no extra spice.
The winner, as usual, is in the driver’s seat of the SEC West. The two teams are tied atop the division standings with No. 11 Mississippi (8-1, 4-1), which lost to LSU and host Alabama on Nov. 12 after a bye week.
The two teams represented the SEC West in the championship game 12 times in Saban’s first 15 seasons. Auburn is the only other West team to appear since then.
Three of the games went to overtime and seven were Top 10 games.
At least the Tide are still very much in playoff contention, winning 10 of their last 11 games. But Joe Burrow and LSU snapped that streak with a 46-41 win in 2019 in another 1-for-2 contest en route to the Tigers’ national title.
This game doesn’t necessarily look like one of the biggest or most competitive LSU-Alabama games. The Tide is favored by 12 1/2 points, according to bookmaker FanDuel. But Alabama entered last season’s games as 29 1/2-point favorites and only won 20-14.
Here’s a look at some of the best — and biggest — LSU-Alabama games since Saban’s arrival in 2007, in reverse chronological order.
—2019. Burrow had his Heisman Trophy moment, passing for 393 yards and three touchdowns to help end LSU’s eight-year futility streak against ‘Bama. Then-LSU coach Ed Orgeron said he could tell his players for the first time before a game, “You’re a better team.” It turned out to be true, as LSU was better than everyone else that season.
—2012. Alabama beat LSU for the second time on the calendar year. AJ McCarron ended most of the game and threw a screen pass to TJ Yeldon for a 28-yard touchdown with 51 seconds left to give No. 1 Alabama a 21-17 win over No. 5 LSU.
—2011, regular season. Neither team scored a touchdown in No. 1 LSU’s 9-6 overtime victory over No. 2 Tide. Difference: Alabama football players missed four field goals. LSU’s Drew Allman was 3 for 3. It was the first 1-for-2 meeting between SEC teams in the regular season, but not the last in this series. Alabama’s defense thoroughly dominated LSU in a 21-0 victory in the national championship rematch.
—2010. Then-LSU coach Les Miles dialed up some fourth-down magic when DeAngelo Peterson backed up 23 yards to set up the go-ahead touchdown. The No. 12 Tigers won 24-21 after entering the fourth quarter down 14-10 against No. 5 Alabama. Miles even ate a few blades of grass before the game. “I can tell you one thing: The grass at Tiger Stadium tastes the best,” he said after the game.
—2008. Saban’s first game at Tiger Stadium since leaving after the 2004 season. Alabama clinched the SEC West title with a 27-21 overtime victory on quarterback John Parker Wilson’s 1-yard touchdown run. Rashad Johnson made his third save of the day to start overtime against the defending national champion Tigers.
___ AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
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