For either Alabama or LSU, the Mayan calendar’s end of the world will come 412 days early. When the final seconds tick off the clock at Bryant-Denny Stadium on the evening of November 5, 2011, somebody’s world will come to an end. At least for the 2011 football season.
The winner of that game is a lead pipe lock to play the SEC East’s sacrificial lamb in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Barring a miracle game by either Georgia or South Carolina, the winner of the LSU at Alabama game will also be in New Orleans on an early January night, playing for the league’s sixth straight BCS National Championship.
The loser gets nothing. No SEC West title. No SEC Championship. No reservations in New Orleans.
This game is for keeps and it’s going to be played that way. Both teams’ players, coaches and fans know the stakes. The game will absolutely live up to the hype it will receive over the next two weeks. The talking heads on television, the radio talk show hosts and the sports columnists from sea to shining sea will be setting this game up as The Game of the Century© and with good reason.
One storyline that may not get much attention is that for the first time in the history of the AP Poll, a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 will take place among powerhouse programs resurrected by one man—Nick Saban. While Les Miles is a very, very good football coach who has recruited well, hired well and managed well, no one can dispute that when Nicholas Lou Saban arrived in Baton Rouge, the LSU football program was a disaster. Former coach Gerry DiNardo ended his term with a two year record of 7-15. In the 1999 season, LSU had an embarrassing eight-game losing streak, including blowout losses to Auburn, Florida and Ole Miss. By the time Saban left to test the NFL waters after the 2004 season, LSU had two SEC Championships and a Crystal Ball. The program was hitting on all cylinders and it’s still full throttle to this day. None of that happens without Saban.
Similarly, no one can dispute that without Nick Saban, Alabama would never have resuscitated its faltering program and returned to its role of traditional powerhouse. After the back-to-back disasters of NCAA probation and the Shula era, Alabama looked lost. Two years later, Alabama won every regular season game and played for the SEC Championship. Three years later, the program repeated that run and won everything.
This game means so much to both programs because both programs are playing at the absolute top of the college football game. The comparisons between the two teams’ offenses, defenses, statistics and matchups show that they’re both about as good as it gets. None of those comparisons could be made if Saban hadn’t showed up in Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa.
So, Armageddon has a date. Two weeks from now, one program will look back at what could have been. Its season—its football world—might as well be over. But regardless of who the winner is, it should thank the stars for Nick Saban, and give double thanks that their calendar still has a few pages to turn.