LSU vs. Alabama Rivalry Is Better When Focus Is off Les Miles and Nick Saban

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LSU vs. Alabama Rivalry Is Better When Focus Is off Les Miles and Nick Saban
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The Nick Saban and Les Miles postgame handshake is always interesting.

Anybody else ready for "Saban Bowl...ummm...which number is this one again?

Do not worry. It is a good thing to forget the exact number of times Les Miles and Nick Saban have faced off in college football's best yearly matchup. The LSU-Alabama rivalry has been much better off when the focus is not squarely on them.

The "Saban Bowl" features a clash between two interesting personalities. The laid-back, hilarious Miles against the mechanical, precise Saban makes for good television no matter their history.

Saban rebuilt the LSU program back to prominence, winning a national championship in 2003. He left for the NFL and is currently the best football coach alive at the nation's best program, which just happens to be the Tigers' toughest SEC rival. 

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Former LSU wide receiver Early Doucet shakes the hand of his former coach after the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide in 2007.

Miles faced Saban for the first time in 2007. The Tigers won in a 41-34 thriller in Tuscaloosa en route to Miles' only national championship. 

But no game was bigger in college football at the time than when Saban returned to Baton Rouge. 

Tiger Stadium was raucous with plenty of not-so-friendly chants for Saban in 2009. Alabama eventually won the in overtime 27-21. Both games featured plenty of postgame hugs from LSU players to Saban despite wearing opposite colors. 

But as the seasons went on, the game became less about the coaches and more about the players. And that is the way it should be.

The storyline had gotten stale. Stars break allegiances often in sports for greener pastures. The fans have somewhat moved on as well.  

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Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was prolific in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.

Few games in college football have been as good as LSU-Alabama since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. 

The BCS National Championship Game in early 2012 was the only blowout. Alabama bludgeoned undefeated LSU 21-0.

In regular-season affairs, the average margin of victory has been just more than five points. Each game was filled with BCS implications and an insane amount of hype.

The last two games featured both teams in the running for the national championship. The matchups lived up to their top billing, as they were decided by a total of seven points 

The rivalry has gotten better as it became less about the coaches. Games should focus on the players and the game itself instead of older men who bark out orders on a sideline. 

Too often in college football fans and the media focus on individual player or coach narratives. While storylines are a major reason why people love college football so much, the games themselves can often be drowned out because of it. 

Do you care that much anymore that Nick Saban is at Alabama?

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The Tigers against the Tide is about as close to the NFL as possible. Elite athletes bashing each other in pro-style offenses is usually saved for Sunday, not Saturday.

The game has been defined by great defense and physical play at the line of scrimmage. But quarterbacks Zach Mettenberger and AJ McCarron have been spectacular this season, so do not be surprised if this is the first shootout since 2007.

Coaching does play a critical role in the game. Saban and Miles have made their fair share of mistakes in this rivalry. But ultimately, the players decide the game. So the focus should be on them. 

"Saban Bowl VIII" should be another classic. But has anybody been keeping count anyway?  

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