The seven meetings between Nick Saban and Les Miles have produced some of college football's most memorable moments in that time period.
In particular, the last three meetings have elevated the SEC West rivalry into one of the best. Both 2011 meetings featured the nation’s top two teams, while last year’s instant classic was a duel of top five teams.
Saban holds a 4-3 edge in head-to-head meetings, but the Mad Hatter is hoping this Saturday to even his record against the man who preceded him in Baton Rouge.
As the coaches prepare to square off for the eighth time, let’s take a look at the top-10 moments of the rivalry between Saban and Miles.
The last time these two teams squared off inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, the game between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama carried an almost unprecedented level of hype.
As Michael Heistand of USA Today detailed, CBS took the unprecedented step of pushing back the traditional 3:30 p.m. start time and moved the game to prime time.
The intro to that game featured a rare glimpse into how Miles and Saban motivate their clubs before they take the field.
“This game is about dominating your opponent,” Miles said. “This game is about being LSU!”
Saban counters, “they want to take what you got. You got to go get it and get after it!”
What followed was one of the most spectacular displays of defense in the BCS era as neither team was able to cross the goal line in regulation or in overtime. LSU went on to win 9-6 on Drew Alleman’s 25-yard field goal.
SEC Media Days are always an adventure, thanks to the coaching personalities of luminaries such as Saban, Miles and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier.
Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Miles spoke of his disdain for the SEC’s scheduling process, according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach.
"It's pretty easy to see," Miles said. "Some teams have advantages. It's a responsibility that's above my pay grade."
Saban, citing his experience at LSU, expressed sympathy for Miles, via Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com. However, he also said that unbalanced scheduling will always be a problem in a league with 14 teams.
“There can never be an equal path to the championship unless everybody plays everybody,” Saban said.
While both coaches have points that can’t be dismissed, this flap, as with other minor controversies surrounding SEC games, has remained in the background in comparison to what happens in between the lines.
Alabama's road to the 2009 national title was filled with more than a few speed bumps in SEC play.
Just two weeks after a last-second win over Tennessee, the Tide found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter against LSU.
Receiver Julio Jones, who was one of Saban's most-prized recruits in 2008, answered the bell by taking a short screen pass and racing 73 yards for the go-ahead score.
The Tide went on to win 24-15 and capture the first of Saban's three national titles since his arrival in Tuscaloosa.
In a series that has largely been dominated by the road team, the only time Miles has defeated Saban in Tiger Stadium was in 2010.
LSU’s dramatic 24-21 victory was highlighted by a gutsy Miles-type gamble midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing 14-13 with a 4th-and-1 deep in Tide territory, the Tigers opted to run a reverse with tight end DeAngelo Peterson that netted 23 yards and setup Stevan Ridley’s go-ahead, one-yard scoring plunge.
Afterward, Miles gave one of his patented quirky postgame pressers, which included the first revelation of his affinity for chewing grass. That, of course, led to his famed College GameDay commercial.
Alabama’s 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in November of 2011 could’ve been the point at which Alabama’s current dynasty began.
Sure, it seems odd that a team that has manhandled the entire sport for much of the last four years could shape its identity in a loss. However, the way Alabama has responded since (winning 25 of its past 26 games) has turned an evening of heartache and pain into the program’s defining moment.
That response started with Saban’s postgame presser. After what was a crushing loss at home, Saban immediately turned the focus to the rest of the season.
And the rest is history.
The first meeting between Saban and Miles was heavy on drama, considering Saban’s history at LSU and Miles’ struggle to escape his predecessor’s shadow.
Top-ranked LSU was in the midst of a run toward a national title, but Saban’s first Alabama squad put up a valiant fight before falling 41-34.
For Miles, it was a signature win that led to his only crystal football. For Saban, it was a measuring-stick game that gave his program an idea of where it stood and where it wanted to go.
The 2011 BCS title rematch featured two of the most dominant teams of the BCS era.
Alabama’s 2011 defense led the nation in the four major statistical categories of pass defense, rush defense, scoring defense and total defense.
LSU beat three clubs that earned BCS bids, all away from the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium.
The Crimson Tide, led by a sterling effort from quarterback AJ McCarron and a defense that allowed the Tigers just 91 yards of total offense, dominated from the outset en route to a 21-0 victory.
After the game, Saban commented on LSU’s unfortunate circumstance of having to beat the Tide twice. Meanwhile for Miles, it was a defeat that still lingers, as the Tigers have struggled to get back to the level of dominance they displayed prior to that game.
Miles and Saban have presided over the SEC’s two most dominant and consistent programs since 2007.
Given the recent successes of both clubs, their rivalry has naturally extended to the recruiting trail.
Saban’s familiarity in recruiting the talent-rich state of Louisiana has led to some epic battles against his former school. But none of them came with the drama of 247 Sports’ top-ranked safety in the 2012 class, Geismar, La., 5-star product Landon Collins.
Of course, his commitment on ESPN during the Under Armour All-American Game raised more than a few eyebrows after his mother showed discontent for his selection of Alabama.
Collins eventually got his mother on board, and now he enters this weekend’s game as a starting safety for the Tide.
For Miles, losing Collins was a tough blow in two ways: he lost a highly touted prospect and Collins choosing Alabama has seemingly given the Tide a recruiting foothold in the Pelican State. Alabama has three commitments from Louisiana players in its top-rated 2014 recruiting class, including one from the nation’s top player—5-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson.
The most recent meeting between the Tide and the Tigers was an instant classic.
Miles and the underdog Tigers came out and blitzed the Tide’s defense for 435 yards of total offense behind the strong play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. However, Miles’ propensity for gamblng backfired repeatedly. The Tigers botched a fake field goal and an onside kick.
In the fourth quarter, the Tigers failed to convert a 4th-and-short and missed a field goal that set the stage for Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to get one last shot.
McCarron shook off what had been a subpar effort to that point and led a game-winning drive that culminated with a 28-yard touchdown pass to running back T.J. Yeldon and a thrilling 21-17 victory.
Afterward, a normally reserved Saban flashed a big smile and enjoyed what was one of Tide’s narrowest escapes in the last two seasons.
Even though LSU’s 2011 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium was essentially rendered moot with Alabama’s decisive 21-0 rematch victory in the BCS title game, the regular season meeting featured one of the greatest defensive slugfests of the BCS era.
Miles acknowledged the extraordinary battle of wills immediately following the game.
When CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson asked Miles about potentially facing the Tide again, Miles gave his opponent perhaps the best compliment a team could receive in defeat, stating, “I’d be honored to face that team again!”
First of all, how many coaches in the country would dare to even think of uttering those words following an emotionally charged win?
While the Tide did get their rematch and his words may have ultimately backfired, that statement from Miles lingers as a defining moment for a rivalry that has annually become one of college football’s most anticipated showdowns.