Nick Saban is quickly cementing a place for himself in SEC lore.
As the head coach at LSU, Saban led the Bayou Bengals to victories in both the SEC and National Championship games.
After a brief stint in the professional ranks as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Saban returned to the world of college football, and to the SEC. Saban is the current head coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, and is on the verge of leading his second SEC team to a conference championship and perhaps a National Championship.
However, if Saban is going to accomplish this most magnificent feat, he must first defeat his former team and current SEC rival LSU in Death Valley.
This much anticipated match-up between the undefeated No. 1 Crimson Tide and the N.. 16 (6-2) LSU Tigers will no doubt be one of the most prolific between the two, and it will no doubt surpass the expectations set by last year's thriller in Tuscaloosa. To fully appreciate the animosity between these two rivals, you must first understand the history between these two storied teams.
Allow me to set the stage for you.
In 2000, Saban replaced recently fired LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo. Under DiNardo LSU's football program experienced its first success since 1986. DiNardo led the Tigers to several winning seasons, but his career in Baton Rouge was cut short when his Tigers went on a skid following a loss to Florida and lost 13 of their last 17 games under DiNardo. Under DiNardo LSU was 3-2 against Alabama.
Before the hiring of DiNardo, the LSU Tigers struggled, posting six consecutive losing seasons including records of 4-7, 5-6, and an abysmal 2-9 in the three years preceding DiNardo's arrival.
When LSU hired Nick Saban to be their third head coach in just 10 years fans were probably a bit apprehensive, but Saban quickly answered any questions fans may have had about him. In his first season at the helm, Saban led the Tigers to a Peach Bowl victory, continuing his winning ways from Michigan State. In 2003, just his fourth season in Baton Rouge, Saban led the Tigers to a National championship.
After his fifth year, 2004 Saban jumped ship for the NFL, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of LSU fans, players, and alumni.
After a short career as an NFL coach, Saban accepted an eight-year $32 million-dollar deal from the University of Alabama, a bitter SEC West rival of LSU, who Saban had beat four out of five years while at LSU. The Tide's only victory against Saban came in 2002 in the form of a 31-0 embarrassing home loss for LSU; a loss that the LSU faithful may have never gotten over.
Since taking the helm at Alabama, Saban has posted a 16-6 record. In his first season in Tuscaloosa, the Tide started the season 3-0 and at one point were 6-2. After losing at home to LSU, however, the Tide began a skid, finishing the regular season 6-6. Despite the sudden dive, the Tide finished the season on a positive note with a win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl.
This season the Crimson Tide will be taking the field in Baton Rouge to defend not only their perfect season and their consensus No. 1 ranking in the polls, but their honor. A win on Saturday would mark Alabama's first win over LSU since the 2002 rout of Saban's Tigers.
This road game may be the toughest emotional test for the youthful Tide. After last year's heart and momentum breaking home loss to LSU, the Tide will attempt to get coach Saban his first win in Death Valley against LSU.
All signs point to this year's Saban Bowl surpassing the intensity of last year's, for this year Saban will be "welcomed" back to Baton Rouge in a homecoming of sorts. The savior of Baton Rouge will return to Death Valley for the first time since 2004 and attempt to defeat the school and team he restored to national prominence.
Coming into this Saturday's game, the Tide boasts the No. 2 rush defense in the nation, something that looks to be put to the test by LSU's Charles Scott. Scott is averaging over six yards per carry, and will be facing an Alabama defense with the likes of Mount Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain that has allowed scarcely more than a 2.5 ypc average.
It appears that the Tide is not the only team that will be getting defensive in this classic SEC clash. LSU is ranked 21st in total defense and 17th against the run. Alabama ranks 32nd against the pass, and LSU is 39th. Both teams rank in the top 20 in total defense, with the Tigers 17th and the Tide fourth.
The similarities between the two teams' stats continued on the offensive side of the ball. Bama has the 19th-ranked rush offense and LSU has the 29th.
LSU has been less than spectacular passing the ball though. The Tigers rank 58th in pass offense, with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It would seem that Alabama has struggled to move the ball through the air, fielding the 102nd-ranked passing attack, but the Tide only throws the ball an average of 25 times per game compared to their 41 rushing attempts per game.
The stats that sticks out the most is combined rushing as Bama and LSU run the ball almost 80 times a game. The smash-mouth run game combined with the stout defenses possessed by both teams leads one to believe this will be a nail bitter decided by the will power of the men in the trenches.