Alabama and LSU may not be one of the more traditional rivalries in the SEC, but you would be hard-pressed to find one that is more relevant in college football today—not just in the South, but across the country.
After Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu’s Twitter spat on Monday, the next meeting between the two teams that met for the BCS National Championship five months ago cannot get here fast enough.
Never mind that both teams have eight games to play before then—after all, the only time each was significantly challenged in 2011 was their two meetings (coincidentally, when they were top two teams in the country) when they lined up against one another.
My colleague Barrett Sallee broke down the exchange between McCarron and the “Honey Badger,” but the fact that this is even a story is because, like it or not, the matchup between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers on Nov. 3 is once again the most anticipated game heading into the season.
Having marquee figures on each side sniping at each other just adds to the intrigue surrounding a rivalry that has put the rest of the nation in a choke hold and separated itself as the premier annual matchup in the sport today.
While Alabama has a more storied history with Tennessee, and more pure hatred for in-state rival Auburn, there’s no doubt LSU has emerged to be its toughest opponent since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Since Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, Les Miles and the Tigers have split the last six meetings with the Crimson Tide, with the average margin of victory being four points (take away the Tide’s 21-0 drubbing of LSU five months ago in New Orleans, and only two points separated the teams’ point totals in the previous five meetings).
It’s no coincidence the teams have accounted for half of the national championships claimed in that span.
The Tigers have two national championships in the last decade, joining Alabama and Florida as the only other programs that can make that claim.
Then there’s the history with Saban being a central figure in the recent rise of both programs (he was the architect of LSU’s 2003 national title, and he’s won two of the last three crystal footballs at Alabama).
Before Urban Meyer’s unraveling towards the end of his tenure at Florida, it was believed the Gators would be the Crimson Tide’s main obstacle for the balance of power in the SEC. However, as fast as the Gators have faded, Miles has maintained the juggernaut Saban helped create during his tenure in Baton Rouge from 2000-04.
With both teams entering 2012 likely to be ranked in the top five of the preseason polls, the next installment between these two SEC West powerhouses could have similar stakes to last year’s meeting.
McCarron and Mathieu’s war of words will not mean anything on the field, but in essence they have lit the match to a simmering rivalry that will once again engulf the nation’s attention leading up to the first weekend in November.