TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Two weeks of frenzied pre-game buildup. Behind the scenes TV maneuverings. Four-digit ticket prices.
This 1-versus-2 showdown between LSU and Alabama has both the hype and the feel of a game played in January with a title actually on the line instead of just a potential shot and Southeastern Conference West frontrunner status.
Since both teams fortuitously have open dates, it means an extra week of chatter ahead of the primetime game Nov. 5 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It makes for an awful lot of what the second-ranked Crimson Tide’s coach Nick Saban calls ￔclutter,’ too.
“Getting our players not to think about everything that’s surrounding the game, that’ll be the hardest part,” Saban said.
To be sure, both teams’ players have plenty of experience in big games. National championship coaches Saban and No. 1 LSU’s Les Miles certainly do.
While fans and media breathlessly break down “The Game of the Year,” Tide players seem almost bemused by the attention.
“I think you guys are getting a little more caught up in the hype than we are,” Alabama left tackle Barrett Jones told reporters. “Coach Saban does a really good job of managing that and really just helping us focus on the things that are really important and the things that are going to win this game.
“Getting hyped up and getting real excited, that’s not really what this team does. It’s not really our M.O. We’re businesslike. When we do get excited, we do have fun, but we’ve got to remember what got us here.”
TV executives don’t have to play down the magnitude. CBS Sports moved the game to prime time instead of an afternoon kickoff to fully capitalize on the potential ratings bonanza. That involved trading with ESPN for some 2012 scheduling considerations, getting Versus to allow CBS to televise the Army-Air Force game in the afternoon slot and committing to carry next year’s game in Baton Rouge at night as well, CBS Sports executive Mike Aresco said.
CBS’s contract with the league guarantees only one night game, and the network had already televised Alabama at Florida.
The only other time LSU has competed in a 1-vs.-2 game was in the 2007 BCS championship game, a 38-24 win over No. 1 Ohio State. This is the seventh time for Bama, which has three of its four wins in that scenario as the second-ranked team.
Many of the Tide’s veterans don’t just have to act as if they’ve been there and done that. They really have. The last two 1-2 pre-bowl matchups were Alabama games against Florida in the 2008 and 2009 SEC championship games.
“This is college football: Two great teams squaring off with something to play for. It’s fun,” Miles said.
Then again, he points out, it’s also college football in early November. Not January. Not even December for the SEC title, though chances are the winner will play in Atlanta and be significant favorites over the East Division champion.
“I want them to enjoy a big game,” Miles said, but added, “we’d be very fortunate if beyond this we’re talking about some other games that would be much more important. I’m not trying to pump up this game. It’s the middle of the season. If it was the end of the year, yeah, it would be a big deal. But where it’s at, we’ve got some other games to win.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to wager seafood from his state’s waters with Alabama counterpart Robert Bentley, much like the tradition for title games.
“We absolutely are expecting to beat them and to beat them badly,” Jindal said. “We expect to be rude guests.”
Alabama is expecting about 10,000 more than the usual 130,000 or so people who descend on campus for a home game, said Gina Johnson, the university’s game-day operations manager. She projects about 265,000 will descend on the town, including those who aren’t going to the game, an uptick of 15,000 from the norm. Bryant-Denny’s capacity is 101,821.
Tuscaloosa ticket broker Randy McMurray said LSU tickets are going for $400-$1,100, compared to a range of $150-$300 for last weekend’s rivalry game with Tennessee.
He predicts the only hotter tickets in college football this season will be for the SEC championship and national championship games, especially if LSU isn’t playing in the home state Sugar Bowl.
“Depending on the matchups, I think this game is going to go for more than the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls, and I have tickets for all of them,” McMurray said.
Maybe that’s why LSU graduate Lindsey Jaquillard, her boyfriend Charles Landis, an Alabama alum, and five more Tigers fans are going to Tuscaloosa to soak in the fun, not just the football.
They’ll watch the game on a big-screen TV in a 10-by-20 tent. None have tickets.
“We’re going for the atmosphere,” said the 23-year-old Jaquillard, who has never been to an away game. “If I found a ticket on the ground, I’d take it, but I feel like I’d have to sell my soul on eBay to afford one.”
Floyd Alexander, who describes himself as a lifelong Tide fan, wonders if the game itself will be able to live up to the hype. He doesn’t sound too concerned about it, though.
“This one’s going to be off the charts,” said Alexander, a 64-year-old retiree who lives in suburban Tuscaloosa. “When it gets to the actual game, it’s going to have trouble living up to it.
“This is going to be a fantastic game, because whoever wins this game is going to be in the national championship. One of them’s going to go to the SEC championship, and one of them’s going to go home. This is a big, big game.”
AP sportswriter Brett Martel and AP writer Melinda
Deslatte in Baton Rouge
contributed to this report.
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