By the end of Saturday’s LSU-Florida game, the Southeastern Conference will be minus one national championship contender.
You can call it the cost of doing business, natural selection or the luck of the draw, but the fact remains: Either the Tigers or the Gators will still cling to dreams of being the last players to lift the crystal football off the BCS trophy.
The other guys will have to dream of next year. The guys who are coming back next year, that is.
The urgency of college football is part of its irresistible, bittersweet appeal. In the NFL, regular-season losses can be almost meaningless when the New York Giants (OK, not this year’s New York Giants) can go 9-7 and still win the Super Bowl by getting hot in the playoffs.
In college football, lose once and your biggest goals might be on life support.
Lose again and you can bury them. And you may never get this chance again.
For Zach Mettenberger, a fifth-year senior, this is his time. Perform or perish. Win Saturday or be relegated to also-ran status. You could still land in a nice warm-weather bowl as consolation prize, but that’s about it.
It’s that dimension that adds an extra layer of drama to the proceedings in Tiger Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s always a very intense game,” said Mettenberger, upon whose right arm rides the fate of both teams. “We’re one of the better teams in the West, and they’re one of the better teams in the East.
“It’s like ‘King of the Hill.’ We want to be on top of the hill at the end of the game.”
To be brutally honest, the Tigers and Gators have a ways to go to be king of the SEC hill once again.
That summit belongs to Alabama, the program that has added three of the past four BCS prizes to its bloated trophy case. Heard of ‘em?
LSU and Florida are the only other schools with multiple BCS titles with two each. Getting a chance at a third means they have to go through Alabama — and each other.
For Alabama the road is a considerably easier.
While LSU and Florida are going at each other Saturday with sledgehammers, Alabama will be cresting a speed bump in Lexington known as the Kentucky Wildcats.
Alabama gets Tennessee as its permanent opponent from the SEC East in two weeks. LSU has Florida. This marks the 10th straight year the Tigers and Gators have both been ranked coming into their annual meeting. Tennessee hasn’t been ranked when it played Alabama since 2003.
As for Kentucky, Alabama’s rotating SEC East opponent, UK is a bottom feeder that has lost 12 of its past 13 conference games dating back to 2011. Kentucky has made a smidgen of improvement under Mark Stoops, but to say the 1-4 Mildcats are a threat to beat Bama is like saying my daughter’s Brownie troop is a threat to overthrow the government (if it was open).
No, there is one game left on Alabama’s regular-season schedule that the Crimson Tide could possibly lose: Nov. 9 against LSU.
Meanwhile, LSU had to go 15 rounds with its SEC East rotating opponent, Georgia, and follow that up two weeks later with another heavyweight bout against Florida. Sure was nice of the SEC to schedule LSU-Florida and Alabama-Kentucky on the same week so we can see how imbalanced and inequitable the conference’s football scheduling is.
But the game will go on as scheduled, and what a game it is. LSU and Florida playing “King of the Hill” pitting strength vs. strength: the Tigers’ red-hot offense against the Gators’ fire-suppressing defense.
The bet here is LSU’s offense, at home, will have enough weaponry to get past the Gators. Whoever wins will certainly have earned the right to leave Death Valley and try to knock Alabama off the top of its hill.