It’s here — finally. Alabama week.
It has been a long wait since Jan. 9.
Back then, LSU fell to Earth with a thud after having soared higher than any other Tigers team ever had during an historic 13-0 regular season.
And from the moment that the 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game came to a merciful end, LSU started thinking about getting another crack at the Crimson Tide.
Now, 294 days later, after spring practice, summer workouts and preseason camp — and game weeks leading up to nonconference games against North Texas, Washington, Idaho and Towson, plus the ones leading up to Southeastern Conference games against Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M — it’s officially Bama Week.
In five days, the No. 1 Crimson Tide will enter Tiger Stadium. Finally.
“You don’t want to say that you were waiting for this game,” LSU guard Trai Turner said, “but at the end of the day, you kind of have been waiting for this game.”
Everyone has been waiting for this game. The Tigers have been waiting, the Tide has been waiting, followers of both programs have been waiting, and so have college football watchers throughout the Southeastern Conference and the nation.
But no one else has been anticipating this week, this game, the same way LSU has.
“After that loss in the national championship, it’s been a wound to us — having gone out there and not having played our best football,” place-kicker Drew Alleman said. “We didn’t play to the capability that we could have. A burning desire to get better is what fueled us throughout the whole spring and summer.”
LSU was fueled by the desire to get back to the title game and finish what it couldn’t finish last season. A win against Alabama won’t by itself get the fifth-ranked Tigers back to the title game, but a loss to the Tide — four weeks after a loss to Florida — would all but guarantee there won’t be a return trip for LSU.
The specter of this matchup has been building since the start of the season, though the Tigers had to do their best to ignore it while they played eight preceding games. During last week’s open date, they started getting ready for Bama, but now the Tide is staring them in the face. Finally.
“Obviously, that was the game that was marked on our calendar, but you know, you’ve got to put that game behind you,” Alleman said. “You’ve got to be ready for all the other games. Now that it’s here, we’re definitely focused on it and ready to go.”
The Tigers won their first five games, being seriously threatened only in the game at Auburn (12-10) despite inconsistency. After losing at Florida 14-6 to kick off October, they beat then-No. 3 South Carolina 23-21 and then-No. 20 Texas A&M 24-19 to improve to 7-1 and 3-1 in the SEC.
“We try not to look ahead because we have a hard schedule,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “We have very quality opponents every week leading up to this game. It would have been a shame to end up losing a lot of those games because we were looking at one game.
“So we had to focus throughout the season on those opponents. Now we’ve gotten here. It’s Bama, and that’s all we’re looking at.”
Minter said having the open date after eight games in eight weeks was “epic.”
“It’s heaven for us,” he said. “We love the open date, but it’s still serious preparation because you know what’s coming next. This can make or break our season right here.”
The Tigers’ 9-6 overtime victory at Alabama 52 weeks ago put them in position to complete the most successful season in school history. But the loss in the rematch left a big blemish at the end of their record.
Now they have a chance to show the country that they might be on their way to another title shot.
“It’s time to establish ourselves and let the nation know we’re healed from the scars in the national championship game,” defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “We can re-establish ourselves. A lot of people are underrating us and think we have no chance to win this game. We can establish who we are and what we’re made of.”
Tackle Josh Dworaczyk said that since the loss to Florida the Tigers have been “slowly working our way back toward all the goals we set for ourselves.”
Those goals hang in the balance during Alabama Week.
Dworaczyk said the loss to Florida has primed the Tigers for this week’s game as much as the loss on Jan. 9 did.
“I think this team has a chip on our shoulder from the loss that we took this season,” Dworaczyk said. “I don’t think there needs to be any more motivation than that. You don’t ever want to feel that way again.”