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Hype at record high for ‘Game of the Century’

Brett Hudson

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Alabama vs. LSU has always been a rather heated rivalry. Both fan bases are ranked among the most passionate in the nation. In recent times, the game has been called the Saban Bowl, referring to Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s previous tenure at LSU.

This coming Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium, though, the fanatics of not just the two teams involved, but college football in general, will be treated to something rare: a meeting of the two top-ranked teams during the regular season.

All BCS National Championship games are meetings of No. 1 versus No. 2, and in recent history, the Southeastern Conference Championship game has featured the top two teams, most recently in 2009 with Alabama facing Florida.

The last time the two highest ranked teams in college football met during the regular season was in 2006, when BCS leader Ohio State played the then No. 2 Michigan Wolverines.

Now that the game is just days away, the fan and media frenzy for this game is in full throttle. YouTube has been set ablaze with hype videos, made both by fans and media outlets like ESPN. A YouTube search for “Alabama-LSU 2011” produced over 1,600 results.

ESPN’s video opens up with, “You don’t need a map to find the top. Just look up. You don’t need a formula to find the numbers. Just count. 1, 2, everyone’s coming for you. Now, you are the chased and the coveted.”

The mammoth showdown has dominated ESPN’s flagship program SportsCenter for days. It has even penetrated non-college football-related programs such as Audibles and has drawn analysis from NFL Draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, looking at all of the NFL potential in this game.

Rece Davis, an Alabama alumnus working for ESPN, can feel the importance of this game in his workplace.

“It’s the biggest story in college football up to this point in the season,” Davis said. “It could be the biggest story of the season.”

Davis said that the crew at ESPN has known this was going to be a large-scale game for a long time.

“It might have been mentioned sometime in September,” Davis said. “The hype really started building up after LSU beat West Virginia and Alabama beat Arkansas and Florida as convincingly as they did.”

Davis added, “It’s something you could have looked at in August and been excited for.”

The game is even bigger now that CBS has moved the kickoff from a standard 2:30 p.m. kick to primetime, with the new kickoff slated for 7 p.m. According to a Birmingham News report, CBS negotiated with ESPN , which normally has first pick on this primetime spot.

“The hype machine is going to be something we are not familiar with,” radio host Paul Finebaum said in an interview with the Tim Brando show. “It [the game being moved to primetime] really sent the game into orbit. A 2:30 p.m. game is fine – we go to them, we enjoy them… but when [CBS executive vice president of programming] Mike Aresco announced that it was going to primetime, it gave this game what we all thought it deserved.”

Finebaum continued, “It made us look at this and go, ‘Ok, this is going to be as big as we thought it would be.’”

The Alabama-LSU showdown has even penetrated government institutions. There is a friendly wager on the game between Alabama governor Robert Bentley and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.

If Alabama wins, on Bentley’s next visit to Louisiana, Jindal will treat him to a famous Louisiana seafood dinner, and if LSU were to win, Bentley would treat Jindal to a 13 National Championships BLT from Rama Jama’s here in Tuscaloosa.

The hype video produced by ESPN, it ends with, “You’ve attained it. Now sustain it.” Sustaining success in the media madness is easier said than done.

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Hype at record high for ‘Game of the Century’