The lead-up for the 84th meeting between LSU and Alabama has the normal fanfare as it does for every year these two teams play.
However, the 2019 edition seems to have an added intensity – and rightfully so. The first rankings for the College Football Playoff were released on Tuesday and placed the Tigers and the Crimson Tide at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. In the AP Poll, LSU is ranked No. 1, narrowly ahead of Alabama at No. 2.
“I think the big thing you want the players to do is not get involved in the hype surrounding the game, or even think about the implications of the game,” coach Nick Saban said. “But prepare for the game as if this is the best team you’ve played and the player you’re going to play is the best player you’ve played against at his position all year long.”
For many players, the hype, the pressure and the magnitude of this game are the reasons they came to play football at Alabama.
Take sophomore cornerback Patrick Surtain II as an example. Surtain had strong ties to LSU and admitted sheepishly that he used to be a fan of the Tigers due to family members living in New Orleans. Surtain recalled the excitement around the “Game of the Century” in 2011 and how that drove him to want to partake in the rivalry.
“I always had dreams of playing in big-time games,” Surtain said. “I live for the moments like those.”
Obviously, Surtain’s allegiances changed as the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native chose to commit to the Crimson Tide back in 2018. Surtain isn’t the only member of Alabama who chose one of the two schools because of the ability to play on the big stage.
When senior defensive lineman Raekwon Davis was a high school senior in 2015, he received offers from eight SEC schools, including LSU and Alabama.
“It’s just, your heart goes somewhere else and stays at that one school,” Davis recalled about his recruiting process. “That was me, my process and breaking down my schools, but LSU’s always been a great school. They’re a great school this year. Their offense [will] probably be the best offense we’re about to play in the SEC.”
This is the 13th straight year and 14th straight meeting that both are ranked in the top 20 and that at least one is in the top five. On top of that, both teams rank in the top five in scoring offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision, with Alabama out-scoring LSU by an average of 1.8 points per game.
Along with the implications of bragging rights, the winner between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide has gone on to win the SEC West in nine of the past 12 seasons.
“I feel like for games week to week, especially for big games like this, we always preach calm before the storm,” junior right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “Only before the game, just focus on what you’re doing in the game plan, prepare for what’s coming and then when the game comes, then you can explode with all the excitement that’s been building up to that point.”