By Andrew Alexander, DIG Sports Editor
Saturday marks the tenth installment of college football’s most fierce rivalry of the past decade, as No. 2 LSU travels to Tuscaloosa to battle No. 4 Alabama for the inside track on conference and national title supremacy.
The game began as Saban Bowl I nine years ago and has featured overtime thrillers, missed field goals, a BCS National Championship Game tilt and the “Game of the Century” moniker.
What started as a Les Miles vs. Nick Saban storyline has evolved into an annual slugfest of perennial Southeastern Conference heavyweights. In nine previous meetings, neither team has been ranked lower than No. 17. Seven of the previous nine Miles vs. Saban matchups have been decided in the fourth quarter or overtime.
With the exception of the 2012 BCS National title game, the two squads have always faced off in early November.
The only thing rivaling the ferocity of the autumn battles between the two SEC West powers has been the yearly recruiting wars, with Saban routinely plucking some of Louisiana’s top prep talent away from Miles and LSU.
“I can always tell you that this is a special week for us,” Miles said. “We look forward to playing Alabama.”
It began on November 3, 2007. Current LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was in his first and only season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.
In the midst of what would become a national championship season for the Tigers, No. 3 LSU (7-1) rolled into Bryant-Denny Stadium to face No. 17 Alabama (6-2), led by first year coach Nick Saban.
The man who had resurrected the LSU football program from 2000-2004, winning the school’s second football national championship in 2003, stood across the sidelines from a team filled with his former recruits.
The Tigers emerged victorious in a thrilling 41-34 affair, highlighted by LSU safety Chad Jones’ football jarring hit on Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson late in the fourth quarter. The Tigers recovered Wilson’s fumble and scored two plays later to win Saban Bowl I.
The LSU victory in Tuscaloosa was the first of the Tigers’ three wins in the nine-game series since 2007. LSU has not beaten Alabama since November 5, 2011.
Saban’s first trip to Baton Rouge as Alabama’s head coach the following season in 2008 provided equally exciting theatrics.
LSU’s Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Alabama’s game-winning field goal to send the contest to overtime. However, the Tigers’ freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee threw his fourth interception of the game in overtime, and Alabama would go on to win 27-21.
The subsequent seven meetings between LSU and Alabama produced several memorable and often gut-wrenching moments for the purple and gold faithful.
There was the Patrick Peterson “interception” no call in the 2009 tilt when the former LSU cornerback seemingly picked off Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy in the fourth quarter.
Despite replays showing Peterson getting a foot in bounds and a divot made by the LSU cornerback in the Bryant-Denny Stadium turf, the play was ruled an incomplete pass. Alabama would go on to win 24-15.
LSU invoked a bit of Mad Hatter trickery in 2010 when tight end DeAngelo Peterson took an inside reverse 23-yards to the Alabama 3-yard line on a fourth quarter fourth down, setting a Stevan Ridley touchdown three plays later. The Tigers won 24-21 and Miles was caught chewing Tiger Stadium grass for the first time on television.
The “Game of the Century” in 2011 pitted unbeaten No. 1 LSU versus unbeaten No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, marking the first time in SEC history such an event had occurred.
LSU edged out a 9-6 victory in overtime, as neither team scored a touchdown in the defensive slugfest.
Alabama’s kickers missed four field goals, including one in overtime, while LSU kicker Drew Alleman was three-for-three and kicked the game winning field goal in overtime.
The Crimson Tide would have the last laugh in the 2011 season, shutting out the Tigers 21-0 in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.
January 9, 2012 is a date that will always live in infamy for LSU fans. Alabama’s victory in New Orleans that night was the first of four straight wins for the Crimson Tide in the series, including two gut-wrenching late game losses in Tiger Stadium in 2012 and 2014.
Saban currently leads Miles 6-3 in their nine previous matchups as SEC foes, and the Tide have won three national titles since LSU’s last national championship in 2007.
The annual LSU-Alabama bout has been one of the premier college football clashes for nearly a decade, and the tenth edition of the Saban Bowl is no different.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
College football fans witness a game for the ages.
It’s the game both teams, coaches and fan bases circle on their calendars each year.
“It’s why you came to LSU, to be a part of this game,” Miles said.