By Mark Edwards
Of the Decatur Daily
TUSCALOOSA — Is it possible to spend more than nine months preparing for one football game?
It seems like it this week as No. 1-ranked Alabama gets closer to its Saturday showdown at No. 5 LSU.
Since Alabama beat LSU 21-0 on Jan. 9 in the BCS National Championship Game, it seemed as if the Tide’s thoughts pointed to the rematch.
All those other games in between? Prep work. This is the one that matters. This is the one in which a repeat trip to the national title game rides most.
All season, Nick Saban demanded his players work against their own standard, which is much more than the result of any one game. It didn’t matter if Alabama beat Michigan by 27 points, Arkansas by 52 or Missouri by 32. Saban set the goal as improvement.
The players believe in that, too — maybe more so than any team Saban has had at Alabama. At least, the coach seems to indicate that. As we all know, if you ask him a direct question with the word “compare” in it, it’s likely to set off an eruption and an answer about how much he hates comparing.
While winning is enough all season for the rest of the teams in college football, Alabama has worked on a different level. Winning isn’t enough. Being No. 1 isn’t enough.
Improving every week? That’s enough.
But this week, the Tide’s mood seems to have shifted just a bit. LSU is different. The 2011 regular-season game in Tuscaloosa and the BCS championship were the most anticipated contests of last season.
This week, winning might be enough.
Saturday night, Alabama’s Barrett Jones, maybe the most blunt of the Tide players when speaking with reporters, said he has had hard time not thinking about this game. Although his teammates might not dare say so publicly, some of them likely feel the same. Often, as Jones goes, many of the players do, too.
This isn’t the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown of a year ago. Alabama’s record is untouched, but LSU has one loss, which came to Florida.
Even so, the national interest still remains high. The stakes essentially are the same. If Alabama wins, it will conquer what was always viewed as the season’s biggest stumbling block. If the Tide dominates the Bengal Tigers again, it should sweep away most doubts from folks who point to the Tide’s schedule as a drawback.
Just about everyone except for a handful of Harris poll voters labels Alabama No. 1, but there’s a wait-and-see approach to it as well. It’s like they’re thinking, “They sure do dominate and look better by far than anybody else, but is it the schedule that’s making them look that way?”
For LSU, a win Saturday would put the Bengal Tigers squarely back in the national championship race. And it could cause a late-season national argument: Would a one-loss LSU team be more worthy of a spot in the BCS game over an undefeated Oregon, Kansas State or Notre Dame?
For Alabama, a win would put it back on the same path as before. The Tide would go back to focusing on itself, rather than the opponent. And the rest of the country would fight it out to see who plays the Crimson Tide in Miami for a national title.
Contact Mark Edwards at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DailyEdwards.