Friday, July 19, 2013
How to win Alabama-LSU rivalry over time
By TideNation and GeauxTigerNation
The Alabama-LSU rivalry admittedly is a young one. While the schools have played one another a lot in their history -- 77 times, to be exact -- the real antagonism didn't come until 2007, when former LSU coach Nick Saban left the Miami Dolphins for the University of Alabama. Ever since, it is prime-time viewing when the Tide and the Tigers meet.
Saban and LSU coach Les Miles have won four of the past six SEC titles and four of the last six BCS national championships. They've pushed each program to greater heights and established themselves as two of the top coaches in the game, all the while competing against one another on and off the field.
So far, Alabama holds the slight edge over LSU in terms of head-to-head wins and national championships, but will that last? Who will own the rivalry in the years to come? That's what we asked of TideNation writer Alex Scarborough and GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney. Each looked into their crystal ball to come up with three things each school must do to win the rivalry moving into 2014 and beyond.
What LSU must do to own the rivalry
1. Win the home front: Alabama is trying to go toe-to-toe with LSU for most of Louisiana's top recruits. If LSU is to hold its own or win the long-term rivalry with Alabama, it's essential for the Tigers to not only win this war, but in a rout. We all know about the 2014 class in Louisiana, featuring a handful of the nation's best players, most of whom have LSU and Alabama as their top two contenders (see Leonard Fournette, Cameron Robinson and Laurence "Hootie" Jones). This might repeat itself in what's shaping up to be a similar 2016 class in Louisiana. Given Alabama's current status as college football's back-to-back champion, it's hard to imagine LSU being able to match the Tide's recruiting without dominating its own state.
2. A transformed offense: LSU looks like it can be a defensive juggernaut for years to come. Not only does LSU have a great defensive coordinator in John Chavis, Louisiana yields Chavis an ample quantity of athletes capable of thriving in his system. That has not been the case on offense, where the Tigers have played musical coordinators and have struggled to find their stride since they last won a national championship in 2007. That's in contrast to Alabama, which a year ago had a dominant running game and an efficient passing game. LSU can't be a one-dimensional team while Alabama is a complete team.
3. A thriving state: An underrated part of LSU's success, and struggles, is the fate of the state of Louisiana itself. We saw LSU take a hit when Hurricane Katrina displaced much of metro New Orleans, which represents close to a quarter of the state's population. New Orleans has recovered and the state is at a point where, if the right buttons are pushed, it can move past recovery to experiencing real growth. We've seen in neighboring Texas, a huge growth state, that transplants have assimilated into Texas' rabid football culture and football prospect production has been incredibly strong. If Louisiana, annually the nation's leader in per capita NFL player production, experiences significant population growth with LSU remaining its sole BCS football power, matching the Tigers' recruiting base would be enormously difficult for any rival, Alabama included.
What Alabama must do to own the rivalry
1. Find a quarterback to replace McCarron: It doesn't matter how stellar the defense or how spectacular the running game: Without a solid starting quarterback, Alabama won't be going anywhere against LSU or any other team in the SEC when AJ McCarron leaves after this season. If you're not balanced in this league, you're not going to win, and you need a capable quarterback to make that possible. The difficulty of finding that man might be taken for granted, considering the consistent play the Tide has had with McCarron and Greg McElroy before him, but much of this season will be devoted toward that process. Alec Morris has nice potential and so do the trio of freshman quarterbacks Alabama welcomed onto campus this spring. UA commitment David Cornwell is a guy that can come in and compete for the job in 2014 as well. But whoever wins the gig will have his hands full.
2. Continue drawing from the Louisiana pipeline: Saban left LSU nine years ago, but he never left the state behind entirely. The relationships he maintained there have paid dividends since he came to Alabama in 2007. Since then, Saban has signed nine recruits from Louisiana, including 2012's top prospect, safety Landon Collins. Alabama is in the hunt for 2014's No. 1 overall prospect, running back Fournette and No. 1 offensive tackle Robinson, and the Tide will no doubt continue to mine the area for talent in the years to come. With each recruit signed out of Louisiana, Alabama fills its own coffers while simultaneously emptying LSU's -- a win-win scenario in any rivalry.
3. Keep Saban and his "process" in Tuscaloosa: It's an obvious thing to say, but the vast majority of Alabama's success comes from its head coach and the program he has installed in Tuscaloosa. While it's true that Saban has built a machine -- also known as "The Process" -- that seemingly operates on its own, he's nonetheless the man with his hand on the lever making sure it's working at maximum capacity. Without him, who knows how far Alabama would fall? Kirby Smart or some other coaching candidate may be the perfect man for the job when Saban leaves, but following up what Saban has done in establishing a dynasty would border on the impossible. The pressure would be incredible. The best-case scenario for Tide fans is that Saban stays head coach for as long as he wants before handing over the reigns to a successor who he could watch develop from an advisory role within the athletic department, whether that's as the school's athletic director or in some other responsibility.