Commentary

Take two

Why the battle for the crystal football won't be a repeat

Originally Published: December 19, 2011
By Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine
LSU/AlabamaMarvin Gentry/US PresswireLSU and Alabama will meet in the BCS title game on January 9th with everything on the line.

"I'LL TELL YOU EXACTLY what playing someone twice in one season is," Bobby Bowden says without hesitation. "It's a dadgum headache. Especially with the national championship on the line."

That's the former Florida State coach's reaction to what lies before us, a rematch of LSU and Alabama for the BCS title. Two teams that ground out a grueling 1 vs. 2 throwdown on Nov. 5 will meet on Jan. 9 for much larger stakes. As soon as the matchup was announced, the hunt was on for previously unseen weaknesses within an all-too-familiar foe.

"To a lot of people, I'm sure it seems like, 'Well, here we go again,'" says LSU coach Les Miles. "'Just pull out the playbook from October and win again.' Do that and we'll get whipped."

Miles has learned from Bowden. In 1996, in the pre-BCS days of the Bowl Alliance, Bowden coached No. 2 Florida State to a regular-season win over No. 1 Florida, 24-20. Thirty-three days later, the Gators and Noles met in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship, the only other time two teams played each other in the regular season and then again for the title. Florida romped 52-20.

Bowden's still irritated with the loss. "You do it so good the first time, and you think, Well, heck, we can do that again. But you can't."

Steve Spurrier, then at Florida, knew he had to overhaul his game plan. "The first game, they just wore us out with their pass rush," Spurrier says. "So when we played again, I put [quarterback] Danny Wuerffel in the shotgun and kept him back there just about the whole game to keep him away from those guys. It worked."

Coaches say layering in new looks is crucial in preparing for a rematch, but it can also be a headache: Where do you add the wrinkles? "Certainly you want to give them something they didn't see before," says Alabama coach Nick Saban. Does that mean Bama or LSU kept some innovative play calls off the field the first go-around? Both coaches scoff at the suggestion that a January rematch played a role in their November game. But their contemporaries aren't buying it.

"Of course it did," says Spurrier. "If you're playing a team you think you'll see again in January, you want to save a few pages of the playbook for later." Then the head ball coach catches himself and winks. If the coaches withheld something, the players certainly didn't. "I watched that first LSU-Alabama game," he says. "I don't think those guys held anything back, do you?"

No, we don't. And here's what we think LSU and Bama will unleash in New Orleans.


The Red Zone gets the most attention, but it's far from the only 20 yards of play that matter. The Mag turned to Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders to break down every 20-yard zone on the field and tell us which title contender will own that scrap of Superdome turf on Jan. 9.

Ryan McGee | email

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