Top-ranked Alabama and No. 10 LSU will play a football game in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. It’s a big game, potentially the most consequential game of the season to this point.
Still, it seems the hype machine is all centuried out. It doesn’t feel like Condoleezza Rice and LeBron James will be in the building this time, as they were in 2011.
Hype is coming more on a wait-and-see basis this year. It’s not like in 2011, when the hype machine started dumping frankincense and myrrh at the altar weeks before top-ranked LSU beat Alabama 9-6 in overtime.
So what happened? How to explain it, when Alabama came into this season with a league-best 16 All-SEC picks, and LSU was second with 11?
An LSU upset could have national ramifications at a time when the rest of the country is all SEC-ed out, so what gives?
Well, that’s just it. LSU is a 12.5-point underdog, so an LSU victory in its return to Bryant-Denny Stadium wouldn’t be the somebody-had-to-win outcome of a titanic showdown.
It’s not a showdown between the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country, like it was in 2011. LSU is damaged goods, with losses to Georgia and Ole Miss.
This year’s game is no clash of mega-defenses. LSU team is 50th in the nation against the run, and Alabama has shown vulnerability in the secondary.
Too, it’s hard to match the 2011 game, which has produced 31 NFL draft choices to date -- 17 from Alabama’s 2011 national championship team and 14 from the 2011 LSU team that stayed unbeaten until losing the rematch in the Bowl Championship Series final.
Based on various Heisman Trophy watches, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has the best chance among players on either team to at least be a finalist, and he’s fourth on the most reputable watch lists. The 2011 game had two eventual finalists in then-Alabama running back Trent Richardson and then-LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
And while mentioning Mathieu, where’s this year’s player with the colorful nickname? Can anything ever match the “Honey Badger” for catchiness?
Well, for those who like to hype, we salute you, and there’s good news for LSU’s return to Bryant-Denny. There’s reason to believe it could be a more entertaining game.
The hope is found in the fact that both teams are better at quarterback and not as good on defense this year.
In 2011, McCarron was a sophomore and first-year starter. If ever the game-manager tag fit him, it was that year. Wide receiver Marquise Maze wound up throwing the most consequential pass in that game, and LSU’s Eric Reid wrestled it away from Alabama tight end Michael Williams at the goal line.
McCarron didn’t show the first sign of becoming the quarterback he is today until the Alabama-LSU rematch in the BCS final for the 2011 season. Two years later, he’s going for his third straight national title, is very much the player face of his team, and his career numbers are strong for a non-spread, pro-style quarterback in today’s college game.
LSU, meanwhile, has Zach Mettenberger, the Georgia transfer that LSU coach Les Miles shelved in 2011 — largely because Miles had a good enough defense to win 13 games with quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee and likely would have won a national title, had Alabama not gotten a second chance at the Tigers.
Mettenberger showed his first signs of becoming the quarterback he is today against Alabama a year ago, losing only because McCarron led a dramatic, late drive to victory in a game that played out more like a “Game of the Century.”
New LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has made his latest pupil better. Mettenberger is an accurate, veteran quarterback about to test a depleted secondary that’s had its struggles against accurate quarterbacks.
McCarron is an accurate, veteran quarterback surrounded by weapons to exploit an LSU defense that’s nothing like the 2011 unit.
There should be touchdowns in Bryant-Denny on Saturday, which would make the 2011 game look so last century.
Though odds-makers say otherwise, Saturday’s game could be every bit as good as last year’s. Maybe then, this year’s game will earn hype.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.