Commentary

Tigers, Tide look to be life of title party

Originally Published: January 9, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- They call New Orleans the "Big Easy," and you can find just about anything in the city's famed French Quarter.

Just ask Alabama safety Mark Barron.

"Everybody is interesting," Barron said. "Down on Bourbon Street they have all types of things. They've got guys wearing women's clothing and there's people dancing, having a good time. But it seems like it's a good place to be."

[+] EnlargeLouisiana State University Tigers fans
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesLSU fans have added to the carnival atmosphere in New Orleans.

There's no place that No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama would rather be as they prepare to play for the second time this season in Monday night's Allstate BCS National Championship Game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Both teams know there won't be anything easy about Monday night's game in the Big Easy.

"I'd expect it to be big-boy football," LSU coach Les Miles said. "And I'd expect it to be very, very physical."

New Orleans has never needed a reason to party, and Monday night's game is expected to bring as many as 100,000 fans to the city. The cheapest ticket available for the game on Stubhub.com on Sunday night had a price tag of about $1,200 each. Tickets have a face value of $350.

Throughout the French Quarter, musicians have added "Tiger Rag" and "Sweet Home Alabama" to their set lists. The Saints might be the city's home team, but New Orleans folks love their Tigers, too.

This is one party Alabama and LSU fans don't want to miss.

It seems only fitting that carnival officially kicked off Friday, because Alabama and LSU fans have turned the long weekend into a SEC coronation festival.

Regardless of whether the Tigers or Crimson Tide win Monday, the SEC is assured of winning its sixth consecutive national championship. LSU is aiming for its third BCS national title since 2003; Alabama will play for its second in three seasons.

For the first time in the BCS era, teams from the same conference are playing for a BCS national championship.

As if college football fans from outside the South needed another reason to dislike the SEC. At least an SEC team will finally lose in a BCS title game.

"I'm for the SEC," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I'm for the league. I'm not rooting against anybody in our league. I want everybody in our league [to win] because that's what makes our league very, very good, in that there's a lot of good teams and a lot of good competition. And the fact that we have two teams playing in the BCS National Championship Game from the same league speaks volumes for that. That wouldn't occur if you never had lots of good programs."

Maybe there will even be a touchdown scored this time.

When the Tigers and Crimson Tide met for the first time on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., they combined for five field goals in LSU's 9-6 overtime victory. Neither Alabama nor LSU was able to reach the end zone, as points, yards and first downs were at a premium for more than 60 minutes.

"It's two pretty good defenses," LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu said. "We don't expect the score to be 45-30."

As big as their first meeting seemed -- it was billed as college football's latest "Game of the Century" -- the stakes are even higher the second time.

"The first meeting was about as large of magnitude as you can get for a regular-season game," Alabama offensive tackle Barrett Jones said. "This one is even bigger."

It seems only fair that Alabama will have to play LSU only 80 miles from its campus in Baton Rouge, La. The city has been saturated in purple and gold (which are also two of the traditional Mardi Gras colors) throughout the week, even as the hometown Saints played an NFL wild-card game in the Superdome on Saturday night.

"It's very fitting," Tigers defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. "We went to Tuscaloosa and it's very hard to get a win out there. This is as close to home as we can get."

The Big Easy has been very good to LSU. The Tigers have won each of their past three national championships in New Orleans. LSU defeated Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS Championship Game in the Superdome to claim the 2007 title. Then-LSU coach Saban guided the Tigers to a 21-14 victory over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to win the 2003 national title, and LSU defeated Clemson 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl to finish 11-0 and win the '58 national championship.

"There's no other place we wanted to play," said Miles, who is seeking his second national title at LSU. "For us, there's no other place for us to play. This is right where we needed to be."

Having to defeat the Crimson Tide twice to win a BCS title isn't a big deal to the Tigers.

[+] EnlargeAlabama fans
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesCrimson Tide fans have rolled into the "Big Easy."

"Playing Alabama once again and just playing it again as the championship game will make this game a lot sweeter when we're victorious," LSU QB Jordan Jefferson said.

New Orleans has been sweet for the Crimson Tide, too. Legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant clinched three of his six national championships with Sugar Bowl wins (the 1961, '78 and '79 seasons), and Gene Stallings guided Alabama to a national championship in New Orleans in 1992.

The winner of Monday night's game will get to stake its claim as the SEC's dominant program. The Tigers have already defeated the Big East champion (West Virginia) and Pac-12 champion (Oregon), and with another victory over Alabama, it might be argued that their season is one of the greatest in college football history.

With two national championships in three seasons, Alabama might become the sport's latest mini-dynasty.

New Orleans is a city like no other. The melting pot of cultures, sights and sounds is the perfect backdrop to a BCS title game like no other. Houndstooth hats and "Roll Tide" chants don't seem out of place in New Orleans. Neither do purple and yellow Mardi Gras beads and "Geaux Tigers" yells. But only one will parade victoriously on Bourbon Street. Three hours of "big-boy" football will determine that. Three hours of SEC football will determine that.

This much we know: When the confetti falls from the roof of the Superdome on Monday night, the party in the Big Easy is only beginning for the winning team.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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