- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They erect statues in these parts for football coaches who win national championships.
At Alabama, it's called the Walk of Champions, and it's located just outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
They won't crown college football's 2011 national champion here on Saturday night. Then again, maybe they should.
Given the way the SEC has become the permanent home for that crystal trophy they hand out each January, is it possible that the rest of the season is merely a coronation once we have a winner in this epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown between LSU and Alabama?
"We've been watching each other all season," LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee said.
And so has everybody else who loves this sport.
There's a lot to like or not to like, if you have to line up against them.
"Fortunately, we don't play either one of them," South Carolina's Steve Spurrier said recently.
Obviously, he was talking about the regular season, but the Head Ball Coach knows a dominant football team when he sees one. He won four straight SEC championships at Florida from 1993-96.
Good luck, though, in trying to find two SEC teams of this caliber who've squared off in the regular season and generated this kind of buildup, this kind of hype and this kind of anticipation.
The only thing more difficult than scoring on either one of these defenses is finding a ticket to the game.
Alabama's Nick Saban has former players from his LSU days calling and hoping to scrounge up a few tickets.
And who knows with LSU's Les Miles?
Maybe he'll have Snoop Dogg on the sideline. That's the way the Mad Hatter rolls.
Seriously, though, this game has been circled since September. But that's what happens when two teams stockpile future NFL talent the way these two teams have and proceed to turn the mighty SEC into an "A" league (Alabama and LSU) and a "B" league (everybody else).
Nobody has come within 13 points of either team all season.
LSU won its four SEC games in October by a combined 159-35 margin, and it just so happens that three of the Tigers' victims -- Auburn, Florida and Tennessee -- have all won national championships in the BCS era.
Alabama has allowed only 55 points all season, the lowest among FBS schools. In the second half of the Crimson Tide's past six games, they've outscored the opposition by a 142-7 margin.
And in the past four games, Alabama hasn't allowed a single point in the second half.
"There's so much pride on both sides, and we're going to find out who can raise their level of play the most," Alabama running back Trent Richardson said. "This is a grown man's game.
"If you don't fall into that group, then don't show up."
Let's face it. There's always a buzz around Tuscaloosa any time Alabama puts on the crimson jerseys and plays a football game.
They get 90,000-plus here for spring games.
But it's been a while since there was this much raw anticipation. It's why fans started showing up a day early at the Buffalo Wild Wings on McFarland Boulevard for Saban's weekly radio show.
It's not uncommon for fans to drive several hours and start staking out their place in line before most people wake up on Thursday mornings.
But this week, they started showing up an entire day early.
Cecil Hurt, the longtime columnist for The Tuscaloosa News, said the only thing in his mind that compares to this in terms of circus-like buildup for a regular-season game was the 1971 contest between Alabama and Auburn in Birmingham.
Both of those teams went into that game unbeaten, and Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan had already won the Heisman Trophy. As it turned out, Alabama won easily, 31-7, and there was another game that season that stole the spotlight.
That's right, the "Game of the Century" was also played in 1971 with No. 1 Nebraska beating No. 2 Oklahoma 35-31 in a thriller.
That was 40 years ago, and they still talk about that game with reverence.
Perhaps 40 years from now, they'll be doing the same about Saturday night's Alabama-LSU clash.
"It will be one for the ages," Alabama tight end Michael Williams promised.
Keep in mind that for a lot of these players, their idea of history in the SEC goes back to Tim Tebow and maybe stretches as far back as Saban when he was coaching at LSU.
LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery committed football blasphemy, at least in the minds of Alabama fans, when he was asked earlier this week about Bear Bryant.
"I don't know anything about Bear Bryant," Montgomery said. "I really haven't looked at film that much."
Apparently, Montgomery thought he was being asked about one of the current Alabama players.
When told that Bryant was a former coach at Alabama, Montgomery responded, "Oh, a coach. I have no idea. I wouldn't know anything about that. Too way back for me. I thought Bear Bryant was a player."
At least, Montgomery is living in the present. There's something to be said for that.
There's also something to be said for these two teams potentially meeting again later this season in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans if things fall just right.
Alabama would probably need to win a close one, and LSU would have to go on and be pretty dominant the rest of the way. Oklahoma State would have to go down, and so would Stanford. But they both have tough games remaining.
"You'd like to see this game over and over again, so maybe you will see it again in the BCS," Richardson said. "You're not going to get any greater football than what you're going to see out there on Saturday."
Nope, and you're not going to get a better stage for football, either.
The only thing that would come close is a best-of-three series.
Chris Low covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The stage is set. A showdown looms. LSU-Alabama has a championship game feel. And it should: it could be a preview of things to come.