NEW ORLEANS — From Florida State's Sugar Bowl meltdown 16 years ago to New England's stunning Super Bowl loss, history suggests that it's tough to beat an opponent the second time around.
Top-ranked LSU is looking to write a new chapter in its Big Easy do-over with Alabama.
"The opportunity to play them again is something we're going to embrace," Tigers star Tyrann Mathieu insisted Friday.
Not that they have much of a choice. The Tigers (13-0) already beat the Crimson Tide once this season — on Alabama's home field, no less. But they'll have to do it all over again to claim the national championship, even if that seems a bit unfair.
Bobby Bowden can certainly sympathize with LSU.
Back in 1996, Bowden was coaching Florida State when the Seminoles knocked off Florida 24-21 in the regular-season finale and took over the No. 1 spot in the rankings. Then, through an unexpected turn of events in the conference championship games, the teams wound up paired again in the Sugar Bowl.
The rematch was all Florida. The Gators romped 52-20 to take their first national crown.
"I didn't like it," Bowden said. "The team that lost, I would think they love it. The team that won, it's just hard to get your boys as inspired as the other team can get inspired."
New England ran up against the same thing in the NFL four seasons ago. The Patriots finished off a perfect 16-0 regular season with a thrilling 38-35 win over the Giants in New York.
Lo and behold, the Giants still made the playoffs and stunningly won three straight postseason games on the road, earning another shot at heavily favored New England — now 18-0 — in the Super Bowl.
Well, we all know what happened in the Arizona desert. Actually emboldened by that earlier loss to the Patriots — "it did give us a sense of confidence that we could play with New England," Giants guard Chris Snee remembered Friday — New York pulled off an epic upset, knocking off Tom Brady and the seemingly unbeatable Patriots 17-14.
"Obviously there was some stuff that year that we used in the Super Bowl that we had seen we could take advantage of in the first game," said another Giants player, defensive lineman Dave Tollefson.
Now, the Tigers face the same predicament as Florida State and New England.
They've already put together a winning game plan against the second-ranked Crimson Tide (11-1), pulling out a 9-6 overtime victory in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5. Now, the onus is on the Tigers to counter all the new wrinkles they'll surely see in the rematch, changes that will undoubtedly be embraced by a Crimson Tide team still stinging from its only defeat.
"It may give us a little edge in our minds of what's got to happen, what we've got to do," Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said.
On the other side, LSU coach Les Miles and his staff must deal with an inevitable human trait: It's tougher to get players to recognize their mistakes — and be willing to go along with any necessary tweaks — when they're coming off a win.
The losing coach has no such issues.
Bowden remembers Florida coach Steve Spurrier changing up his offensive plan after the Seminoles pounded Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel in their initial meeting.
"They made a big adjustment," Bowden said. "They went to the shotgun."
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