Dave Martin, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Les Miles squeezed out a smile, clenched his left hand nervously and extended his right hand toward Nick Saban. The coaches got in an awkward grasp, forced a bit of small talk, and then posed for the cameras behind the crystal trophy that only one of them can hoist toward the Superdome roof come Monday night.
This was the last of their pregame obligations — one final chance for Miles to deflect a query about whether top-ranked LSU is the favorite to make it to the BCS title NEXT YEAR, one more opportunity for Saban to show he's got a life beyond his stranglehold on the storied program at No. 2 Alabama (turns out he does, if watching the Weather Channel qualifies).
Now, let's get down to business.
LSU vs. Alabama, Part II. The BCS championship.
This time, it's for all the marbles.
The teams already met two months ago in Tuscaloosa, a so-called Game of the Century that was more of a Brawl in the Backyard, a brutal slugfest that sent both teams scurrying for the training room the next day and left fans around the country feeling a bit cheated by an old-fashioned defensive struggle in a college game now dominated by point-a-minute offenses.
Neither team made it to the end zone in that first meeting, even with the benefit of extra time. LSU won a battle of field goals, claiming a 9-6 overtime victory and stealing away the top spot in the rankings from the Crimson Tide.
Everyone expects more scoring in the rematch, but there's no way it's turning into one of those back-and-forth shootouts we've seen so many times this bowl season.
"I'd expect it to be big-boy football," Miles said Sunday during his time on podium.
LSU (13-0) has already put up a body of work that clearly establishes it as the nation's best team. In addition to that Nov. 5 win at Alabama, the Tigers have victories over two other major bowl champions, Rose Bowl winner Oregon and Orange Bowl champ West Virginia. In all, they've knocked off eight teams that were ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, with only three of those games in Baton Rouge.
"The only team I've told them not to schedule is the Green Bay Packers," Miles quipped.
Maybe it's only appropriate for the Tigers to find one more daunting challenge standing in the way of a championship season — a great team they've already beaten.
"When we take the field, we'll be an emotional, fired-up football team," Miles vowed.
Alabama (11-1) didn't even make the championship game of the Southeastern Conference, but the Crimson Tide managed to sneak back into the national title race when Oklahoma State lost late in the season. In the strangest of twists, Saban's team will be the one celebrating its second national title in three years with a mere split of the season series with LSU.
Perhaps sensing just how fortuitous Alabama was to get a do-over, Saban wants his players to seize the moment.
"I would like for them to focus on the opportunity, not the pressure part," he said, "so that they really are zeroed into the mental practice and the things that when they go out there and play, they're going to be confident in doing their job the way they need to do it to have success."
That sort of robotic talk is typical of Saban, who spits out championship teams with assembly line precision, devoid of any flair. While Miles' disjointed grammar and goofy antics make it difficult to take him seriously at times, there are no such issues with Saban. He's all business, mixed in with a healthy dose of fear and autocracy.
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