November 3, 2007

Saban Bowl Saturday

Nick Saban likes to call them "external factors."

Sports media refers to them as "storylines."

And the players, well, they refuse to refer to them at all.

Whatever the moniker, however, the list of subplots in play Saturday when the Alabama football team plays host to Louisiana State at Bryant-Denny Stadium is enough to make an episode of Desperate Housewives look busy:

  • Of course, there is Saban himself, the Alabama coach who recruited 17 of LSU's 22 starters but will be on the opposite sideline only three years removed from coaching the Tigers himself.
  • There is LSU standout defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who will probably play but whose effectiveness with a knee injury is anyone's guess.
  • There is the Alabama offensive line, riddled by the suspensions of two starters who just happen to leave a void right in Dorsey's potentially hobbled path.
  • There is the five-game win streak LSU holds over Alabama, just as long as that of Auburn, but less noticeable without the wagging thumbs of Auburn fans.
  • Both Saban and LSU coach Les Miles inadvertently riled opposing fans with slips of tongue during the offseason.
  • And - oh yeah - sole possession of first place in the SEC West is at stake.
    LSU at Alabama
    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. CST
    Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
    Records: Alabama (6-2, 4-1 SEC); LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC)
    The line: LSU by 7.
    Television: CBS.
    "We all know what's on the line," said Alabama safety Rashad Johnson. "The winner will be in first place in the West and have a great chance of going on to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship."

    Two of the most critical matchups on the field will be Alabama's interior offensive line against Dorsey, and LSU's secondary against UA standout receiver DJ Hall. Dorsey leads LSU in both sacks and tackles for loss.

    "He's extremely powerful," said UA guard Justin Britt. "I went up against him pretty much the whole game last year. ... He's an intense man."

    Hall has gone over 100 yards in three of Alabama's five conference games this season, and set career highs against Tennessee two weeks ago with 13 receptions and 185 yards. As Alabama's passing attack has begun to flourish, Hall has been a centerpiece of the recent success.

    "He catches everything," said LSU cornerback Chevis Jackson.

    Saban only wishes the on-field matchups were drawing all the attention. It was somewhat fitting that Saban's Halloween birthday falls on LSU week. After all, with distractions aplenty surrounding this game, what can a birthday and a holiday on the same day in the same week do to make things any tougher? Ever the coach, Saban likely considers his own birthday as an external factor right alongside everything else he's managed to ignore this week.

    "I'm a competitor. I'm on this side of the fence now," Saban said. "That means I respect the other guys but we want to help our guys compete the best that they can to play winning football against a very good team. There's nothing hard about that. It is what it is."

    Players, at least publicly, have taken a similar approach this week as questions about Saban's clash with his old team have arisen.

    "It doesn't matter who he took a job with - we've got enough to worry about around here," said Dorsey. "We're not getting caught up in the whole coaching thing."

    Added Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson: "It's just the next game on the SEC schedule. It's not our Super Bowl or anything."

    Try telling that to the droves of LSU fans who made the trip to Tuscaloosa, or to the Alabama fans who haven't enjoyed an SEC championship berth since 1999. To them, it's not the Super Bowl. It's bigger.

    It's the Saban Bowl.

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