Message board talk is simply that: talk. The common threads surrounding LSU fans since the controversial BCS National Championship Game rematch between LSU and Alabama were simple. It was unfair that LSU went into Tuscaloosa, earned a tough overtime victory, and was forced to play Alabama again. It was unfair to viewers that Oklahoma State did not receive a shot against LSU. While there is some merit for the latter claim, the former claim ignores not only what happened that game, but also that season.
There was not much debate over who the two best teams in the country were when the LSU Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide squared off at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on November 5, 2011. LSU was ranked #1 and Alabama was ranked #2. Both were undefeated at the time and only one team could emerge undefeated. While a shot at the BCS National Championship was not guaranteed, it was clear that the loser would need good fortune to jump back into the title discussion.
Then the game actually happened. LSU beat Alabama by three points in overtime and the discussion began. What if there would be a rematch? This discussion began not because no one actually believed Alabama didn't lose that game. The discussion began because both teams were so evenly matched that LSU could not convincingly put away Alabama. Perhaps a victory in regulation with a single touchdown would have been enough to prevent the discussion at that point, but Alabama was able to experience the good fortune that propelled them into serious rematch discussion.
Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State in double overtime in Ames on November 18. Oregon took a second loss to USC in Eugene on November 19. These twin events were enough to propel Alabama back into the discussion on a much more serious level. It did not matter that Oklahoma State and Oregon later became champions of their conference. Alabama's worth was measured against LSU and they ultimately rode that to a BCS National Championship.
"If it had been us that lost in Tuscaloosa, we wouldn't have gotten a second chance," said many LSU fans before and after the January 9 rematch and it's a theme that continues.
But let us actually examine this claim. This would imply a conspiracy against LSU. While it is tough to deny Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide football program receive a lot of love from ESPN, it is equally tough to deny the LSU Tigers football program and Les Miles don't enjoy massive respect. It can be gauged in recruiting classes and the fact that the program continues to generate interest.
LSU's 2011 season was one of the toughest roads to the national championship in recent memory. That team beat eight top 25 teams that season. They also had to deal with a change at the starting quarterback position due to Jordan Jefferson's legal troubles. They beat the eventual Pac-12 Champion Oregon Ducks on a neutral field at the start of the season. They beat the Big East co-Champions West Virginia in Morgantown. They also beat the eventual BCS National Champions the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. The LSU Tigers team that fell flat against Alabama on January 9, 2012 was very deserving of their spot in the game.
So let us flip the situation. Say LSU lost a tough overtime game to Alabama on November 5. We do not know how intense the discussion would be, but we do know that LSU still had a tough road ahead of them. They still had to beat Arkansas at home on November 25. If we assume Alabama made it through the rest of its schedule undefeated, LSU would sit at home while Alabama played Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Does Alabama win? Probably. For the sake of this argument, let us assume that Alabama beats Georgia to go 13-0. We can safely assume that Oklahoma State still would have lost to Iowa State and Oregon would have lost to USC. The viability of Oregon's argument might have taken a small hit with LSU's los to Alabama.
What happens here? All of a sudden, LSU is back in the title picture. Their argument is much stronger after they throttle #3 Arkansas at home to end the season. They only lost by three points to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but the National Championship Game will be played in New Orleans. All of a sudden, hypothetical home field advantage flips to LSU. LSU's resume compared to that of Oklahoma State looks better on paper.
The 11-1 LSU team beat six top 25 opponents, with their only top 25 loss being to (at the time) #2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa by three points. Oklahoma State also has an 11-1 record, but despite being conference champions, they only beat five top 25 opponents and their only loss was to an unranked Iowa State team in Ames. The voting might be closer due to Oregon's two losses hurting LSU's computer ranking, but Crimson Tide fans driving home from Atlanta would be angered to hear that LSU is still ranked #2, sealing the inevitable rematch in New Orleans.
"We already proved we can beat them once," the Crimson Tide fans would say. "We can beat them again." Or they might ask, "Why do we have to beat them again? They didn't even win their conference."
How the hypothetical game would have played out is anyone's guess. That is not the point of this exercise. As we approach another clash between LSU and Alabama this weekend, we need to remember that any team can win on any given day. These aren't the same teams that met on the field on January 9. For Alabama, their national championship hopes are riding on a victory in Baton Rouge. For LSU, the road to the national championship seems impossible with more undefeated teams ahead of them in the polls.
But if LSU cannot get a bid to the BCS National Championship Game this season, we can hope this team could play spoiler to Alabama's chances to get there and puts itself in a position to get back into the discussion. You can't win them all and a win here wouldn't change the outcome of January 9. A win here would be sweet revenge and cathartic for the fanbase, but let us not get any illusions that LSU was disrespected by having to play Alabama again. If the shoe was on the other foot, Alabama fans would have been groaning just as much. At least it would have made listening to Paul Finebaum's show even more entertaining during the month of December 2011.