Breaking down Maze's six catches against the Tigers, who incidentally boast arguably the top two cover corners in the country in Jim Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne and Heisman finalist Tyrann Matheiu, they went for 19, 8, 5, 18, 9 and 2 yards. Maze was targeted on two other passes as well. And his involvement in that first LSU game didn't stop there. He threw that much-talked-about-pass that LSU's Eric Reid wrestled away from Michael Williams at the goal line, and he also had one carry that resulted in a six-yard loss and one kick return that went for 26 yards. And while he didn't return any punts, the Tide's No. 1 punt man was put out there to do just that if given the opportunity. Saban & Co. know that the more the ball is in Maze's hands the better. That was one of their objectives in the first game. It's a good bet that'll be one of their objectives Monday night. And what Maze does with the ball in his hands Monday night? Well, that may well determine whether Bama hoists the crystal ball or whether it doesn't.
"The leadership group, we kind of set curfew up so before and after practice," Hightower said. "When guys want to go out and go to the mall or go shopping or whatever, they can go and do that, but if you're not in, even if you're a minute late for curfew, you're going home." Players have a series of events to attend as a group in the days before the game, including a hospital visit, but will have more time on their own in the evenings. Saban said he has complete trust in the players to maintain their focus. "I think everybody's got to make a choice and decision about the consequences of the things they do. I think rest, hydrating yourself properly ... you can still enjoy yourself and make good choices about what you do and what you don't do," Saban said.
Like the first matchup, this game may well hinge on special teams. Alabama kickers Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley missed a combined four field goals against the Tigers. "Saban will punt and play field position rather than try long field goals," says one coach. "And no way in the world will he punt to that number 7 [Tyrann Mathieu]. He might be the best punt returner in years. Saban won't let him get his hands on the ball in the open field." After spending hours breaking down these two teams, the three SEC coaches agree on three things about the BCS title game: Because of the strength of the defenses, the contest will again be low scoring. LSU will have more talent on the field, by a very small margin. And ... Alabama will win. Why? Nick Saban. "It's almost unfair to give Saban so much time to prepare," says one coach, echoing the other two. "Alabama generally outplayed LSU the first time, but the scoreboard didn't say that. I think they'll do it again, but this time the result will be different." SI agrees: Alabama 13, LSU 10.
Tide players have had two months to stew over, and study, that game. They've had extra time since Alabama hasn't played since Nov. 26 at Auburn, while LSU dispatched Georgia in the SEC championship game. "We just fell short, but this time around I feel like everybody absolutely knows everything they're going to do from watching film," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "I feel like we've got a real good game plan so we've just got to go out and execute it." Fellow linebacker Nico Johnson said he "watched it a lot after we lost," and once more during Auburn week. "It was bothering me to see what point of the game that it kind of turned around and what plays caused this and that, and just trying to watch that and see what happened," Johnson said. "There were a lot of plays that they made. They made some big plays that kind of gave them the momentum and took intensity away from us. That kind of turned the game around." And left plenty of what-ifs for the Tide.
LSU safety Eric Reid, the defensive hero of the victory over Alabama on Nov. 5, said Wednesday, "We see mistakes that we made in the game that we can (correct and) score more points and also not allow them to score as much as they did." Mistakes? The Tigers allowed but two field goals in an overtime game. "As a defense you don’t want anybody to ever score on you," Reid said. "If you go out with that mentality, then you get upset when anybody scores on you." Championship standards are different, aren’t they?
"I just landed on the side of my leg, and you've got these knee braces on, so a lot of times the reason you see a lot of ankle injuries on lineman is because when you get hit on the side of the leg, your knee is not going to buckle because you have that knee brace on. If you think about it, the pressure's got to go somewhere. It goes to your ankle. The ankle just kind of popped." How did this injury compare to the one that knocked him out last season against Mississippi State? "It was more painful, because I kept playing," Jones said. "The one last year was a little worse. I was to the point where I couldn't play anymore."
"I’m shaky right now talking about this, just getting off the plane," Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson said. "I couldn’t even sleep on the plane. I’m ready for this game. I’ve been waiting for this game for the longest. We made it here, and we’re going to make sure we try to finish this thing off right."
While some have questioned whether Alabama deserved a second chance at LSU and whether it's fair to the Tigers that they have to beat the Crimson Tide again to win a national championship, neither team feels that this game is anything other than winner take all. "It's a one-game season right here and we know they're going to bring their all and they know we're going to bring our all," Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson said.
For Alabama, it was a short flight, and a brass band greeted the Crimson Tide (11-1) as they got off the plane, while somebody shouted "Roll Tide!" as coach Nick Saban talked to reporters. That was low key, though, compared to the band plus 100-or-so revved up fans and the big stuffed tiger that met LSU at a downtown hotel, sticking around even though they had to wait an extra 40 minutes because one of the Tigers' buses developed a problem on the way down from Baton Rouge and couldn't break 60 mph. "The attachment to this city is one this team really feels," LSU coach Les Miles said. "You think (a greeting like this) is going to subside but this is going to continue for the week."
"I don't watch a lot of the games, but it seems by the time I get home it's right at the end of the game," Saban said. "So I've seen a couple of those in the last couple of days, actually. "I think in fairness to the field-goal kickers - especially when it comes to our guys - they were long field goals. Even if you were in the NFL, you would make 35 or 40 percent of those field goals, and I think that players have to keep that in perspective, especially our players so that they continue to develop confidence in what they have the ability to do."
"Well, obviously (Saban) has had a tremendous impact not only on our football program, but on our department as a whole," Moore said. "He raised the expectations inside the program to a higher level, and I think that has made our other coaches and student-athletes see what is possible here. "It really has worked out better than we could have imagined it as far as the profile of the program, the pride that our fans feel, and our financial side has been very positively impacted."
A report came out Wednesday night that some AP voters were prepared to vote LSU as the national champion even if Alabama beats the Tigers at the BCS Championship on January 12. There are conditions, of course; if 'Bama wins handily, there's not going to be much doubt who the deserving national champion is. But still, if the title game is another close, unconvincing affair that this time tilts in favor of Alabama, there are people on record who are at the very least open to the prospect of sticking with LSU. "Awarding a championship to a team that loses its final game is beyond counterintuitive and may be un-American," said David Teel of the Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Va. "But if LSU loses narrowly, I will absolutely consider (voting the Tigers No. 1). That's how good the Tigers' regular season -- five wins over the top 25, four away from Death Valley, including at Alabama -- was." Another voter in Albuquerque told CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd that Alabama's win "would have to be like 63-0 or something" before he'd consider voting for the Tide over LSU.
Bowl games have a problem. They know it -- or at least they should. Fans know it, too, and are finally speaking out with their wallets by disguising themselves as empty seats. Through 30 games prior to Wednesday's Orange Bowl, the announced bowl attendance this season averaged 49,000 fans, down 3 percent from this time a year ago. At this rate, the average will dip below 51,000 for the only the second time since 1979, according to USA Today. And that's just announced attendance, which bowls can decide however they choose. Some sites have had ridiculously large numbers of empty seats, and that's becoming the norm for the industry, not the exception.
In the pre-BCS era of 1961, LSU vs. Alabama in the Sugar Bowl would have been about as close as could be gotten to fashioning such a decisive postseason matchup. It wouldn’t have been a rematch, either, because they had not played each other in the regular season. Also, the Football Writers Association of America was waiting until after the bowls to vote on the Grantland Rice Award, which also carried national championship status. But LSU Coach Paul Dietzel, still miffed at being manipulated into a Sugar Bowl rematch with Ole Miss two years before, declared his team was going to the Orange Bowl to face No. 7 Colorado. "If you want this team to play in the Sugar Bowl," he supposedly told Athletic Director Jim Corbett. "You’re going to have to take ‘em."