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Les Miles, Nick Saban will play game of risk for BCS title

LSU’s Jordan Jeffersis dual-threquarterback. | Bill Haber~AP

LSU’s Jordan Jefferson is a dual-threat quarterback. | Bill Haber~AP

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Updated: February 10, 2012 9:02AM



NEW ORLEANS — Time and television ratings will tell if this is a good idea, a rematch between two teams from the SEC West for the national championship.

“We have a formula that decides who goes to this game,” Alabama tackle Barrett Jones said. “We trust the formula. It got us here.”

Mix in that top-ranked LSU and the No. 2 Crimson Tide are defensive juggernauts, and another potential “wow” factor is gone. After its 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa, LSU enters this game determined to improve on that hard-hitting, five-field-goal classic.

“We’re going to try to not even let them get into field-goal range, if we can have our way,” Tigers safety Eric Reid said.

That might anguish fans of the high-scoring epics that have punctuated this season.

Playoff proponents could find solace in the possibility of anarchy. If Alabama wins, there’s a slight chance that Associated Press poll voters could anoint Oklahoma State as the No. 1 team, making for a split national championship that could put another dent in the bowl system.

Two things are certain. The SEC will bring home its sixth consecutive national title, and either LSU coach Les Miles or Alabama coach Nick Saban will reach a lofty perch in the college football world.

A third title would make Saban, who won championships at LSU in 2003 and Alabama in 2009, a coaching legend. But with the clock ticking down to kickoff, he had no time for reflection on his place in history.

“I guess when I go back to West Virginia,” the Fairmount, W.Va., ­native said, “and I get on the side of the mountain and watch the creek go by, I might think about some of that. I don’t know when that time’s coming. But I hope not too soon.”

For Miles, who frequently is referred to as “the mad hatter” than a genius, adding a second title would diminish any questions about his risk-taker tendencies. It also would lessen the stigma of guiding LSU to the 2007 championship on a foundation laid by Saban.

That’s especially true because the Tigers played a tough, any-place-any-time schedule this season that included neutral-site meetings with Oregon and Georgia and trips to West Virginia and Alabama.

“Those conversations are best served for after [tonight],” Miles said.

True to their success, Saban and Miles are staying in the moment and stressing to their teams to do the same.

Questions about players turning pro early and about LSU’s quest to win a third consecutive BCS title in its home away from home are intriguing, but they’re dangerous if they distract from the goal.

“This game and the significance of its outcome really transcends personality or style or stuff,” Miles said. “This is about quality teams playing for a very significant title.”

At this point, the questions are about whether Alabama, which missed four field goals in their first meeting, will have kicking troubles and whether the mobility of LSU’s dual threat quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, will be the difference.

The biggest question, though, revolves around the strategic decisions that might come into play to break the defensive logjam. While Miles has the gambler reputation, Saban extolled the virtues of risk-taking at the coaches’ final news conference Sunday.

Saban said two gambles that failed — a fake punt against Texas in the 2009 BCS championship and a brazen fourth-and-inches call with LSU in the 2001 SEC title game against Tennessee — ended up being important positives.

After the Tennessee game, ­Saban said he was feeling dumb until his seniors told him he was smart.

“When you did that, we really thought we could win,” he remembered his seniors saying. “You were being aggressive, and you were trying to win, and we were aggressive after that and we ended up winning.”

For all the marbles, and all the defense, that will be involved in this game, don’t be surprised if a big gamble turns the tide. One way or another.



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