Posted: Wednesday November 2, 2011 11:49AM ; Updated: Thursday November 3, 2011 4:39PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

"Game of the Century" hype hardly unprecedented; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

We've seen other Games of the Century, but LSU vs. Alabama remains special

We'll look back years from now and marvel at the defensive talent on the field

Plus: Luke Fickell's future, Joe Paterno's divisive legacy, Boise's schedule, more

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Troy Smith and No. 1 Ohio State toppled No. 2 Michigan in the first
Troy Smith and No. 1 Ohio State toppled No. 2 Michigan in the first "Game of the Century" of the 2000s.
Bob Rosato/SI
The Mandel Initiative
LSU-Alabama preview: CBS Sports analyst Gary Danielson breaks down this week's No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. Former Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy shares his own experiences facing LSU.


More Mandel Initiative | Find on

Contrary to reports, there are in fact lots of stories in college football right now other than that football game in Tuscaloosa this Saturday. I'll get to some of them momentarily, but I fear someone might revoke my press pass or cancel my hotel reservation if I lead with anything but LSU-Alabama.

In your recent edition of College Football Overtime, you coined the upcoming Alabama vs. LSU game the "Game of the Century." How does this game compare to the 2006 Ohio State vs. Michigan game? That contest was the previous "Game of the Century."
-- Will, Hoboken, N.J.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with the concept, it's completely normal for there to be two Games of the Century within the first 12 years of a century. According to Wikipedia (and most college football historians), eight Games of the Century were played between 1935 (Notre Dame-Ohio State) and 1993 (Florida State-Notre Dame), for an average of one every 7.3 years. So long as we don't get another one before 2015, we're right on schedule.

The '06 game had a little bit more buildup since it wasn't played until Nov. 18 and since it was the last regular-season game for both teams, but we've been salivating over LSU-Alabama since late September. The fact that the Buckeyes and Wolverines have such a celebrated rivalry to begin with enhanced the aura surrounding that matchup, but the fact that the SEC is the king of college football right now adds to the hysteria surrounding Tigers-Tide. And one thing that's not being discussed much is how these programs are so closely intertwined due to the Nick Saban connection. They've played some fantastic games since Saban returned to college five years ago, and that recent history serves as a nice backdrop to this contest.

ROTHSCHILD: Ranking the 10 best 1-2 regular-season matchups in history

But what really makes this game so special is the fact that people seem genuinely split down the middle as to which team is better. There is mass dissension even within the SI.com newsroom. That wasn't the case in '06, when host Ohio State entered the season as the consensus No. 1 team and was widely viewed as the favorite over Michigan. It wasn't even the case with the Florida-Alabama SEC title game two years ago, when both teams were undefeated but the Gators were still overwhelming favorites (wrongly so, it turned out). I have my hunches on this one, but I can see it going either way, and I can see the game playing out a million different ways. The only surprise would be if one team blows the other off the field.

Stewart, the upcoming Alabama-LSU game features defenses that are playing at an elite level. You could argue that the teams' starting defensive players will be all playing in the NFL. In your opinion has college football ever seen two better defenses square off? If so, what past matchup of defenses is similar to what we will see on November 5th?
-- Jake Dawson, Reynolds, Ill.

We didn't realize it at the time, but the Ohio State-Miami national championship matchup in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl certainly fit the bill. By my unofficial count, 11 Ohio State and nine Miami defensive starters from that season were eventually drafted, including Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, Antrel Rolle, Chris Gamble and Mike Doss. In terms of regular-season games, this reminds me very much of those great Florida State-Miami games in the early '90s, when guys like Derrick Brooks, Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp were out there every year.

For much of the latter part of the 20th century, NFL teams gravitated to the Sunshine State for defensive talent. Right now the SEC is where it's at, and these two teams happen to be particularly loaded at present. I'm no NFL scout, but it would not surprise me if we look back in awe one day at the fact that guys like Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu were on the field at the same time.

Following the Buckeyes' incredible last-minute victory over Wisconsin, a game in which it appeared all hope was lost just seconds earlier, the sense of renewed hope and euphoria is quite strong. However, even as a lifelong Buckeyes fan, I feel a bit torn between the hope that this victory marks the turning point toward another Big Ten championship, and the fear that such success would lead to renewed contracts of the current coaching staff and AD. Is there any way that the Buckeyes would stick with the current staff if they end up in the Big Ten Championship game or BCS bowl?
-- Ryan, Findlay, Ohio

I don't understand the conflict. Considering the mess he inherited and the hole he had to dig out of, Luke Fickell would have pulled off one of the most remarkable coaching jobs of the season if he wound up winning out and getting Ohio State to Indianapolis -- a feat that would require beating 8-1 Penn State and 7-1 Michigan. Why wouldn't you want to keep him?

I certainly understand the infatuation with Urban Meyer. But suppose Jim Tressel had just told someone about his players' tattoo friend and kept coaching for, say, another five years before handing the reins to Fickell. Buckeyes fans would have been completely cool with that. Instead Fickell unexpectedly got the job in May, had to coach a team whose three-year quarterback also left under dubious circumstances, had its best running back, receiver and tackle suspended, then -- shocker -- got off to a poor start. He certainly could have handled the quarterback situation better initially, though he couldn't control the fact that Braxton Miller got hurt against Nebraska. Now that Miller is progressing and Herron is back and shining, Fickell suddenly knows how to coach. Funny how that happens.

Ultimately, as with any Ohio State coach, it will probably come down to the Michigan game. There's no way Gene Smith keeps Fickell if he oversees the Buckeyes' first loss in eight years to the Wolverines (a real possibility this season). If however, he wins the Michigan game and beats Penn State as well, it's going to be a tough decision, because that would be one heck of a job audition.

 
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