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Alabama fans feeling uneasy about championship game rematch

When Monday night finally arrives -- assuming it ever does -- 44 interminable days will have elapsed since Alabama last played a football game. Which begs the question: Has there ever been a more prickly period for fans of a team about to play for the BCS national championship?

It started with the national debate about Oklahoma State vs. Alabama in November and continued through the first Monday night in January, as commentators debated during the Fiesta Bowl about a split title if LSU loses in New Orleans. With a new twist to an old question.

"There's no way you can say Alabama is any more deserving (of the AP title) than Oklahoma State or Stanford,'' said David Norrie during the ESPN radio broadcast. Did Norrie chow down too many Tostitos during game week?

Even Brent Musburger, normally a voice of reason, ended the Rose Bowl broadcast by complimenting Oregon, saying the Ducks were "the team that may have given LSU its best game of the year.'' Earth to Musburger: The Ducks scored in the game's waning moments against LSU to cut the deficit from 20 to 13. LSU's 9-6 overtime win over Alabama in November was a lot closer.

This is the kind of conversation that has thoroughly traumatized some in the Tide Nation recently. Over the holidays, I talked to a close friend who is an Alabama graduate, and he was approaching the BCS title game with all the enthusiasm of a root canal.

"This hasn't been any fun at all," he told me. "Two years ago, before the Texas game, everyone was fired up and boasting about beating them. Not this time around."

So what's different?

"LSU beat us at our place," he said. "It's taken all the fun out of this."

Many Alabama fans, whose extreme confidence of winning a BCS title was shaken by the loss on Nov. 5, are still rightfully worried that their hopes could be dashed twice by LSU. They still believe in Nick Saban but are holding their breath in anticipation. Maybe they'll loosen up on Bourbon Street.

Part of the problem for fans in general is the long layoff. Because of television, the bowl season stretches over 24 days. Another part of it is that Alabama is unaccustomed to being "the other team" in any conversation.

Considering the betting public still has Alabama as the slight favorite in some places, why do so many pundits feel the Tide have little chance to win or even less business even playing in the game?

Does the Tide really deserve all this negativity and disrespect? Why have they seemingly become the poster child for America's Most Undeserving BCS Finalist? Just because you hate the BCS doesn't mean you have to hate Alabama.

Is this venom really directed toward Alabama or is it simply more a case of SEC fatigue, or frustration with the whole BCS system? At least the nation will take some solace in knowing the vaunted SEC will finally lose a BCS title game on Jan. 9.

So what, if anything, does all this mean for the actual game on Monday night? You can bet that Saban will mention the national slight in the days before the game. It is pretty good when you can surgically apply a chip on your team's shoulder while forgetting your closest win of the season was a 27-11 victory at Penn State on Sept. 10. The game wasn't really that close as it was 27-3 until a meaningless touchdown and two-point conversion were scored late.

I even heard an Alabama fan say this week, "We don't have anything to lose because we haven't won anything this year." Saban is a master at pushing the right buttons, and he has plenty to push now including this one.

On the other side, LSU comes into the game as the team of destiny. They have already been anointed by many experts as one of the best teams ever. Obviously, the Tigers know they can beat Alabama and don't lack confidence.

However, being the experts' pick is not exactly in Les Miles' wheelhouse. He created wonders earlier this season when everyone was counting LSU out when quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended. It is worth remembering how LSU played as the No. 1 team down the stretch after beating Alabama.

Well, actually, the Tigers didn't play all that well at all. They were horrible at home in the first half against Arkansas, trailing 14-0 and taking off nearly the first 30 minutes against Georgia in the SEC championship game, going down 10-0 and gaining only 14 yards and no first downs. The Tigers stormed back in the second half of both games. Memo to LSU: Don't try this against Alabama.

Alabama, one of the bluest bloods in the history of college football, with 13 national championships, arrives in the title game described by some as the accidental participant.

LSU's program took a wrong turn in 1958 at the intersection of college football and the Bermuda Triangle. The Tigers were finally claimed in lost and found in 2000 by Saban, who brought the Tigers a national championship in 2003. Now LSU's is America's team this year.

So match on for LSU, against Saban, in New Orleans, with everybody in the country watching. How wonderfully delicious. That is assuming the game ever gets here.