In the Deep South, when it comes to college football this season, there is only one date that matters. You say it and everyone knows the meaning. Doesn't matter whether you are in Bayou La Batre, Ala., or Baton Rouge, La.
Simple as that.
This is the date LSU plays Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It's Ali-Frazier, Borg-McEnroe, Yankees-Red Sox all wrapped into one. It's the game of the year in college football, unless you have the licensing rights to the phrase "Bedlam'' and live in Oklahoma.
It may very well be one of the most significant regular season games in modern times.
"This is like having a Super Bowl in midseason,'' said Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN's lead college football analyst. "Everywhere I go in the country, people are talking about it, including the coaches.''
If you don't already have your tickets and want to be inside the stadium, be prepared to pay. One Alabama ticket broker currently lists four tickets on the 40-yard line (row 12) for $925 apiece. That's $3,720 (including shipping) for your average family of four. So much for the economic slowdown.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that life goes on for the rest of the SEC. So far this season, it's been a big snore with few close games. It seems like one mega-game is sucking the life out of nearly every other contest. Take last weekend for example.
LSU visited Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. LSU was a 17 ½ point favorite and won 38-7. There was a time when Tennessee football was taken seriously. Former quarterback Peyton Manning was in the house hoping to see a miracle. By the fourth quarter, most UT fans still had plenty of leg room to stretch out. In fact, most had entire sections to themselves as the majority of the fans left wore purple. If things don't improve quickly under second-year coach Derek Dooley, he is a goner.
Meanwhile, Alabama traveled to Oxford to play Ole Miss. The trip is always a fan favorite for Tide followers because of the ambience of The Grove and the fun-loving Ole Miss fans, who don't brag about titles (their last SEC crown was in 1963). Instead they fight back with: "We may not win every game, but we've never lost a party."
Alabama was favored by 28 and won 52-7. It could have been worse. I know SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is intent on adding one more school -- most likely Missouri -- to go along with Texas A&M in the game of expansion roulette. Hey Commish, have you thought about dumping a few instead?
So let's do the math. The league's top two teams hit the road and won by a combined margin of 90-14. Shame on me for making fun of the Big Ten a few weeks ago for having too many weak teams and lackluster games.
The SEC schedule makers have traditionally made either the third Saturday in October (or sometimes the fourth) one of the grand days of the autumn calendar. You get the SEC's most storied rivalry, Alabama vs. Tennessee, in either the late afternoon or early evening slot, with the leaves turning outside the stadium in a kaleidoscope of vivid colors. The other headliner is Auburn-LSU, which usually has major implications as well.
Honestly, does anyone outside of Alabama, Louisiana or Tennessee care about either game this year? Vegas has Alabama favored by 29 and LSU by 21 --which dipped slightly Wednesday following the suspension of three LSU starters. CBS recently signed a new 15-year, multibillion dollar deal. The last four weeks, the network's top crew of Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson has called Arkansas-Alabama, Alabama-Florida, Florida-LSU and LSU-Tennessee. Alabama beat Arkansas 38-14 and Florida 38-10. LSU beat Florida 41-11 and Tennessee 38-7. The most important person at CBS Sports isn't the high-priced on-air talent. It is the poor intern who feeds Verne and Gary with the filler material to (attempt to) entertain an increasingly somnolent audience after the game has ceased being interesting.
The SEC can claim five straight BCS titles and six out of the last eight. It may add another in January. However the greatness of the two schools at the top has at times dwarfed the rest of the league this season, even though the SEC currently has six teams in the AP Top 25 and three in the top 10.
These SEC mismatches are like watching Tony Bennett and Andrea Bocelli fighting it out with the other 10 coyote-howling finalists of American Idol. So has the anticipation for one great game -- well, make that one of the games of the century -- ruined it for everyone else?
We are reminded every week by the talking heads that, "There is plenty of football left to be played." Oh really? Down in Dixie there is a mildly interesting race between South Carolina and Georgia to determine who gets to be the SEC East's representative in Atlanta. The winner becomes the latest sacrificial lamb to lose to either Alabama or LSU by 35 points.
But that's a long way off.
For now, it's on to Nov. 5. That's a phrase you will hear early and often the next two weeks. You better get used it.