Bookmakers might view LSU as a 12-point underdog, but Les Miles is hardly approaching Saturday's game against top-ranked Alabama as though his Tigers face long odds.
History proves his point. The regular-season matchups between LSU and Alabama since Les Miles and Nick Saban became their coaches have all been tight, with both winning three times and the average margin of victory standing at only 5.3 points.
“I can tell you that this team does not take on an underdog's mentality,” Miles said. “It's a team that really feels like it can play with any. And so I don't know that we use it as motivation. It's certainly not been … any rallying cry that we wanted to make.”
Saturday's meeting in Tuscaloosa won't receive the same “Game of the Century” treatment as the teams' meetings from recent seasons -- particularly the one in January 2012 when their rematch was for the BCS title -- but it carries huge stakes all the same.
For one thing, two-time defending BCS champ Alabama (8-0, 5-0) is the frontrunner in the SEC West and BCS races. No. 13 LSU (7-2, 3-2) will not be a player in the national-title chase this season, but it can keep alive its dwindling division hopes -- and knock Saban's Crimson Tide off its perch -- by pulling the upset.
“That's OK,” receiver Jarvis Landry said of the Tigers' underdog status. “I think that every time you get LSU and Bama on the same field, that's the two best teams in the SEC. I think that everybody knows that and it's a respected rivalry, hated rivalry. … But I think for us, it's not about being the underdog, it's about getting the W.”
LSU has won five of the teams' six meetings in Tuscaloosa dating back to 2001, including three of four under Miles. An open date last week allowed the Tigers to heal from a spate of recent injuries and focus on extending that run of good fortune at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“It just gave us another week to work on running routes, doing what we do best and getting all those guys healthy, all the offensive linemen healthy, is something that we're really going to need for this game,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said.
Mettenberger's performance might be one of the biggest keys in Saturday's game. He ranks among the nation's most improved quarterbacks, but struggled recently, tossing four touchdowns against five interceptions in the Tigers' most recent games against Ole Miss and Furman.
Against Alabama's defense, which leads the SEC in every key statistical category, Mettenberger knows he has to be as close to error-free as possible.
“I know I'm going to get hit this game,” Mettenberger said. “It's a physical game and I'm going to have to stand in the pocket and deliver accurate passes while getting hit.”
Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was able to do that in a 49-42 loss to Alabama, passing for 464 yards and five touchdowns, but he also had an interception returned for a touchdown. The Tide hasn't left the door open for anyone else since then, surrendering just 4.3 points per game since the shootout in College Station.
The lesson from watching that game and others on film, Mettenberger said, is that LSU's margin for error will be miniscule.
“For you to beat them, you have to make less errors and hope that they make a few. They've gone through games where they played error-free football,” he said. “For us, we're going to have to go out there and not only maximize on the errors that they make, but we just have to capitalize on the situations where we can make a big play.”