**Note: This was a print-only story**
ESPN’s “College GameDay” is in Tuscaloosa this weekend, ahead of the Alabama-LSU showdown on Saturday night. The Crimson White caught up with two of the show’s stars, David Pollack and Tom Rinaldi, to discuss how LSU can beat Alabama, AJ McCarron’s Heisman chances and an inside look at Nick Saban.
Crimson White: Obviously, this game doesn’t have the luster of years past, but is it still a big game for both teams?
David Pollack: I remember after “GameDay” (two years ago), I never been to a tailgate in my life, and I literally walked around, because it was one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever seen. That was 9-6 and you’re not going to see that I promise, you’ll see two offenses that have come a long way and progressed and have more skill players and better quarterback play. I think it’s going to be fun. I want to learn more about Alabama’s defense. I think they’ve been great the last six games, but I also know that they’ve haven’t played anybody of any high-caliber. So I want to see Zach Mettenberger and this (LSU) offense, and (Jarvis) Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Lot of weapons, lot of playmakers, so I think it’ll be a fun challenge and fun test for Alabama’s defense.
CW: Does LSU have to throw on first and second down to beat Alabama?
DP: You have to all the time if you’re going to beat Nick (Saban). When I watch this (LSU) offense, it’s so much better than it was a year ago, because it’s making it easier on the quarterback with matchups, and they do a good job of motioning guy out of the backfield, so you can see if it’s man-to-man coverage. It’s so much easier on Zach (Mettenberger). Last year the game he played against (Alabama), with the scheme they ran, which was not good at all, for him to play as effectively as he did was pretty amazing.
CW: If Alabama plays man coverage, how do you expect this one to turn out?
DP: Well, they have to, I think. It’s not in Alabama’s nature to play zone, and let them dink and dunk. (Nick Saban’s) one of the few guys in college football where its 3rd and 16, he’s trying to make it like 4th and 22.
CW: Is AJ McCarron a true Heisman contender in your opinion?
DP: I think because of what happened with (Marcus) Mariota on Thursday night, I think it’s more wide open now. Obviously, Jameis (Winston) has been a commanding No. 2, and I think what happens with him moving forward, but AJ McCarron is good. He’s a great quarterback. He does everything that he’s supposed to, but the system in which he plays in is a system that’s built on players around him being really good and really effective running the football, and he’s not asked to do as much. And I think that’s something that people look at, but if it gets muddy and it starts getting to the point where you go, ‘Who is it, who’s the best team, who do we pick,’ he definitely deserves to be in the mix.
CW: Do you expect tomorrow’s game to be tight going into the fourth quarter?
DP: I always expect these games to be close, somehow, some way. I think it’s going to be a good game. Last year would’ve been interesting if (T.J.) Yeldon doesn’t fumble near the goal line. It could’ve been a lot worse; it could’ve gone the other way with the couple breaks that LSU got.
I think it will be interesting to see if LSU can force a few turnovers. One thing over the last month is AJ McCarron hasn’t taken a sack, it’s been coming together, everything is going well, which is a contrast to what we saw in Week 1 against Virginia Tech when the sky was falling.
Crimson White: What does this rivalry mean to you as a member of the media?
Tom Rinaldi: We were just outside, Lee Fitting, who’s the producer of “GameDay,” who does such a great job, and we were just saying how much we enjoy coming to Tuscaloosa for the whole experience. Obviously, the game always means a great deal, there’s always a lot at stake, if not for both teams, than certainly for one. These games have a great history of being really competitive, having a small margin of victory between them.
Obviously, LSU has found a way to be successful in Tuscaloosa. There’s just a great, real passion here. Nothing ever has to be manufactured in the least. It’s one of the most impassioned places in the country, on one of the sports that draws the greatest passion, so we really enjoy coming to Tuscaloosa.
CW: Do you consider AJ McCarron to be a legitimate Heisman candidate?
TR: I don’t comment necessarily on Heisman candidacy, but I think at the end of the day, the ultimate metric is winning. And if you’re 33-2 as a starter, and November is always the decisive month, then obviously he’s got a slate of games in which he can shine. I think he’s a wonderful player who does a lot, and I think his name is rising quickly here. Maybe especially what we saw happen Thursday night to Oregon and Marcus (Mariota).
CW: How do you think this rivalry ranks compared to some of the other big rivalries, like Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, etc.?
TR: Somebody asked me that earlier, and I just think it’s a rivalry rooted in result, which in a way is the purest form of rivalry. I understand rivalry needs some nourishing roots like history –it’s got that. Sometimes proximity – it’s got that. But isn’t the best form of a rivalry in terms of its credibility, meaning, result, what has happened to the team that has come out of winning this game? A lot of time the team that’s lost the game actually ended up in a better place.
It’s a fascinating dynamic between the two teams, and in particular, between these two coaches, who seem from the outside to be so different from the outside in their personalities and nature, and yet their teams seem to just battle it out with one another.
CW: You spent some time with Coach Saban this week with the “All-Access” coverage. What kind of sense did you get about his commitment to coaching Alabama in the future?
TR: I know that asking him that question, I certainly didn’t draw a smile from him. He wasn’t happy to address that topic. He feels that though he’s addressed repeatedly – three or four times already this season – and I think he said what most people would expect him to say. His focus is this game, and his commitment is this University, and that’s certainly the answer he gave us.
CW: You’ve gotten to know Coach Saban pretty well from all your access with him. Is there something that you know about him that maybe know else really knows?
TR: I will tell you this. The one moment for whatever reason, which has seemed to resonate most on these “Inside the Program” or “All-Access” opportunities we’ve had. Two, three years ago, we talk a ride into work with him, and I asked him, ‘If we turn on the CD player right now, what will be on?’ And he said so definitively, ‘Only three things would be on in a CD player in my car: The Eagles, Michael Jackson and the Reverend Al Green.’ And everybody’s reaction to that was just, ‘Wow.’
So he pulls in this time, and I asked him, ‘What was on the CD player?’ He was pumped up to tell me it was “Eminence Front” by The Who. And I said, ‘That was on the radio?’ ‘No, no, no. No, Rinaldi on the CD. That was on the CD player.’ So that’s a little peak, at least into his musical tastes.