FOXBORO, Mass. — With No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama set to square off Saturday in one of the most important regular-season games in college football history, four players in the Patriots’ locker room have taken extra notice.
Running backs Kevin Faulk and Stevan Ridley (the LSU alums) and defensive ends Mark Anderson and Brandon Deaderick (the Alabama alums) have already started jawing at one another.
Ridley and Anderson have also tried to lay the groundwork for a bet, which will either involve money or team gear, and Deaderick will likely get in on the action, too. Faulk said he doesn’t gamble and “just [likes] to see good football.”
There won’t be any special parties for Saturday night’s game because the Patriots will be staying at the team hotel, but they’re hoping to get out of meetings in order to watch as much of the game as possible. The winner will have the inside track on a berth in the SEC championship and a chance to play for the national title.
“Physical game, tough game, no telling what’s going to happen in that game,” Faulk said. “There are going to be a lot of guys that are going to be in the NFL draft in that game.”
It will mark the first time ever when two SEC teams have met in the regular season with the top-two rankings in the country.
“It’s a big game, No. 1 and No. 2,” Deaderick said. “It seems like that’s always how it ends usually in the SEC championship. Two of the top teams in the SEC, they’re going to meet eventually. It’s a big game because not only in the conference, but the same division (the SEC West). It’s a big one. It’s a big one.”
Ridley, a rookie, and Deaderick, who is in his second NFL season, are more familiar with the two teams who are taking the field Saturday at Alabama. Obviously, neither is surprised at their alma mater’s success, but they’re both impressed with the way they’ve handled different types of adversity.
LSU head coach Les Miles has disciplined some of his most prominent players this season, including quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who was suspended at the start of the season due to a bar fight, and star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and running back Spencer Ware, who broke team rules last month. Everyone will be ready to play against Alabama, though.
“They believe in the team concept, and they recruit players to back up every position,” Ridley said. “Your starter is your starter, but that’s not necessarily the best player or the only weapon that you have at that position. The next person in line can play that position just as well. With those guys, that’s what they kind of did with the growing pains. The next guy just had to step up. You’ve seen it over and over again with LSU. The problems they’ve had, they found a way to get the players out there to make the plays they needed to make. They’re going to be ready. Everybody is back. That’s the scary thing. Everybody is back this week. They’re going to go out there and play and perform. I hope it gets real big. I’m looking forward to it.”
Alabama, meanwhile, has bounced back after losing a handful of its best players in the NFL draft, including four first-rounders — defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, wide receiver Julio Jones, Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram and offensive lineman James Carpenter – as well as quarterback Greg McElroy.
“I’m definitely impressed,” Deaderick said. “I still know a lot of those guys down there, played with them, so I’m excited for them. They really came into their own. They really had a lot of younger guys when I was there that were playing well and starting early in their career. And now you see the experience that they’ve gained, how elevated their level of play is from being in that system so long and just really making it their own. I think they’re playing great.”
Ridley noted one of his career highlights came when he rushed for his first SEC touchdown at Alabama in 2009 to give LSU a second-half lead. He said it’s big anytime the two schools square off because of the hatred for one another, so this week will be exponentially greater.
“It’s a battle,” Ridley said. “The Alabama-LSU game is just rich with tradition all the way around. They hate each other. There’s no doubt about it. The winner of that game will have a shot at the national championship. Not saying that they will go there, but those are going to be two teams that are going at it that have athletes at every position. It’s going to be a great college football game.”
Anderson, who can be quiet and reserved in the locker room, perked up as soon as the LSU-Alabama topic was raised.
“Alabama all day, man,” Anderson said. “Can’t nobody stop Alabama. Me and Ridley have got a nice little wager going on, so Alabama all day. Roll Tide.”
Ridley said they’re still trying to settle on Saturday’s wager.
“I’ll put something out there,” Ridley said. “I don’t know how much it’s going to be, but I’ve got to go with my team. If they lose, I’ve got to lose with them. But I’m feeling good about this one. Hopefully I’ll be making a collection come Sunday.”