By Ed Barkowitz Philadelphia Daily News
It’s here. It’s finally here.
After weeks of sampling the appetizers of the other 34 bowls, the main course is at hand.
Alabama is looking to avenge its only loss of the season, when it fell in overtime to visiting LSU in November. The Bayou Bengals are looking to finish out a perfect season and capture their third national title in nine years.
So from Nick Saban’s close call as a young man to the goofy (and terrific) punter from LSU, here are 25 other things to know about tonight’s BCS title game:
1. Left tackle Barrett Jones is the third Alabama player to win the Outland Award as the nation’s top lineman. Jones, a junior, already has his degree in accounting and is working on his master’s. He’ll be well-prepared for the millions the NFL will be throwing his way.
2. Jones has spent the last two spring breaks in Haiti helping victims of the catastrophic earthquake in January 2010.
3. According to a recent study by Forbes magazine, LSU ranks fourth in most valuable football program to the overall university. Texas, Notre Dame and Penn State are the top
3. Alabama (sixth) is one of five SEC schools in the top 10.
4. Alabama is wearing a No. 77 decal on its helmets in memory of offensive lineman Aaron Douglas, who died of a drug overdose in May.
5. LSU cornerback/punt returner Tyrann Mathieu was fifth in the Heisman voting. He has grown to enjoy the nickname “Honey Badger,” which sounds effeminate, but is really one of the most ferocious animals in the world.
6. Mathieu, whose father is in jail for murder, was raised by an aunt and uncle after his grandfather died when Mathieu was 5. Riveting stuff.
7. Mathieu and partner Morris Claiborne became the first teammates in history to be named first-team All-America cornerbacks. Amazing when you consider last year’s top corner, Patrick Peterson, left a year early and was one of the NFL’s top rookies this season.
8. Alabama junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower, one of the best in the nation at his position, missed most of the 2009 national title run when he ripped up his knee in the fourth game of the season.
9. LSU guard Will Blackwell was the team’s co-MVP on offense. He missed nine games last year with a broken leg.
10. Alabama won three of its last four national titles (1978, 1979, 1992) at the Superdome. Ditto for LSU’s two most recent championships (2003, 2007).
11. LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended for the first four games of the season after he was charged with second-degree battery for his alleged role in an August bar fight. Those charges have since been dropped to simple assault and he has an arraignment hearing in February to get them tossed completely. Jefferson maintains he wasn’t at the scene of the alleged crime.
12. Tide quarterback AJ McCarron would rather wear the orange and blue of Auburn than soak in the fame that comes with being Alabama’s quarterback. “I don’t like to be around the camera light and all that,” he said when the team arrived in New Orleans.
13. LSU punter Brad Wing has the unlikely distinction of being the first player to have a touchdown erased because of a taunting penalty. He was on his way to the house with a fake punt against Florida when the zebras called him for prancing into the end zone.
14. Wing, a freshman from Melbourne, Australia, led the SEC with 46.0 percent of his punts downed inside the 20. For comparison, Alabama’s Cody Mandell was at 31.5 percent.
15. Alabama is third in the nation in fewest penalties committed at 4.0 per game. LSU gets flagged 6.2 times per.
16. LSU’s D-backs have scored eight return touchdowns. The Tigers’ defense has allowed seven touchdown passes.
17. The most watched BCS title game was when Vince Young and Texas beat Matt Leinart and USC in the Rose Bowl following the 2005 season.
18. The No. 18 that LSU safety Brandon Taylor wears has become a legacy number that started with quarterback Matt Mauck, who guided the Tigers to the 2003 championship. Coach Les Miles, with help from team leaders, decides which player deserves to wear it.
19. In four games against Top 25 teams this year, Alabama running back Trent Richardson averaged 126.8 yards rushing. He had 89 yards rushing and another 80 receiving in the first meeting with LSU.
20. LSU center T-Bob Hebert is the son of Bobby Hebert, who spent seven seasons (1985-92) playing in the Superdome as the Saints quarterback. The “T” in T-Bob could be a nod to mom Teresa. Or it could stand for T-Bone steak. Never can tell with Cajuns.
21. The lowest-scoring BCS championship game was the 13-2 yawner when Oklahoma beat Florida State for the 2000 title. Oddly, LSU and Alabama also combined for 15 points in their first meeting this season; a 9-6 LSU win at ‘Bama.
22 . The father of Tigers wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. roomed with Shaquille O’Neal while at LSU.
23. Alabama coach Nick Saban was LSU’s coach when the Tigers won the 2003 national title.
24. Saban was a quarterback at Kent State when National Guardsmen opened fire at a protest in 1970, killing four students.
25. “I could have been there,” Saban told the Mobile Register at the 40th anniversary of the incident. “I was more interested in having lunch … or I’d have been there. And if you were there, you would have had a chance to get injured, wounded. Four people got killed, and two of those people were innocent bystanders.”