[Updated: Nov. 7] And thus far that moniker also applies to the new millennium for CBS, which tackled its top regular-season, college football Nielsen rating since the late 1980s with its Nov. 5 coverage of LSU-Alabama.
Billed as the latest “Game of the Century,” Saturday night’s special between the SEC West rivals didn’t quite live up to that hype — unless you love defensive ball and favor the Bayou Bengals.
Yes, the No. 1 Tigers rolled the then No. 2 Tide (Alabama only fell to No. 3 in the latest BS standings) in Tuscaloosa 9-6 in OT to maintain the inside track –Western Kentucky and Ole Miss shouldn’t pose big threats, but No. 8 Arkansas looms the day after Thanksgiving at Tiger Stadium before a potential meeting with Georgia in the SEC Championship — to the national title game. That could be a rematch with Alabama should new No. 2 Oklahoma State or No. 4 Stanford stumble in the weeks ahead.
Yes, there were a ton of hard hits and a couple of great interceptions by LSU’s corner Mo Claiborne and especially safety Eric Reid, who gave up five inches to Michael Williams but out-jumped and wrestled the ball away from the Bama tight end at the goal line early in the fourth quarter. But there were too many penalties, too many mistakes, too many missed field goals and not nearly enough execution.
And there was no trickeration, or even a hats off from Les Miles (save for a tumble by the LSU coach during warm-ups). “The Grassman” did homage to his late Michigan mentor Bo Schembechler by not taking any chances on offense, even with a third-and-two from the Tigers’ 46-yard line with around 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter. I guess if you trust your defense there’s no reason to open things up offensively — despite facing the vagaries of overtime.
Those fumbles aside, CBS still benefited mightily from the tight game and its deal with ESPN in which the broadcaster gave up scheduling considerations next season in exchange for the worldwide leader opening up its SEC primetime window.
The Nov. 5 telecast delivered an 11.9 rating/21 share in metered markets, up 170% from a 4.4/10 overnight last year when the teams (Alabama was 5th, LSU 12th) battled in CBS’s usual 3:30 p.m. Saturday time slot. The overnight was also up 153% from the 4.7/9 CBS scored with its primetime coverage of ‘Bama’s rout of Florida this past Oct. 1.
More importantly, the LSU-Alabama slugfest ranks as CBS’s second-best, metered-market performance for a regular-season college football game since Notre Dame-Miami tackled a 14.5/26 on Nov. 25, 1989 (Black Rock’s overnight college scorecard goes back to September 1987). Saturday night’s game peaked during the final quarter hour — 11:30 p.m-11:45 p.m. (ET) — with a 14.5 rating.
Now, let’s see how Saturday night holds up when the national numbers — no doubt more than a few homes were tuned to the 52-45 shootout between (then No. 3) Oklahoma State and No. 14 Kansas State that the Cowboys only secured following three Wildcat incompletions in the end zone during the final 12 seconds — are projected by Nielsen.
For the record, these are CBS’s four most-viewed regular-season college football contests: the aforementioned Notre Dame-Miami matchup: 22.49 million; the 2009 SEC Championship, Alabama-Florida: 17.97 million; the 2008 SEC Championship, Florida-Alabama: almost 15.1 million; and 14.75 million for USC-Notre Dame in 1989.
[Updated Monday Nov. 7: Fast-national data indicates that CBS’s coverage of Saturday night’s battle for college football’s top spot between LSU and Alabama played before an average of 20.01 million viewers, the network’s best regular-season record with the sport since the previously noted Miami-Notre Dame contest. The Nov. 5 telecast’s viewership and household rating/share peaked at 24.3 million viewers and 14.3/26, respectively, from 11:30-11:39 p.m. (ET).]