LSU was selected to participate in the BCS National Championship Game after a 13–0 regular season that culminated with a 42–10 win over the University of Georgia in the 2011 SEC Championship Game. Alabama was picked as the other half of the match-up following an 11–1 campaign, with their only loss coming against LSU in overtime during the regular season. Over the following weeks, a series of upsets resulted in the Crimson Tide receiving a No. 2 ranking in the final BCS Rankings to qualify for the championship game. The selection of Alabama was controversial, and decried by writers such as Rick Reilly, and by fans who claimed other opponents, most prominently the Oklahoma State Cowboys (who finished second in most of the computer rankings), were more deserving of a spot in the game. The controversy lent support to the ever-increasing call for a college football playoff. Ironically, it was the conferences whose teams finished 3rd and 4th (the Big 12 and the Pac-12) who had rejected the SEC's proposal for a 4-team playoff system in 2008.
This game was the first time in the 14-year history of the BCS that the National Championship Game featured two teams from the same conference, let alone the same division (similar to what happened in the 2011 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament six months prior, featuring two teams from the SEC, although that match-up came about through a playoff). This was also the first time that the BCS National Championship Game was a rematch from a regular season game, although the 1996 season's Bowl Alliance National Championship game was also a rematch, when Florida defeated Florida State 52–20 for the national title in the 1997 Sugar Bowl. As a result of the matchup, the SEC's streak of producing the BCS champion was assured of extending to six straight seasons.
Alabama was ranked first in rushing with 219.83 yards per game and in total defense (191.25 ypg), including scoring defense (8.83), rushing (74.92 yards per game) and passing (116.33 yards per game). Key players for the Crimson Tide were RB Trent Richardson (164.67 yards per game, 1583 rushing yards), OT Barrett Jones (Outland Trophy recipient), LB Courtney Upshaw (17 tackles for losses and 8.5 sacks), and S Mark Barron (66 total tackles, 42 solos).
LSU ranked first in the conference in scoring offense (38.46) and second in the nation in total defense (252.08 yards). The Tigers averaged 375.31 yards per game with 215.15 yards in rushing and 160.15 yards in passing. The leaders of this team were CB Tyrann Mathieu (Chuck Bednarik Award recipient), CB Morris Claiborne (Jim Thorpe Award recipient, six interceptions for 173 yards, 1 TD and 6th overall draft pick), DE Sam Montgomery (13 tackles for loss, 9 sacks for −55 yards), WR Rueben Randle (53 receptions, 917 yards, and 8 TD's) and P Brad Wing (44.14 punt average).
Alabama won the coin toss with a call of "tails" and elected to defer their decision to the second half.
The game, largely a defensive struggle, was epitomized by LSU's first possession of the game. The Tigers fumbled the ball on the opening play and ultimately ended up punting the football to Alabama after failing to gain a first down. The rest of the first half was dominated by both defenses. Alabama got within field goal range four times and kicker Jeremy Shelley made three of his attempts to give Alabama a 9–0 lead at halftime. LSU gained only one first down and was unable to cross the 50-yard line for the entire first half.
The second half played out much the same as the first. Alabama's defense allowed LSU to cross the 50-yard line only once and gave up only four more first downs. Alabama was able to add 6 more points from a couple of Shelley field goals and another 6 points on the game's only touchdown on a 34-yard rush by Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson.