I’ve spent the sober part of my Saturday taking a temperature of the Interwebs’ expectations on the Game of the Century outcome. Frankly, of the blue billion predictions out there, only one really stands apart:
LSU is an outstanding, well-coached team with a top-flight defense and a powerful running game. Unfortunately for the Tigers, this game doesn’t really have much to do with them. Alabama is a championship team on a championship mission, and LSU is simply in the way. … We’ve been beating this drum all year, but Alabama’s defense is absolutely not “one of” the best in the country. It is not simply the nation’s best in 2011, but rather a once-in-a-generation defense. That’s not hyperbole. … In the most hyped game of the season, Alabama will leave no doubt.
Hey, now! No mealy-mouthing from Will Harris of ESPN Insider predicting that Alabama will stomp a 31-3 mudhole in LSU, under the headline “Alabama will blow out LSU.” Here’s why this pick is borderline freakish. For one, it’s the only pick I saw that predicted a final margin of more than a touchdown. It’s also the only pick I saw that had either team’s score in the 30s. And the only pick that had either team’s score in the single digits. On all three of those fronts, Harris is the boldest media figure picking this game today. If he’s right, he deserves a plaque at Bryant-Denny Stadium after this.
Now, for those scoring along at home, this is haphazard, unscientific grab bag of sources (thanks, Google News!) but it will, perhaps, turn up one brilliant prognosticator out of the morass. If there’s a betting lesson to be gleaned from all this, it’s that most writers like Alabama to beat LSU, just not by the Vegas line 4.5.
In ascending order of optimism for the visiting team:
Tim Kawakami, MercuryNews.com: Alabama 20, LSU 13
Tony Carter, Capstone Report: Alabama 23, LSU 17
Jeff Schultz, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Bama covers 4½.”
Brett Sommers, University of Wisconsin Badger Herald: Alabama 21, LSU 17
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports: Alabama 24, LSU 20
Richard Durrett, ESPNDallas.com: Alabama 17, LSU 14
Scott Haynes, The Sports Network: Alabama 27, LSU 24
Christopher Johnson and Kevin Trahan, The Daily Northwestern: Alabama 24 and 21 over LSU 22 and 17, respectively.
Mark Edwards, Decatur Daily and ESPN the Magazine’s 10,000 computerized simulations: Alabama 23, LSU 21
Kevin Scarbinsky, Birmingham News: Alabama 17, LSU 16
Jason McIntyre, The Big Lead: Alabama 24, LSU 23
Pat Forde, Yahoo! Sports: “I’ve gotta take Alabama playing at home.”
(… and then, rounding the corner for the Tigers:)
Eddie George, Yahoo! Sports: “The kicking game for LSU is magnificent.”
College Football Zealots, Opposing Views: LSU 24, Alabama 20
John DeShazier, the Times-Picayune: LSU 17, Alabama 14
Scouts Inc. on ESPN Insider: LSU 20, Alabama 17
Brett McMurphy, CBSSports.com: LSU 27, Alabama 24
Brandon Watson, Pregame.com: LSU 17, Alabama 13
Fearless Prediction, Fox Sports: LSU 20, Alabama 16
Mike Tuck, ESPNFlorida.com: LSU 17, Alabama 10
Then there’s a sampling of the ESPN broadcast gang, which is a whole other universe. Planet Bristol is also hanging its picks on the Tide, mostly:
Mark May: “Absolutely, Crimson Tide at home.”
Matt Millen: “I have to go with Alabama.”
David Pollack: “Alabama’s gonna find a way with that defense, they get it done at home in Tuscaloosa.”
Rod Gilmore: “Alabama wins this one.”
Robert Smith: “Alabama wins it.”
Trent Dilfer: “I’m going with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.”
Urban Meyer: “I’m gonna go with the home team, the home-field advantage.”
Chris Spielman: “I like Alabama to win a close one.”
Stephen A. Smith: “I’m going with Alabama … There’s something special about Alabama.”
Bill Plaschke: “I’m picking Alabama.”
Woody Paige: “Alabama’s defense is gonna make the difference in the game.”
Bob Ryan: “When it’s all said and done, it’s gonna be hats off, Roll Tide.”
Kirk Herbstreit: “I’m going with Nick Saban in the revenge game.”
Lou Holtz: “I have to go with LSU.”
Jerry Rice: “I’m going with LSU.”
Craig James: “I think Les Miles takes this football team, LSU, into Tuscaloosa and wins a football game.” As though perhaps we were confused as to exactly which sport we were discussing.
Mark Schlereth: “I’m going Tigers, going into Alabama and winning a game.”
Brock Huard: “LSU is battle-tested. I think that battle-tested readiness will defeat the Tide in Tuscaloosa.”
Herm Edwards: “I like LSU.”
Kevin Blackistone: “I’m gonna go for LSU. Always love those uniforms.”
Lee Corso: Put on a Mike the Tiger head and yelled “Roll, Tigers” at a mob of ’Bama fans. The man has stones.
I’m pulling for the Tigers because if the Tide wins, no one else on the schedule has even a faint hope of derailing Alabama, while Arkansas has at least a fighting chance against LSU in the season finale. But I also think Harris is right about Alabama: It’s a machine right now. The most an opponent has scored against the Tide this year was Arkansas’ 14 points. Meanwhile Alabama’s lowest scoring output was 27, against Penn State. Alabama is a team that pulverizes its opposition, playing at home, with its tornado-savaged heart on its sleeve. The margin might not reach that crazy 28-point margin, as Harris picks, but ’Bama ought to cover the 4.5 and then some. Alabama 26, LSU 16.