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BCS National Championship Game Preview: Alabama vs. LSU

Present Iteration: BCS Title Game
Toasting Town: New Orleans, Lousiana
Vintage: 1998
Combatants: Alabama (11-1) vs. LSU (13-0)

Alabama Crimson Tide [SRS 3]
Best Wins: Arkansas (12), Penn State (29), Vanderbilt (33)
Losses: LSU (1)
Famous Alum: Gay Talese

Louisiana State Tigers [SRS 1]
Best Wins: Alabama (3), Oregon (4), Arkansas (12), Georgia (16)
Losses: NA
Famous Alum: Bill Conti

We watched “The Game of the Century” on Nov. 5. It was defensive, intense and riveting. How much that entertained you came down to personal taste. To the chagrin of the now iconic “Bama Bro,” LSU left the field with a 9-6 overtime triumph. Though, it was piteous seeing such a contest decided by the concentrated, misleading artifice that is college overtime. The fairest result would have been leaving the score 6-6 at the end of the regulation. Viewed under that lens, this rematch would seem far more compelling.

The Right Choice: The BCS formula is opaque nonsense. The opinions entered are slanted. The data entered is insignificant. The only debates the formula solves are ones already resolved. We entered the final calculations questioning Alabama or Oklahoma State. We exited the final calculations questioning Alabama or Oklahoma State. The surest way to eliminate the uncertainty would have been to have the teams play.

Having two teams from the same division of the same conference play for the national championship is debatable. What’s more certain is that, at least by the eyeball test, these were the two best teams. Alabama is the school best situated to beat LSU. Had one more play gone in their favor in regulation, they would have done so. Using your talking point of the week, this matchup will be “big boy football.” For those not wearing purple and gold, that’s preferable to an LSU rampage.

National Champion? Either the Crimson Tide or Tigers will win. That team will be crowned BCS Champion by the coaches poll. However, a close Alabama win could split the vote between those who believe championships are decided in January vs. those believe championships are decided over the course of a regular season. Personally, there is no playoff and if “every game counts” the title has been decided. Win or lose, LSU is the best team.

Late Action: Late money came in on Alabama, bumping the line at some outlets to Alabama (-2.5).

Quarterback Battle: It is the go-to place for analysis. It may be “the most important position,” but neither side has a Griffin or a Luck. Quarterback won’t be where the game is won, but it could be easily be where the game is lost.

Extra Credit: Clay Travis has a drinking game for tonight, though following it pharisaically would leave you dead by the first quarter.

LSU on Defense: The Tigers have top-end talent and depth, both on the defensive line and in the secondary. This allows them to be fleet, aggressive and versatile. John Chavis can show a multitude of looks without sacrificing quality. Tyrann Mathieu was a Heisman finalist. He’s not even the best player in his own secondary. Alabama bested LSU in total defense, though the Tigers played four of college football’s Top 20 offenses. The Tide played one.

LSU’s weak point, or not super-elite point, is linebacker. They don’t have great size there, and often deploy defensive backs there to get more speed on the field. Look for Alabama to force LSU into situations where not having an impact body at that position could be a liability. They should use screens and other routes to get Richardson into space through the passing game, use Brad Smelley’s size advantage as a receiver as they did the final two weeks (10 catches, 144 yards, 3 TD) and overload one edge with receivers and blockers to force defenders to work their way through blocks.

Keep an eye on Smelley, who can be used different ways in a number of different packages.

Alabama on Defense: Alabama’s defense is ferocious and physical. It’s an entire lineup athletes equipped mentally and physically to handle just about anything. Their linebackers set the tone. It’s not an NFL defense, but a defense full of players who will one day play in the NFL. If there’s a college football unit that can handle the bruising from LSU’s power running game, it’s Alabama. They probably will deliver as many bruises as they receive.

LSU has altered its offense since Nov. 5, becoming more potent on the ground by deploying the more mobile Jordan Jefferson running the option. In the four games after Alabama, the Tigers ran for 1,137 yards and 14 touchdowns the final four games. The Crimson Tide aren’t ideally built to stop the option, though have had six weeks for Saban and Smart to prepare for it. The option could have success or create just enough confusion to force a breakdown in another defensive facet (down field to Ruben Randle?). Tonight, it may only need to happen once.

Special Teams: This unit decided the last game, not so much how well Alabama kicked, but where they were kicking from. Alabama had two sustained drives of 60 or more yards against the Tiger defense. Those drives led to a combined three points, because both started within their own five yard line thanks to Brad Wing. In a game where the line of scrimmage will resemble the Western Front, the ability to move said front as far away from your own end zone is invaluable. The combination of Wing’s punting and LSU’s coverage unit is incredible. The Tigers allowed six punt return yards, during the 2011 season.

Prediction: Alabama 20-17 LSU. Without Confidence.

[Photos via Mocksession, Getty]

 

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