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Alabama Will Win A Close One, Here’s Why…

Tonight in New Orleans, the sixth-consecutive BCS champion from the SEC will be crowned.  When all is said and done, we believe that team will be Alabama.  Below we tell you why we like the Crimson Tide in the Rematch of the Century… and we toss out nine more things to think about as kickoff nears.

Allow us to drop our dime:

1.  Why The Tide Will Win

Because Alabama lost the first matchup between the two teams.  And both of these squads are way too strong, deep and talented to lose to the same foe twice in one year.  If LSU had lost Game One, we’d be taking the Tigers.  But they didn’t.  Bama did.  And throwing everything else out the window — the stuff we’re gonna talk about below — we don’t see Bama losing to LSU twice in the same season.  So our official pick: The Crimson Tide in a close, tight classic.

2.  Fairest Result: LSU Wins

That doesn’t mean we’ll be rooting for Alabama.  On most occasions, we either just watch SEC games without cheering for one team or another… or we pull for the best storyline.  In this instant, we’ll be pulling for what’s fair.  That’s an LSU victory. 

Many have argued that after winning in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers shouldn’t even have to face Alabama again.  In a perfect world, we’d agree.  But the BCS title game is set-up to feature the two best teams in America and it’s the opinion of this website that the two best teams are indeed playing in tonight’s game.  So with LSU forced to face Bama again, we’ll be hoping they can complete their perfect season anyway.  If they can, they’ll save us all a lot of debate and controversy.

If Alabama wins tonight, there will be some who will vote LSU as national champs in the AP Poll.  There likely won’t be enough to swing the vote in the Tigers’ favor, but there will be enough to give the talking heads on ESPN something to bicker about for days to come.  And a strong argument could be made for LSU even if they lose to Bama:

Alabama’s Results
Opponent’s Finish
  LSU’s Results
Opponent’s Finish
Win – Kent St. 48-7
  Win – Oregon (N) 40-27
12-2 (won bowl 45-38 over Wisconsin)
Win – at Penn St. 27-11
9-4 (lost bowl 30-14 to Houston)
  Win – NW State 49-3
5-6 in FCS
Win – North Texas 41-0
  Win – at Miss. St. 19-6
7-6 (won bowl 23-17 over W. Forest)
Win – Arkansas 38-14
11-2 (won bowl 29-16 over Kansas St.)
  Win – at W. Virginia 47-21
10-3 (won bowl 70-33 over Clemson)
Win – at Florida 38-10
7-6 (won bowl 24-17 over Ohio St.)
  Win – Kentucky 35-7
Win – Vanderbilt 34-0
6-7 (lost bowl 31-24 to Cincinnati)
  Win – Florida 41-11
7-6 (won bowl 24-17 over Ohio St.)
Win – at Ole Miss 52-7
  Win – at Tennessee 38-7
Win – Tennessee 37-6
  Win – Auburn 45-10
8-5 (won bowl 43-24 over Virginia)
Loss – LSU 9-6
  Win – at Alabama 9-6
Win – at Miss. St. 24-7
7-6 (won bowl 23-17 over W. Forest)
  Win – W. Kentucky 42-9
Win – Ga. Southern 45-21
11-3 in FCS
  Win – at Ole Miss 52-3
Win – at Auburn 42-14
8-5 (won bowl 43-24 over Virginia)
  Win – Arkansas 41-17
11-2 (won bowl 29-16 over Kansas St.)
    Win – Georgia (N) 42-10
10-4 (lost bowl 33-30 to Mich. St.)
    Vs Alabama

The victories away from home (Oregon, West Virginia, Georgia), the bowl results (WVU scored 21 at home versus LSU and then tagged ACC champ Clemson for 70), the whole “won the Southeastern Conference championship” thing — only an Alabama fan could look at the two teams’ resumes and declare the Tide’s stronger.

In our view, even if Bama wins tonight, LSU’s had the better season.  If the world were fair, they’d wrap up the title tonight and end any controversy before it began.

3.  Bama Should Get The Crown With A Win

But this world is rarely fair.  And both LSU and Alabama are BCS conference members who have signed off on the BCS system deciding their national title.  No, it’s not an official NCAA-recognized title, but the BCS crown is the closest thing we have to a true championship game in college football.  Until there’s a playoff (not happening) or a seeded, plus-one system (could happen soon), the BCS Championship Game is the game.  No offense to George Bush, but it’s the decider.

And I don’t recall anyone from the Bayou State being in favor a split title back in 2003, do you?  You remember ’03, don’t you?  That’s when LSU won the BCS Championship Game only to have the AP hand its national title to Southern Cal.  Kinda wishy-washy if all of a sudden a split title has now become a good idea, Tiger fans.

So even if LSU did have the better season, it should be Bama that’s the undisputed titlist with a win tonight. 

Villanova wasn’t really better than Georgetown in 1985 (the Hoyas had beaten the Wildcats twice in the regular season).  The 14-6 New York Giants weren’t really better than the 18-1 New England Patriots in 2007 (the Pats had beaten the Giants in the regular season).  But it’s the team that wins the ultimate game — regardless of records and regular-season work — that gets the prize. 

If Alabama wins tonight, Alabama deserves both the BCS and AP crowns.

4.  Nick Saban Will Rely On His Defense, Not Field Goals

In the teams’ first meeting, Saban knew that points would be at a premium.  For that reason — even with a shaky pair of field goal kickers — the Tide coach elected to try some long-distance field goals early.  The results: 44-yard miss in 1st quarter, 50-yard miss in 1st quarter, 49-yard kick blocked in 2nd quarter. 

Given a mulligan, Saban would likely have punted the ball deep and relied on his defense.  If faced with similar situations tonight, we expect to see punter Cody Mandell trot onto the field rather than Alabama’s placekickers.

5.  Will LSU’s Option Work In Round Two?

In the November 5th meeting, Les Miles took the keys to his offense from Jarrett Lee and handed them to Jordan Jefferson.  The Tigers used Jefferson’s legs and an option package to get wide on Alabama’s defense and wear down the Tide’s dangerous linebackers.

You can bet Kirby Smart’s guys will be better prepared for that aspect of the LSU attack tonight.  But that might open up other aspects of the Tiger offense.

Alabama has no doubt practiced assignment-based, anti-option defense for weeks.  That’s time they could have spent practicing other things.  Knowing that, could Greg Studrawa unleash his aerial attack this time around?  (Jefferson completed 60% of his passes this year with six touchdowns and just one interception.  He lacks the number of passes to qualify, but his passer rating of 150.9 would have ranked first among SEC passers.)  Or might the Tigers simply line up and run wide on the Tide without the option element?  (In the first game, LSU ran wide 13 times for 74 yards while gaining just 65 yards on 22 inside runs.)

LSU’s option probably won’t be as effective tonight as it was two months ago, but it may not have to be.

6.  Can Bama Run On LSU?

In Game of the Century I, Alabama found running to be awfully tough against LSU’s D-line.  The Tide totaled just 96 yards on 31 carries.  Trent Richardson accounted for 89 of those yards on 23 carries.  Eddie Lacy got just five touches for a total of 19 yards. 

That put the onus on AJ McCarron to deliver and for the most part he did — 16 of 28 passing for 199 yards.  But he couldn’t get the ball in the end zone.  And 80 of those passing yards came courtesy of Richardson out of the backfield. 

All things being equal, Jim McElwain would rather have the BCS title in the hands of Richardson than McCarron.  Especially since McCarron will be facing a pair of All-American corners.  Which brings us back to Alabama’s ground game.  In dissecting film, did Bama’s staff find running plays from the first game that can be more often exploited tonight?  It didn’t seem that they picked up on anything during that first game.

Richardson’s carries in the fourth quarter and overtime: 2 yards, 3 yards, 24 yards, 9 yards, 2 yards, -6 yards, -3 yards, 0 yards.  Six of his final eight carries went for three yards or less.  For the Tide’s sake, they’d better hope they’ve discovered some rushing opportunities in the last two months that they didn’t pick up on during the first meeting.

7.  Tigers A Team Of Destiny (So Far)

One thing’s for sure tonight — LSU won’t be flustered.  It’s difficult to recall another college football team that has handled more adversity with better results than Miles’ 2011 squad.  Think about it: a new offensive coordinator who has to trade roles with another coach in August due to a diagnosis of Parksinson’s Disease, a starting quarterback arrested and suspended on the eve of the season, an NCAA suspension for a key playmaker, midseason disciplinary suspensions for two starters and a key contributor, tough games away from home (Oregon, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia).  Yet time and again, the Tigers have survived.  If ever the overplayed “team of destiny” moniker has applied to a team, it sure seems to be this year’s LSU squad.

8.  Miles Vs Saban

Saban is viewed by many to be the best college football coach in America.  Being the first coach since World War II to win national titles at two different schools will do that for a guy’s reputation.

But if Miles beats Saban tonight he will have knocked him off twice in one season and three times in a row.  He will have beaten him in Baton Rouge, in Tuscaloosa and on a neutral field (expect the crowd to be split down the middle tonight).  He will have beaten a veteran Bama squad with a much younger LSU team.

If Miles beats Saban tonight, it might be time for Saban to hand his crown to Miles.

9.  The Return Of The Mad Hatter?

Speaking of crowns, The Mad Hatter has gone missing in 2011.  No clock mismanagement.  No scratch-your-head gaffes.  No unnecessary gambles.  Miles has been just a regular ol’ coach this season.  And that’s likely one reason the Tigers have marched through the season without stubbing their toes.

In the biggest game of the season, might Miles revert to his gambling ways the way Mark Richt reverted to his close-to-the-vest, conservative style in Georgia’s bowl game?  If so, we think the results could be similar — a loss.

There’s nothing wrong with taking chances, so long as they make sense.  Miles has taken a lot of unnecessary chances over the years.  His players have often come through for him.  For proof, go to the 8:00 mark of this clip from the 2007 LSU-Auburn game:

Tonight, with a national title on the line, it’s no time for Miles to take big risks when they aren’t necessary.  His team has won games this year with superior athleticism and superior gameplanning.  There’s no need to go all riverboat gambler just because the Mississippi River is nearby.

10.  More Points In The Rematch

Alabama and LSU felt each other out in their first game.  We anticipate tonight’s game will feature a bit more scoring for that reason.  The current over/under is 40.5 (with Alabama a 2.5-point favorite).  We’ll take the under, thank you.

The Tide wins it 20-17.  (But if life were fair, that result would be reversed.)


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