A rematch of last year's National Championship game is on tap in Baton Rouge today, as the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide put an undefeated season in serious jeopardy against the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers in a key SEC West battle.
The defending champs have done everything in their power to repeat in 2012, as Nick Saban's Tide have rolled over all of the competition placed in front of them to this point. Alabama is a perfect 8-0 on the season and moved to 5-0 in SEC play with last weekend's rout of nationally-ranked Mississippi State.
Les Miles' Tigers are coming off a bye and haven't looked as dominant over the course of the season as Bama. Still, they have put themselves in a position to contend for another national title nonetheless, at 7-1. LSU has won two straight games since its only loss of the season at Florida.
Alabama is getting the job done offensively with great balance, averaging over 200 yards both on the ground and through the air per game. It all starts with quarterback AJ McCarron, who has orchestrated an offense that has played relatively mistake-free football. McCarron has completed 69 percent of his passes, for 1,684 yards. The real telling statistic however, is his 18 touchdown passes against zero interceptions.
Amari Cooper has emerged as the go to guy in the passing attack, leading the way with 32 catches, for 472 yards and five TDs, but everything is set up by the run, and that's where freshman T.J. Yeldon and junior Eddie Lacy come into play. The pair has been a lethal one-two punch in the backfield and a big reason for the Tide’s advantage in time of possession.
Another big reason the offense has had the ball so much is the way Alabama's defense has dominated play. Alabama is tops in the nation in scoring defense, rush defense, pass defense and - of course - total defense. The Tide is ranked sixth nationally in interceptions and fourth in turnovers gained.
Linebacker play has fueled the defense, as C.J. Mosley has played at an All-American level. The junior leads the team in tackles with 65 and has 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and one fumble recovery. Fellow LBs Trey DePriest and Nico Johnson have made their share of plays as well. The secondary is highlighted by sophomore Vinnie Sunseri and senior Robert Lester.
LSU isn't a team that is going to light up the scoreboard against quality competition, but the Tigers do possess enough talent on that side of the football to beat most teams on the schedule. The strength of the offense is the ground attack, which is churning out 208 yards per game.
Depth has been needed at running back due to injuries, and freshman Jeremy Hill has been leading the pack of late. He’s rushed for 251 yards the past 2 games and has found the end zone 3 times in that span.
Contrary to popular belief, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has made plays with his arm this season, just not enough of them. He has connected on 57 percent of his throws, for 1,419 yards. The bog problem is that he that he has just seven TD passes, with four interceptions. No one has stood out in the receiving corps, with Odell Beckham Jr. leading the team with a modest 26 receptions.
There aren't many defenses on the national level that can match Alabama's intensity, but the toughest conference in college football has one almost as dominant - in LSU. The Tigers are yielding just 15 point per game this year, and are showing equal dominance against the run and the pass.
The front seven for LSU is chock-full of playmakers, led by linebacker Kevin Minter. Minter has 75 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Up front, defensive ends Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Lavar Edwards are the players to keep an eye on, as well as defensive tackle Bennie Logan. Safety Eric Reid is the top playmaker in the secondary with 50 tackles and 2 interceptions.
LSU enters the game with the nation's longest win streak at home, a school record 22 straight games. The Tigers are 5-1 under Les Miles following an open date and 36-1 in Saturday Night Games in Death Valley under the Mad Hatter, Les Miles.
LSU will be able to run the ball enough against the Tide, and Bama will move the ball against Tigers. Neither team, however, is going to score a lot of points. For that reason, I think Alabama will be slightly flustered, causing the Tide to be unable to execute to the same level they normally perform. Hey, crazier things have happened at night in Death Valley right?
PREDICTION: LSU 19, Alabama 17