Usually, I read the cookie cutter preview articles to make fun of the conventional wisdom in my own previews. However, the opening to the preview for LSU at Alabama nailed it.
So it’s not the “Game of the Century,” or maybe even the game of the week.
College football treated us to a tremendous Thursday night schedule. In Waco, Baylor’s offense looked human for the first time all season. They gained only 5.74 yards per play, not far above the 5.45 average.
However, the defense rocked. This unit, ranked 16th in my rankings before the game, held Oklahoma to 3.43 yards per play and 10 points. Baylor won by 29 points. My prediction in Grantland of their winning the Big 12 looks good.
In Palo Alto, Stanford pulled off a unique double. Their win over Oregon knocked the Ducks from the top of the BCS conversation. And the defense haraseed Oregon QB Marcus Mariota out of the Heisman picture.
However, the story of the game was the domination Stanford’s offensive line. By the second half, they left little doubt whether Stanford would convert a 3rd and short. The Cardinal chewed up the clock behind this massive unit.
Granted, Stanford got a bit lucky when D’Anthony Thomas fumbled at the Stanford 1 yard line, killing a drive. Not the play one expects from someone who said Oregon would score 40 points against Stanford.
Now the national title picture shifts to Tuscaloosa. Can LSU beat Alabama?
The injustice of schedule
First, let’s take a look at the big picture.
A loss to LSU does not knock Alabama over the national championship picture. LSU already has 2 conference losses, one of which came in a cross division game at Georgia. Meanwhile, Alabama enjoyed two cross division games against Tennessee and Kentucky, inferior teams to Georgia. The schedule screwed LSU this season.
If Alabama loses, they still win the SEC West by winning their remaining games. Then if they win the SEC title game, will the BCS keep out a one loss team from a conference that has won the last 7 national titles? I don’t know the answer to that, but I can imagine the pages of complaints on my Facebook feed from friends in SEC country.
And they have a point.
Role reversal this season
Last season, Zach Mettenberger took over the QB job for LSU. He was mediocre until the Alabama game, a night he suddenly turned into Andrew Luck. His precision passing gave LSU a late lead in the game, one that the defense could not hold in a dramatic Alabama win.
Mettenberger’s performance against Alabama made me look like an ass. In Sports Illustrated, I highlighted LSU’s pass offense against Alabama’s pass defense as a key edge for Alabama. Of course, Mettenberger never played that well again, especially in a bowl loss to Clemson.
This season, Mettenberger has lead a resurgance of LSU’s offense. They come into this game ranked 5th in pass offense. Morever, Alabama has been surprisingly weak in pass defense at 53rd in my rankings. Alabama had a huge edge in this matchup last season, but the opposite is true for Saturday night’s game.
Not your typical LSU team
Over the past few seasons, LSU has featured an elite defense full of future NFL draft picks. However, this unit has fallen off this season, ranking 29th in adjusted yards per play.
They face an Alabama offense that struggled with their execution early in the season. Coach Nick Saban stormed off the field at halftime against Ole Miss complaining about missed blocks. However, this unit has played much better recently, now ranking 14th in the nation in adjusted yards per play. They will have an edge against LSU’s defense.
The line favors Alabama by 10, and my team rankings give a 16 edge to Alabama at home. However, I see this as a much closer game. Yards per play predicts a 50-50 game, mostly based on the new found strength of LSU’s offense. If Mettenberger excels and LSU makes a big play on special teams, they can beat Alabama.
Thanks for reading.