Alabama and LSU are set for the biggest game of the regular season to date. The winner takes the inside track to the SEC West title, and will be a prohibitive favorite in the SEC Championship Game, and then presumably the BCS National Championship game. The Tide comes in a 4.5 point favorite on their homefield and I think that sounds right.
If you look through the each team’s results in SEC play, there’s no reason not to give ‘Bama the edge if this game were on a neutral field and then to tack on the customary field goal for homefield advantage. Both teams play stout defense, but the Tide has been more consistent in defending the ground game. Alabama opponents in league play have rushed for 193 yards combined in five games. To put that in perspective, the Tide, with Heisman hopeful Trent Richardson leading the way, rushed for 197 in their SEC opener against Arkansas. Now LSU is no slouch against the run, but both Florida and Tennessee exceeded the 100-yard mark and I believe the same will happen again tonight.
Alabama also gets more consistent play in the passing game. Even though they’re the ones with the sophomore at quarterback, A.J. McCarron has been efficient in every big game this season, with a 15-for-20, 200-yard showing against Arkansas and a 23/30, 237 game against Vanderbilt and their underrated secondary. Nick Saban’s offense will have the ability to mix in some passing.
Add all that up and I have no hesitation about picking the Crimson Tide, but due diligence does demand that we point out very realistic scenarios where LSU can win. The first is the return of suspended corner Tyrann Mathieu, perhaps the best in the country at his position. ‘Bama has no receiver along the lines of Julio Jones who can beat Mathieu and if LSU can turn this edge into turnovers it puts the Tide in a position they aren’t used to, having turned it over just once in conference play. It can be Mathieu himself making the big play, or his devastating lockdown ability being used to enable aggressive blitzing and big defensive plays. And while LSU’s run defense has shown vulnerability, they have tremendous speed, something that matches up well with Alabama, which relies on stretch plays to Richardson getting to the perimeter. Finally, LSU receiver Reuben Randle is the top playmaker among the wideouts. Between having the best wide receiver and the best defensive back on the field, the Tigers are the best bet to make any big passing plays.
The pick here is Alabama 16 LSU 10. Although if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t touch the 4.5 point spread, way too many for a game likely to be low scoring. The totals line of 41.5 looks like a nice pick for the under. Unless we get defensive scoring, this one’s going to be a low-scoring war, something a defense and running-game lover like me is looking forward to come Saturday night.