Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, November 24, 2011 at 10:20 PM
We were the first to tell you several years ago that the best college football in America was being played in the SEC. This was back when Ohio State was getting all the media run, before they’d get crush in the national championship game by an SEC team. Now, it’s widely understood that the SEC is heads and shoulders above the field. The top three teams in the BCS are all from that conference. Teams numbers 1 and 3 in the rankings play each other Friday afternoon in a game the whole world will be watching.
If #1 LSU beats #3 Arkansas, their stranglehold on the #1 spot would be so strong because of strength of schedule that even a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship game probably wouldn’t knock them out of the BCS championship spot. If Arkansas beats LSU, they would very likely jump into the top two unless bugs in the system kept LSU ahead even after a heads up loss because the prior resume was so strong. Wouldn’t THAT inspire some controversy!
Let’s worry about all that later. For now, it’s time to crunch some important numbers and try to figure out what the best expectation is for Friday afternoon’s showdown. Las Vegas opened LSU as a 14-point home favorite. Smart money has brought the line down to LSU -12 because the Wise Guys thought that overshot the mark by a good bit given the talent on the teams and recent BCS Chaos. Should a top contender be laying that much to other contenders given what we’ve seen lately in games involving Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma?
We’ll start with our standard college preview numbers. Then we’ll look at the boxscore stats from a fantastic same site common opponent in Alabama.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
LSU has great results this year against a killer schedule. You probably watched their wins away from Baton Rouge over Alabama and Oregon, which are high quality wins indeed. Arkansas has had a much easier time of it…with a blowout loss at Alabama representing their biggest test. They flunked in a big way! This is the main reason LSU is a double digit favorite in Friday’s matchup. They’ve passed all of their tests with flying colors. Arkansas laid a big egg, and may just be one of those teams that can run up the score on lesser lights but doesn’t really match up well with superpowers. Starting with strength of schedule helps bring that point to light immediately.
TOTAL OFFENSE RANKING
Arkansas does have some weaponry, and will at least have a chance to score in garbage time if they fall behind the Vegas number. LSU has been a disappointment in pure offense this year. This team finds A LOT of ways to score, which has hidden the relative weaknesses on this side of the ball. Remember that Alabama took away those other strengths, forcing LSU to win an overtime game where they couldn’t score a touchdown. Edge here to Arkansas…but it’s not necessarily a difference-making edge because we all know that DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS!
TOTAL DEFENSE RANKING
This is where LSU expresses their superiority in a big way. In college football, great defenses tend to impose their will in big games. So, it doesn’t matter how good or bad the opposing offense is…they’re going to have trouble scoring. It’s like a baseball pitcher with no-hitter stuff. He’s going to no hit the best or worst offenses because his stuff is unhittable PERIOD. LSU plays a lot of games where their defense just denies everything by occasional middle of the field bursts (Alabama could get themselves field goal attempts, but couldn’t find the end zone either). Plus, when you factor in strength of schedule here, the Arkansas defense becomes more vulnerable. This isn’t a great ranking for an SEC team that barely played a top 50 schedule.
It’s tough to find good statistical measures for “special teams” play without running through a bunch of different little things. We need to point out that LSU has a FANTASTIC special teams unit…with a great punter and some dynamic return threats. It’s safe to assume that LSU will win the special teams battle over Arkansas unless the punter gets complacent or a return man muffs a catch or something. It might be the difference maker influencing who wins a close game, or who covers a game that hovers near the number. Arkansas better be ready to compete in ALL facets of play.
No surprises to this point. Vegas respects the LSU defense. If you want to bet on the underdog, you need to figure out how they’re going to score. If you want to bet the favorite, you want to make sure arrogance isn’t setting in on a hot team that may have been reading too many press clippings about their greatness. You get the sense that Stanford and Oklahoma State had been doing that…which Oregon also then succumbed to after they knocked off Stanford.
It’s rare to have such a PERFECT same site common opponent in college football, where teams in the same class nationally visited the same team on the same field who was also in that elite class. Let’s crunch the boxscore numbers from the games these two teams played at Alabama earlier this season.
ALABAMA 38, ARKANSAS 14
Total Yardage: Arkansas 226, Alabama 397
Rushing Yardage: Arkansas 17, Alabama 197
Passing Stats: Arkansas 24-40-2-209, Alabama 15-20-0-200
Turnovers: Arkansas 2, Alabama 0
Yards-Per-Play: Arkansas 3.8, Alabama 6.7
Third Downs: Arkansas 27%, Alabama 38%
Arkansas really looks bad here in terms of national greatness. Yes, they’re a better, more confident team now than they were at the time. But, they obviously couldn’t get much going offensively in Tuscaloosa. It’s almost impossible to win when you only rush for 17 yards! The passing game didn’t get much considering they threw 40 times. Plus, the lack of production came with a pair of giveaways. The slaughter really presents itself in yards-per-play, which is the best match for the scoreboard amongst those numbers. Alabama was in control, even if a less than terrific 38% mark on third downs kept them from being in “total” control for awhile. When the teams where banging heads, Arkansas just wasn’t that scary. The Hogs will have to lift their game significantly this time around to have any hopes of covering a +12 let alone pulling off an upset.
LSU 9, ALABAMA 6 (in overtime)
Total Yardage: LSU 239, Alabama 295
Rushing Yardage: LSU 148, Alabama 96
Passing Stats: LSU 9-17-2-91, Alabama 16-29-2-199
Turnovers: LSU 2, Alabama 2
Yards-Per-Play: LSU 4.1, Alabama 4.9
Third Downs: LSU 27%, Alabama 38%
It’s good to read these stats again because it reminds everyone that LSU really didn’t play all that great at Alabama. They seem like a juggernaut now because of the undefeated record, and the clean sweep of #1 rankings across the full spectrum of BCS influences (voters, computers, Ouija boards, tea leaves). If Alabama had a field goal kicker, then it’s the Crimson Tide who would be thinking about Georgia in the SEC championship and then January’s national title tilt.
Let’s note that LSU did win RUSHING yardage, which is extremely important in a smash mouth battle. That lessens the negatives of the deficit because rushing yards have more of a connection to winning and losing in this sport. But, winning on the ground didn’t help them win the turnover category, and obviously didn’t help them move the chains. The Tigers can be had!
JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK has planned a pick in this game for a long time. Be sure you check our “buy picks” page early Friday for details on the full card. Remember, there are A LOT of games on the Friday after Thanksgiving every year! We’re also looking at Pittsburgh-West Virginia in a classic rivalry game, Iowa-Nebraska in a matchup that may become a new rivalry in the Big Ten, and possibly something based on an information bulletin in MAC country. Be sure you take care of business EARLY Friday so you get full value.
Then, be back with us SATURDAY for our RIVALRY PARLAY OF THE YEAR. Note that we’ll be previewing the Notre Dame/Stanford game in prime time on ABC. Many computers have these as two of the top dozen teams in the country even if this matchup will no longer influence the BCS championship picture. A big win might get Stanford an at-large bid to a BCS bowl to play the Big 12 champ in the Fiesta Bowl, or maybe an SEC choice in the Sugar Bowl.
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For now…the focus on LSU and Arkansas, two of the three best teams in the BCS. Here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK, BCS stands for “Big Cash Score!"