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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 1:00 PM

They played each other twice last year…with Alabama winning a regular season wrestling match over LSU in overtime…then looking much more dominant in a rematch for the BCS Championship in January. Sports bettors must now determine what has changed from last year to this year…and what possible changes LSU can make to get points on the board.

First, let’s take a shorthand look at last year’s meetings:

ALABAMA 9, LSU 6 (in overtime)

Total Yardage: LSU 239, Alabama 295

Turnovers:  LSU 2, Alabama 2

It’s easy to forget now that Alabama missed FOUR field goals (three in regulation) in a game where neither team could score a touchdown. The Tide were getting the best of it in terms of moving the ball. They just couldn’t turn that yardage edge into a scoring edge until they survived extra time. A brutal game to watch. But, it was brutal because both teams had national championship caliber defenses.

ALABAMA 21, LSU 0

Total Yardage: LSU 92, Alabama 384

Turnovers:  LSU 2, Alabama 0

This was actually a more one-sided game than the final score makes it seem. LSU could barely tie its shoes. Alabama was in complete control from start to finish, making a run at 400 total yards against a very strong LSU defense. There was no doubt once eight quarter and extra time were in the books. Alabama owned score board 30-6, and total yardage 679-331.

So…THAT’S the backdrop heading into Saturday Night’s nationally televised encounter on CBS. Let’s see what our indicator information suggests about the most anticipated regular season game of the 2012 college football schedule.

ALABAMA at LSU in (8 p.m. on CBS)

Las Vegas Spread: Alabama by 9, total of 42.5

Home field advantage is usually worth three points in college football, though LSU is known to get more than that in prime time games on this field. That means the market is saying Alabama is at least 12 points better than LSU on a neutral field…and possibly a bit more. That’s actually in line with last year’s results. Alabama won 30-6 over two games…which is +12 points as a per-game average. Knowingly or not…the market has settled on the premise that not much has changed since last year’s meetings. The pointspreads have changed…but that’s the market catching up to the reality Alabama demonstrated.

CURRENT BCS RANKINGS

Alabama: 1st

LSU: 5th

It depends on who you ask…some people will suggest that Alabama is off on an island by themselves at #1…which the teams just behind them like Oregon, Kansas State, and Oregon truly more like #5-#10 caliber teams. The market certainly has Alabama on an island compared to LSU…who’s a respectable #5 even with a loss to Florida on its resume. Alabama is very likely to coast home undefeated if they survive this test (though Texas A&M is no rollover, and the SEC East champion is going to show up with an attitude). The math says one of the two BCS entries will be determined in this game. And, there’s an outside shot that we’re talking about LSU…because a one-loss Tigers team would grade out very well with Alabama’s scalp in its hand.

HEAD COACHES

Alabama: Nick Saban

LSU: Les Miles

It’s generally accepted that Saban is the best coach in the colleges by a mile in terms of putting all the pieces together. He recruits very well…teaches very well…builds an NFL style defense with athletes…and does enough on offense to put his team is the title mix every year. Miles does some of those things, but is enough of a riverboat gambler to blow things up every so often. Sometimes that’s a gamble that puts his team over the top. Sometimes it’s a bad mistake that reeks of recklessness. The edge goes to Saban…but there’s always going to be a bit of gamble to any Les Miles coached game.

QUARTERBACKS

Alabama: A.J. McCarron

LSU: Zach Mettenberger

McCarron isn’t flashy, but gets the job done within a safe context. Saban wants game managers and McCarron manages fine. Mettenberger has been a relative disaster this year, particularly against good defenses. He’s likely to be extremely overmatched by the Alabama defense…just as LSU quarterbacks were last year while scoring only 6 points in eight quarters plus overtime. The only reason this isn’t an “of course you take the defensive home dog” automatic bet is because Mettenberger may not get much of anything on the board. It’s easy for favorites to cover spreads in the 8-12 range if the underdog isn’t going to score.

LAST WEEK’S BOXES

ALABAMA 38, MISSISSIPPI STATE 7

Total Yardage: Mississippi State 256, Alabama 414

Rushing Yards: Mississippi State 47, Alabama 179

Passing Stats: Mississippi State 19-36-1-209, Alabama 17-24-0-235

Turnovers: Mississippi State 3, Alabama 0

Third Downs: Mississippi State 31%, Alabama 36%

Vegas Line: Alabama by 21, total of 44

Alabama has a knack for building an advantage than sitting on the lead with their great defense. That makes it hard for raw stats to truly capture the greatness of this team. The final score is a better representation of Alabama’s dominance in this game. The stats condense the advantage because Alabama worries more about clock than boxscore production once they get way ahead. The keys to focus on here are rushing yardage (179-47 in dominant fashion) and turnovers (0-3 thanks to a QB who manages games well). Alabama beats you at the point of attack. Well, they HURT you at the point of attack in a way that you never forget. Can LSU dodge the pain?

(LSU had a bye last week, this is their most recent game)

LSU 24, TEXAS A&M 19

Total Yardage: LSU 316, Texas A&M 410

Rushing Yards: LSU 219, Texas A&M 134

Passing Stats: LSU 11-29-0-97, Texas A&M 39-56-3-276

Turnovers: LSU 0, Texas A&M 5

Third Downs: LSU 13%, Texas A&M 38%

Vegas Line: LSU by 3.5, total of 51

The good news is that LSU won on the scoreboard…at the point of attack…and in the turnover category. The bad news is that they didn’t really do much beyond forcing turnovers and hoping they could turn that into points. If you can only convert 13% of your third downs against A&M, what’s going to happen against Alabama?! The passing line was very poor too. Mettenberger threw almost 30 times but couldn’t reach 100 yards in the air. Good luck running on Alabama.

BEST EXPECTATION

The best expectation based on what’s in the past is that LSU has no hopes of moving the ball and scoring points vs. this Alabama defense. If you’re going to bet LSU…that’s because you think Les Miles has some trickeration up his sleave…or because you think the LSU defense can force enough turnovers to keep the score low and within striking range. Betting the dog means you expect a defensive battle of field goals where LSU gets some field position breaks thanks to home field advantage and creative coaching. Betting the favorite means you think LSU will be lucky to pass 10 points, while Alabama can coast into the 20’s again.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that JIM HURLEY has been handicapping this game since the BCS title tilt ended last year. He knew these teams would be playing again. It wasn’t outrageous to think that both might end up 1-2 again based on who was returning from last year’s teams. LSU lost a honey badger before the season started (amidst other trials and tribulations), which lessened that likelihood. But, it didn’t lessen the resolve NETWORK had for picking the winner in the most anticipated college football game of the 2012 regular season.

We’ve posted this preview a day early because the game is so important. You’ll have to check the home page of this website Saturday morning for the final word on whether or not this game qualified for major release status of TV Parlay consideration. You can build your weekend bankrolls Friday Night with Washington/California in the colleges, and the best from an NBA schedule that includes Houston-Atlanta, Milwaukee-Boston, Miami-New York, and LA Clippers-LA Lakers.

If you have any questions about NETWORK service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on seasonal basketball rates so you can win seven days a week. Don’t forget that college hoops is just around the corner!

Back with you Saturday to preview the Oregon-USC game set for prime time on ABC. The blockbusters are on the big screens…and you want to cash your winning tickets!

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