Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, January 9, 2012 at 10:47 AM
Bookmakers to whom I spoke yesterday said the game had drawn two-way action all week but that late in the afternoon Alabama backers stepped up in the world's sports shops and the tide-no pun intended-starting going the Crimson Tide's way. While the number remained Alabama -2 at most places, several shops moved it to -2 ½. The total settled in at 40 and 40 ½, depending on where one bet. The game opened a pick'em, with a total of 40.
It is of note when these teams met the first time this season-in Tuscaloosa-Alabama left the gate a 5 ½-point favorite, with a total of 41 ½. LSU won that drama-packed showdown 9-6 in overtime. It was just Alabama's second home loss in the past three seasons.
There are dozens of legitimate story lines concerning this game, which will be played at the Superdome in New Orleans, with kickoff set for 8:35 Eastern Time, but I want to focus on just a few and will be speaking as one who scouted and recruited in the SEC for several years. It is not that my insight into this game is superior to that of others but I know this conference like the back of my hand.
To use the trite expression that "football is religion" in the SEC is to understate the case. It is far more than that and nothing has changed since I arrived there in the 1960s when great coaches such as Paul "Bear" Bryant was the King Of Alabama, Ralph "Shug" Jordan (pronounce that Jurden, please) ruled the roost at Auburn, Charlie McLenden was on the top of the world at LSU and grumpy Johnny Vaught stared down the world from this throne from Oxford.
Win At All Costs Then And Now
It was win at any cost then. It is win at any cost now. Schools recruited every blue-chip player they could find in the football-rich South, always putting 20-25 players on full scholarships they would never use because coaches simply did not want to ever play against them.Lock-down defense, fast, athletic and focused special teams, a decent quarterback and a punter who permitted you to effectively play field position football ruled the SEC then. It rules it now, more than 50 years later.
This is not to suggest outstanding skill players and offensive linemen were not a priority but to simply state the aforementioned were more important. The feeling among most coaches was that a team can have a bad day offensively but a defense should never have an off day.
It is no accident Alabama and LSU are the 1-2 ranked defensive teams in the country. Alabama gives up an average of 191.25 yards per game while LSU surrenders 252.08. Alabama gives up an average of 8.83 points per game, LSU an average of 10.54.
LSU special teams are ranked #1 in punt return yardage, giving up just six yards the entire season. For the record there is no greater sin in SEC football than letting an opponent run back a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown. Fifty-yard TD passes rank second in the sin department.
The Tigers also lead the country in turnover margin (1.69). LSU is ranked 10th in tackles for loss, averaging 7.54 per game. Alabama falls into the 21st spot at 7.08.
Yes both teams play outstanding offense but both have followed the decades old SEC tradition of defense, special teams and field position football. I have been watching it for 50 years and can assure you that will be what you see tonight.
As noted I scouted and recruited for years in the Southeastern Conference and that experience has served me well as a professional handicapper, because understanding the SEC culture is paramount in winning games involving these schools. Tonight, the 1-2 teams in the national polls and in the SEC West meet at the Super Dome in New Orleans and as close as most people believe the game will be, the winner is rather obvious to me. Tonight it will be undefeated LSU (13-0) against once-beaten Alabama (11-1)-the loss coming to LSU, 9-6 in overtime, during the regular season-and it will be college football at its absolute best. Some say this is the game of the century, and it just might be that. My figures dictate what I do and the unit-rating of every game I release and they say tonight it will be a 200-unit on the side, a 25-unit on the total and a 25-unit parlay on the side/total. You can win it all for just $50, charged to your major credit card. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, with the kickoff set for 8:35 Eastern. Also available toll free at 1-800-755-2255.
Kelso's College Top 10
- Syracuse (17-0)-Simply awesome and winning by an average of 20.5 points per game against the toughest schedule in the country, according to the RPI ratings that rule college basketball.
- Kentucky (15-1)-Has more blue-chip prime-time talent than any team in country, is young and is only going to get better. Team has played 70th toughest schedule and suffered its only loss at Indiana, 73-72, on a shot at the buzzer.
- Seton Hall (14-2)-It is all coming together for the Pirates who according to the RPI have played the second toughest schedule in the country. Only losses at Syracuse, 75-49, in a game in which the Hall hit just 31.7% from the floor and earlier in the season to Northwestern, 80-73, on a neutral floor. Played statement game with 67-48 win over West Virginia.
- Baylor (15-0)-Just in case you have not figured it out on your own the Bears are for real, better than their record, and won't have to get lucky to go the distance. A true-grit team that is 6-0 on the road and is winning its games by an average of 17.8 points against 61st toughest schedule. Finds ways to win as it showed in three straight wins on a neutral floor 54-52 over Mississippi State and, 83-81 over West Virginia and 72-59 over Saint Mary's.
- Michigan State (14-2)-Opened season with back-to-back losses at Wisconsin and at Gonzaga and has since gone 14-0. Has played 11th toughest schedule and is winning by an average of 16.1 points per game. Established serious credentials with wins on a neutral floor against Duke, 74-69, and North Carolina, 67-55.
- North Carolina (14-2)-Loaded with blue-chip talent and is winning by an average of 21.3 points per game against nation's 76th toughest schedules. The Tar Heels two losses came at Kentucky, 73-72, and on a neutral floor in Las Vegas to UNLV, 90-80.
- Indiana (15-1)-Every bit as good as its records and is winning by an average of 19.5 points per game against 72nd toughest schedule. Only loss was at Michigan State, 80-65. Has beaten Ohio State and Kentucky in Bloomington. May be best coached team in country.
- Ohio State (15-2) is another talented and athletic team but is rated lower in my ratings than in most national polls because of its 2-2 road record, suffering losses at Indiana, 74-70, and at Kansas, 78-67. The Buckeyes are winning by an average of 23.1 points per game while playing the 49th toughest schedule.
- UNLV (16-2)-Rebels are most under-rated team among the 344 NCAA I-A teams. UNLV is loaded with blue-chip talent and runs 12 players deep, with 3-4 of the reserves good enough to start with most teams. UNLV is wining by an average of 16.4 points per game against a schedule ranked 95th. Signature wins came on neutral floor in Chicago over Illinois, 64-48, and over North Carolina, 90-80, on a neutral floor in Las Vegas. Losses were at Wisconsin, 62-51, and at Wichita State, 89-70.
- Georgetown (13-2)-May not be the best Georgetown team ever but certainly is the gutsiest in school history. The Hoyas are disciplined, focused, well-coached and relentless. They are winning their games by an average of 14.4 points per game against the 23rd toughest schedule in country. Their two losses came at West Virginia, 74-62, and at Kansas, 67-63, while their signature wins came at Washington, Louisville and Alabama
- Kansas (12-3)
- West Virginia (12-4)
- Murray State (16-0)
- Kansas State (12-2)
- Louisville (13-3)
- Marquette (12-4)
- Saint Louis (13-3)
- Creighton (13-2)
- Alabama (12-3)
- Wichita State (12-3)