Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 9, 2012 at 10:41 AM
Maybe it's only appropriate that this year's BCS Championship Game is being played in New Orleans - where else should a pair of Southeastern Conference teams battle it out in the biggest/sweetest bowl game of them all for the right to say "We're #1"?
If second-ranked Alabama - a two-point betting favorite at press time - was to win than the Crimson Tide folks would tell you that revenge is indeed sweet after having been beaten in their own backyard by LSU 9-6 in overtime way back on November 5th.
If top-ranked LSU was to win than - according to many folks in College Football-land - all would be right with the BCS universe.
Meanwhile, an underlying theme this past week was discussion that many Associated Press media members claimed they would be voting LSU #1 win or lose here - hey, you knew that was gonna happen once this LSU vs. Alabama rematch was announced back on the first weekend in December - and so there'll be controversy galore should Alabama win by a field goal or so - and can you imagine if the Tide wins here in overtime?
Hey, than get ready for the good folks from Oklahoma State to start making their case for their Cowboys to be numero uno ... you'll see. Enough talk ... let's preview Monday Night's BCS Championship Game:
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - at New Orleans, LA
#2 ALABAMA (11-1) vs. #1 LSU (13-0) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
You keep hear the rumblings that this will be a "different game" than that 9-6 battle two-plus months ago - and we sure hope so because that was a snore-fest in many regards till OT - and so that leads one to believe both LSU (averaging 38.5 points a game) and Alabama (averaging 36 ppg) plan on opening things up more on offense and the fast track inside the Louisiana Superdome makes you think there could be an array of downfield chucks here.
Keep in mind that Nick Saban's Alabama bunch hasn't played a game in 45 days - it's been 37 days for LSU since it last played a game -- and so that "down time" means more plays added to the playbook and more gadget plays too. In short, don't be surprised if each team gets a couple of 40-plus yard pass plays here with Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (2,400 yards passing with 16 TDs and 5 INTs) said to be frisky about throwing some long balls here.
Naturally, Alabama RB Trent Richardson - one of this year's Heisman Trophy finalists and the country's Doak Walker Award winner - won't be forgotten after rushing the ball 263 times (that's 22 times a game) for 1,583 yards with 20 TDs but expect Richardson to get lined up at a wide receiver spot at times and he'll be a downfield target if drawing just single coverage.
LSU's born-again and once-suspended QB Jordan Jefferson (only 684 yards passing with 6 TDs and 1 INT this 2011 season) may not have the total faith of his coaching staff when it comes to airing out the pigskin but gotta believe there will be times that the 'Bama defense will stuff a first-down rushing play and so than Jefferson will be asked to succeed via the air waves and carrying out his play fakes will be key as will (of course) his downfield accuracy where WR Reuben Randle (50 receptions this year) must show off some hand strength in his one-on-one battles.
Still, LSU's offensive bread-and-butter is the ground game that averaged 215 yards a game (or a shade behind Alabama's 220 yards-per-game average) with a four-headed RB monster key but this could be about "riding the hot hand" here as LSU head coach Les Miles might look to stay with leading rusher RB Michael Ford (755 rushing yards) or perhaps bruising RB Spencer Ware (700 yards rushing) until or unless the Tide defense can prove it can stop 'em.
Okay, so we've gone four paragraphs into this BCS Championship Game Preview and nary a word about the game's best player - LSU defensive back and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu.
As we pointed out in a recent Jim Sez feature, we claimed Mathieu's 92-yard punt return for a touchdown against Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving was the single most-important play in this College Football campaign and - simply put - Mathieu must put his personal stamp on this game should LSU wish to come away winners.
No doubt the Alabama kickers/punters will do everything in their power not to send the football in Mathieu's general direction but there even may be some trickery to get him involved in the return game plus odds are "Honey Badger" will line up in different places on defense throughout this game. If he's responsible for just one field-flipping INT or fumble bring-back, it could make all the difference in the world.
The X-Factor: Folks, it's no surprise to folks who watched college football on a week-to-week basis but LSU punter Brad Wing was the country's most effective kicker/punter in the nation this year (heck, he even scored a touchdown in the win against Florida!) as he averaged 44.1 yards a punt and note that 11 punts landed up inside the opponent's 10-yard line. If Wing is "on his game" here in the handful-or-so he'll be forced to punt, those so-called hidden yards could mean everything ... do you think than Alabama could march 90-or-so yards for scores on this LSU defense that ranks #2 in the land behind only Alabama? Hmmm.
Spread Notes - LSU enters this clash having covered 10 of its 13 games this season (a wickedly-good .769 winning percentage) and note the Tigers won/covered both of their games this year when placed in the underdog role (a 40-27 season-opening triumph over 3 ½-point favorite Oregon back on September 3rd and that aforementioned 9-6 OT win in Tuscaloosa in early November. LSU is a collective 5-1 ATS (against the spread) in bowl games under boss-man Miles including the 38-24 win against 3 ½-point pup Ohio State in the 2007 season version of the BCS Championship Game. On the flip side, Alabama is 8-4 versus the vig overall this season and the Crimson Tide's covered three of its last four bowl games including a 37-21 win/cover versus 4-point dog Texas in the title tilt two years ago. Overall, Alabama and LSU are a wacky 4-4-2 ATS in head-to-head matchups the past 10 years.