There is one more college bowl game tonight.
The BCS Championship Game (which not an NCAA Title, btw, so no one is gaining on us tonight) will get going tonight, featuring a rematch between the LSU Tigers (13-0) and the Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1). These two teams met during the regular season in Tuscaloosa with LSU edging the Tide in an unattractive game by an underwhelming 9-6 score. The dominating defenses (and utter futility of the offenses) soured many fans on seeing a rematch in the title game. However, LSU finished as the only undefeated team in the country, so their appearance was guaranteed. Alabama was the only SEC team amongst the one-loss teams, so their appearance was guaranteed. Someday there will be a playoff. Until then, we get the de facto SEC Championship Game filling in as the BCS Title Game.
It would be far more interesting for me to see this game at a truly neutral site, but this is almost a home game for the Tigers. While Alabama fans are flooding the Big Easy, being just under 300 miles from New Orleans, the distance from the LSU Football Ops building to the doors of the Louisiana Superdome is only 80 miles. Tonight's rematch will feature the nation's top two defenses, two strong running attacks, and a pair of Heisman finalists. And then there is the rematch between arguably the top two coaches in the country, LSU's Les Miles and Alabama's Nick Saban. I realize it's difficult to find any news or analysis about this game anywhere, so for a closer look at the matchup, follow me after the jump...
Alabama brings the number one defense in the country, giving up 191 yards and 9 points per game - the regular season meeting against LSU was just an "average" performance for them. The Tide defense is led by linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower and a powerful defensive line. They will face an LSU offense that is the 12th best scoring offense in the country averaging 38.5 ppg. LSU will use 2 quarterbacks in Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. The combo, when Jefferson wasn't suspended for a bar brawl, averaged 160 yards per game, which was only 105th in the country (for reference, UCLA was 81st with 198 ypg). The strength of the LSU offense was its running game, led by Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, when he wasn't suspended for drug use, which racked up 215 ypg (15th overall). The Tide front 7 did a great job bottling up that run attack in the first meeting and will need to repeat that performance to keep the Tigers close tonight.
Going the other way, the Bama offense was 17th overall scoring 36 ppg, and is led by Doak Walker winner Trent Richardson who racked up 1,583 yards and 20 TD's this year. QB A.J. McCarron had a solid year passing for 2,400 yards and 16 TD's against 5 interceptions. The Tide passing attack will face a formidable opponent against LSU first-team All American CB's Tyrann Mathieu, when he wasn't suspended for drug use, and Morris Claiborne. Their cover game is helped by a big LSU pash rush led by speedy ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo (awesome name!) who combined for 17 sacks. Overall, the LSU defense was second only to Alabama, giving up 10.5 ppg. Richardson managed a respectable 85 yards against LSU in the regular season but got no touchdowns, and considering the Tigers' pass defense, the Tide will need a better performance from its running game tonight.
Like Richardson, Mathieu was a Heisman finalist, partly to his strong play at CB and mostly for his spectacular special teams play as a punt returner. Special teams was the difference in the prior matchup, when LSU won the field goal battle 3-2, helped immeasurably by Alabama's three missed FG's in that game. In a contest matching two top defensive teams and 2 great running teams, special teams is often the deciding factor by determining field position and getting points when drives can't get to the end zone. Punting is not winning, but punt returning might be tonight.
Good luck to both teams tonight and to our colleagues at the great SBN blogs And The Valley Shook and our friend PodKATT and Roll 'Bama Roll and our friend Nico2.0. Actually, just looking there, both of those sites do have some coverage of tonight's game. You are welcome to swing by their sites tonight to see how the respective communities are taking in the game.
Given the location, the psychological edge from the first game, and the threat of Mathieu in the return game, I give the edge to the Bayou Bengals tonight. Having said that, Alabama probably has better balance and coulda/shoulda won the first matchup, so I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them spring the mild upset. Either way, I'm sure we can all agree that we just really want to see some touchdowns tonight. Please? That, and I'm sure we also all agree that Chianti Dan Guerrerror needs to be gone tomorrow so that U.C.L.A. can return to competing on a national level with programs like LSU and Alabama one day soon.
Here is your Monday night BCS Championship game open thread. Have at it.