The culmination of the college football season may be a let down to some. If you’ve gotten used to the offensive explosions of the Alamo, Fiesta, Orange, and Rose Bowls, don’t expect the same thing in this game. It’ll be a great game, but it will have a completely different feel to it. LSU and Alabama play stifling defense, and it’ll be worth tuning in and enjoying this SEC showdown for the national championship.
They’ll be plenty of debate as to whether there should be 2 divisional rivals facing off in the championship game, but let’s put that aside and just focus on enjoying the game we’ve got. Here’s a quick breakdown from what I see, and then we’ll take a look at who from this game will be playing at the next level next year and where they’re being projected to go in the NFL Draft.
No team dominated college football in recent years like LSU did this year. They only had one close game all year, and that’s the team they’ll face again Monday Night. Alabama took LSU to overtime in a FG kicking battle that finished 9-6. Let’s look at the rematch by looking at each facet of the game for both teams.
Alabama offense: Jr QB AJ McCarron leads the Tide offense based on clock-control and avoiding turnovers. McCarron did a solid gob at that while passing for 2400 yards and 16 TDs while only throwing 5 picks so far this year. One of those INT’s was in the LSU game and was a big momentum-changer and resulted in the game-tying FG. The most outstanding individual player on ‘Bama’s offense is RB Trent Richardson who was a Heisman finalist and ran for 20 TDs and over 1500 yards on the ground and added 300 more yards and 3 TDs receiving. Richardson only got stronger at the end of the year, including torching Auburn for 203 yards in the finale. The Tide offense averages 36 points a game-good for 16th in the nation, while ranking 14th in rushing yards a game, and 30th in total offense. Except for LSU, noone has held them under 24, and they’ve reached 30 points 9 times in 12 games.
Alabama defense: The accolades for the ‘Bama D are numerous and well-deserved. The rank #1 in scoring D (8.8 points a game), total D (191.3 yards a game), rushing D (74.9 yds/game), passing D (116.3 yds/game), and first downs allowed (10.5 per game). The defense is led by LBs Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, CB ‘Dre Kirkpatrick, and S Mark Barron. All of those 4 defensive stars will probably be picked in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft with 3 other possibilities in the top 3 rounds. This defense is as good as any you’ll see at the college level. LSU’s though, is close as you can see in just a minute…
LSU offense: LSU has used 2 QBs this year with incredibly success. Jordan Jefferson was suspended at the beginning of the year, came back and split time with Jarrett Lee, and is expected to start in the Championship game. He is definitely the better rusher of the 2 QBs and will give the Tide’s defense something extra to think about and gameplan for. The LSU running yards and carries have been distributed pretty evenly between Michael Ford and Spencer Ware with Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard also playing a part. Each of those 4 rushers have over 300 yards and 7 TDs. In the passing game, the main target has been Jr WR Rueben Randle who needs 96 yards in this one to break 1,000 and has caught 8 TD passes. LSU’s offense ranks 12th in points per game with 38.5, 17th in rushing offense per game, and 1st in giveaways turning the ball over only 8 times all year. The only team that’s been able to contain this offense all year was Alabama. They scored 35 or more against everyone except the Tide and Mississippi State in week 3. Since being held to just 9 in Tuscaloosa they’ve scored 42, 52, 41, and 42.
LSU defense: The LSU defense starts with their 2 All American CBs Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. Mathieu (known as the honey badger) had 2 picks and 6 forced fumbles, while Claiborne is sure to be a top pick in this year’s draft after making 6 picks (including one against Alabama) and leading the nation in interception return yards. The LSU corners are supported by the rest of their defense especially a D-line that includes Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo who led this defense to 37 total sacks (good for 13th in the nation coming into this game). They rank #2 in scoring D (behind ‘Bama as 10.5 PPG), #3 in rushing D (85.46 yds/G), #14 in passes defended (72), #6 in passing D (166.6 yds/G), #16 in Takeaways, and #1 in turnover margin.
LSU Special Teams: Mathieu’s performance as a CB was only enhanced by his skills in the return game. He’s just behind Greg Reid of FSU for punt return yards per game and was one of only 5 players to take multiple punts to the house. He currently ranks 4th in average per punt return, and could make a huge difference in this game where field position is critical. The Tigers other CB, Morris Claiborne took a kick return back for a TD and is currently 13th in average kickoff returns. The Tigers also allow the least yards per game to punt returners, averaging 1/2 a yard per game in opponents punt returns. LSU’s kicking game has been solid as well going 16-18 on FG’s which ranks 3rd in the nation for average and won the first Tide game for them in OT.
Alabama Special Teams: Alabama could have won the first meeting between these two teams with a little help from its kicking game. They missed 4 FG’s in that first matchup including a 52 yarder in OT when they had the ball first. Their FG kicking has been bad all year at 18-29 which is 62%, ranked 94th (out of 120) in the nation. In the return game, Marquis Maze (Sr. WR) handles punt returning duties for the Tide and has a TD and the 13th ranked average in the nation on punt returns.
My Pick: The fact that this game is in Louisiana can only help LSU, although both schools travel very well and the atmosphere will be totally electric. I know that it’s difficult to beat a good team twice, which is what LSU is going to have to do to win the trophy, but I’ll take the Tigers. They’ve beaten Oregon (Rose Bowl Champs) at a neutral location, West Virginia (Orange Bowl Champs) in Morgantown, and Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Plus they’be beaten Arkansas, Florida, and Auburn at home. These Tigers are no fluke to be sure, and I think their defense will be up to the task and Jordan Jefferson will do enough to get LSU the title. It’ll be close in the first half, but I think some critical plays will go Les Miles’ way in the second half as the purple and gold hold the trophy in the end.
Morris Claiborne-LSU-CB: Claiborne is a top 5 pick most likely as well. Many early mocks have him going #3 to Minnesota or #5 to Tampa Bay. Barring a catastrophe, he definitely won’t last to double digits.
Trent Richardson-Alabama-RB: He’s the #1 back available in the draft and could go as high as top 5. Definitely will go in the top half of the first round. Many see Tampa Bay, Washington, or even Cleveland (if they miss out on RG3) as possible fits.
‘Dre Kirkpatrick-Alabama-CB: Kirkpatrick is a big CB who has shutdown potential at the next level and could go as early as top 5-10 or fall to the middle of the first round. He’s another elite NFL talent.
Courtney Upshaw-Alabama-DE/LB: Upshaw is a mid-first round pick who could move up with a great workout. Some see him as high as 10, and many think he’s a great fit for the Jets if he lasts that long. He’s the full package who can rush the passer, drop in coverage, and stop the run.
Mark Barron-Alabama-SS: Barron is a tough, physical, classic strong safety who will probably go at the end of the first round to a very pleased playoff team that needs to bolster their defensive backfield. He could go to New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, or an an established defense like Baltimore or San Francisco looking to strengthen what’s already a strength on their team.
Reuben Randle-LSU-WR: Randle has another year of eligibility but would be a solid 2nd rounder (possibly end of the first) if he declares this year.
Those are the main prospects, but these 2 schools recruit so much talent expect to hear their names early and oftern throughout the draft process… Watch for our Bowl Mania recap, first NFL Mock Draft of the year, and plenty of football coverage as we move forward here at FantasyCPR.
Enjoy the game everybody!