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There's just something about these Tigers

10/25/2011

Down deep, I had serious doubts a few weeks ago.

I just didn’t see LSU beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Heck, I didn’t see anybody beating the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

OK, maybe the Green Bay Packers, but nobody in college football.

At the time, I hadn’t seen LSU live and had seen Alabama live twice. Both times, the Crimson Tide were dominant, routing Arkansas 38-14 and battering Florida 38-10.

Well, I’ve seen LSU live each of the past two weeks, and if anybody can beat Alabama on the Tide’s own turf, it’s the Tigers.

I swear they get deeper and nastier every time I watch them play.

In their 45-10 beatdown of Auburn last week, true freshman Kenny Hilliard went from fourth on the depth chart at running back to an absolute beast who simply wasn’t going to be tackled. The guy would be starting for half of the teams in the league, maybe more.

And there was also senior cornerback Ron Brooks, who’s seemingly been around forever. But when you’re playing behind Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, there aren’t going to be many chances to start.

Mathieu and Simon were among the three players suspended last Saturday, along with running back Spencer Ware, so Brooks got the start. All he did was return an interception 28 yards for a touchdown and force a fumble.

It’s a similar story with LSU’s offensive line. Junior center P.J. Lonergan didn’t play for the second straight game, and he might be the Tigers’ best player up front. They fully expect him to play and be healthy in two weeks against Alabama.

Senior guard Josh Dworaczyk, the Tigers’ most experienced offensive lineman, hasn’t played all season because of a knee injury. But it hasn’t mattered. The Tigers plug another guy in, shuffle a few guys around and just keep mauling people up front.

The Tigers lead the SEC in sacks allowed (only seven in eight games) and are third in rushing, averaging 189 yards per game.

On top of it all, this is a team that absolutely doesn’t turn the ball over. LSU has committed just three turnovers all season and has now gone its last 60 offensive possessions without a turnover, which dates to the Mississippi State game the third week of the season.

It’s not just a grind-it-out offense, either. Junior receiver Rueben Randle has developed into the top big-play receiver in the SEC. He leads the league with seven touchdown catches and is averaging 19.3 yards per catch, which is tops among the leaders. Three of his touchdown grabs have been 42 yards or longer.

Now, before we go any further, I'm not making my pick two weeks before the game, and I’m not saying that LSU will beat Alabama.

But what I am saying is that LSU is right there in Alabama’s class, and if they were playing on a neutral site or playing in Baton Rouge on Nov. 5, I’d go on record right now and say that the Tigers would win.

Nothing rattles this team.

LSU has weathered it all -- a nasty bar brawl, the arrest and subsequent suspension of its starting quarterback, its offensive coordinator giving up play-calling duties after announcing that he had Parkinson’s disease, and then three of its key starters missing last week’s game after testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

So, while the buildup and hype to the Nov. 5 showdown will be unlike anything we’ve seen in this league for a regular-season affair, don’t expect the Tigers to get caught up in the glare.

As LSU coach Les Miles said last Saturday, “That really hasn’t been a big issue for us.”

Nope, the only issue for the No. 1 Tigers has been figuring out which talented player to toss out there when somebody else gets hurt or suspended.

“If you’re on this team, then you can play,” Randle said. “We don’t have guys just sort of hanging on. That’s the way the coaches have recruited, and that’s the expectation on this team. When it’s your time, you go in and play at that same level. There isn’t a drop-off.”

As good as the game should be on Nov. 5, I’m now starting to think that maybe there is a chance it won’t be the last time we see these two juggernauts play this season.

With Wisconsin and Oklahoma both losing last weekend, a rematch in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game is a possibility.

Clearly, it needs to be a close game in two weeks, and the loser needs to go on and be dominant the rest of the way.

But if a few more teams nationally stumble, then we very well could see an All-SEC affair in New Orleans for the title.

For that to happen, SEC fans might want to cheer hard for USC over Stanford this weekend in Los Angeles or Oregon over Stanford on Nov. 12. The same goes for Georgia Tech over Clemson this weekend, and perhaps South Carolina could help its SEC brethren when the Gamecocks face Clemson on Nov. 26.

Unbeatens Oklahoma State and Kansas State square off on Nov. 5, and Oklahoma State still has to face Oklahoma on Dec. 3.

It’s unlikely that Boise State will lose, but nobody really saw the Broncos being tripped up last season, either.

Even if Boise State remains unbeaten, the Broncos could have a tough time outpointing a one-loss Alabama or LSU for that second spot in the final BCS standings.

It’s all going to sort itself out over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll keep doing my research on what’s sure to be the most anticipated regular-season SEC game in history.

Two weeks ago, Alabama was my pick and still might be.

But LSU has a way of growing on you. The more you see these Tigers, the more impressed you are with them.

As sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery said last Saturday following the Tigers’ fifth straight victory by at least 26 points, “This is what we’ve been pointing toward since the offseason, and nothing’s going to get in our way.”