- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jan. 9, 8:30 ET (ESPN)
LSU take: Before the season, everyone thought LSU had talent. That was never an issue. But the youth of this team was something many questioned.
Even more questions began to form when senior starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended for the first four games for his role in a fight at an off-campus bar.
LSU threw embattled quarterback Jarrett Lee out there and all he did was start the season as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the SEC, leading LSU to wins against three ranked teams on the road in the first four weeks.
Helping Lee was one of the stingiest and most athletic defenses the SEC had to offer. Loaded with speed and depth at every defensive position, the Tigers cruised past opponents, catapulting to the No. 1 ranking in Week 5.
The Tigers never relinquished their hold as the country’s best and head into the Allstate BCS National Championship Game as SEC champs with a 13-0 record.
LSU wore down defenses with its running game and delivered death blows with its defense. The Tigers ended the year ranking second nationally in total defense (252 yards per game) and led the SEC with a turnover margin of plus-22.
However, there were plenty of chances for this team to crumble. From suspensions to keys starters, to a quarterback controversy, this hasn’t been an easy season.
But LSU never quit and actually emerged stronger from its distractions.
LSU had a knack for pummeling teams in the second half of games, and that really showed when the Tigers erased back-to-back double-digit deficits in the final two weeks against Arkansas and Georgia.
It was a perfect ending for the Tigers as they finished off Georgia with a 42-0 run in the SEC title game to beat their eighth ranked opponent.
Alabama take: This was the team that most picked at the beginning of the season to represent the SEC in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.
Sure, there was youth at quarterback and wide receiver, but there was a bona fide workhorse in the backfield (running back Trent Richardson), and one of the stoutest and scariest defenses that coach Nick Saban has ever fielded.
The Crimson Tide were never flashy on offense, but they were effective enough to churn out yards and points against opponents. But this team was always respected more for its defense. Alabama ended the season ranking first nationally in total defense (195.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (75), and opposing teams moved the ball just 3.4 yards per play. This was a group that was criticized last season for being too raw and young, but completely transformed in 2011.
LSU might have the best defensive depth in the country, but it’s hard to find a tougher defense than Alabama’s, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better combination of linebackers and defensive backs on one team.
Richardson didn’t just fill former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram’s shoes, he replaced them with his own pair. He was the SEC’s top rusher (1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns) and put up 137 yards a game against SEC opponents on his way to a legitimate Heisman run.
The only roadblock was LSU. The top-ranked Tigers ended Alabama’s run at perfection with a 9-6 win in overtime. Four failed field goal attempts by Alabama proved to be the difference, but now, the Tide get a shot at redemption in the season’s biggest game.