LSU, Alabama sport impressive résumés
NEW ORLEANS -- The Allstate BCS National Championship Game is finally upon us. The rematch between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama will finally be decided. Who will win? ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel and Gene Wojciechowski state their cases:
|No. 1 LSU will win
By Ivan Maisel
|No. 2 Alabama will win
By Gene Wojciechowski
|15. Home sweet Dome
You can try to measure Alabama's presence in the Superdome all you want. No matter how you calibrate it, however, LSU will still have a home-field advantage. New Orleans may be a city unto itself, but it is still a part of Louisiana. With all that is at stake, the BCS Championship Game is supposed to be played at a neutral site. This one, as were the past two at the Superdome, will not be. LSU held a distinct advantage against Oklahoma eight years ago and against Ohio State four years ago. The Tigers will have an advantage Monday night. And while you're at it, go ahead and pencil in LSU to finish in the top two in the 2015 season. If the BCS remains in its current format, that's the next time the title game will be held in New Orleans.
|15. The law of averages
I can't even pretend the Crimson Tide have better special teams than LSU. It would be like saying there aren't empty Southern Comfort bottles after a game at Tiger Stadium. It simply isn't true. Cade Foster has made exactly two more field goals in 2011 than Bear Bryant has, and Jeremy Shelley usually isn't used unless it's a sub-39-yard attempt (season-best kick: 37 yards). And who can forget what happened in the 9-6 overtime Nov. 5 loss to LSU? Nick Saban can't. Foster missed from 44, 50 and 52 yards (he's 2-of-9 for the season), and Shelley had a 49-yarder blocked. Chances are Foster and Shelley won't have to go all Janikowski again and whale away on mid-40-to-plus-50-yard attempts. And while they won't make anybody forget Leigh Tiffin, I don't see them going 2-of-6 again. If they do, they might want to consider a position change. Or a school change.
|14. Run, Tigers, run
||14. Bama should have won the first time
Remember Saban's postgame presser after the LSU loss? I don't want to say he was upbeat, but it's not like you could have cooked a panini on his forehead. Instead, he seemed, well, satisfied with the Bama effort. Saban wasn't thrilled with the final score, of course, but you could tell he thought his team had played hard and, for the most part, had played well. You also could tell he desperately wanted a rematch, as did every Bama player I spoke with after the game. It was as if they thought they had lost the game but hadn't been beaten. Know what I mean? Think about it: Four missed field goals. A ball ripped from the arms of Bama tight end Michael Williams at the LSU 1-yard line by safety Eric Reid (one of the great defensive plays of the year). An LSU punt grazing (or appearing to graze) a television wire stretched across the field, causing a Bama returner to misjudge the flight of the ball. When Saban and his team deconstructed the circumstances of the loss, they quickly realized they were literally a play from winning the game. "As a team we felt like we kind of let it slip through our fingers and get away from us in the end," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "And hopefully this time we won't let that happen." Bama doesn't need a new chassis, just a pair of new wiper blades. After all, it actually outgained LSU, 295 yards to 239.
|13. Tigers have trust
Many of the LSU Tigers celebrated the end of two-a-days in August at a local nightclub. But a brawl broke out, and two Tigers, starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and linebacker Josh Johns, were indicted on felony charges. Head coach Les Miles suspended both players. A grand jury dismissed the charge against Johns and reduced the charge against Jefferson to a misdemeanor, but now one month of the season had elapsed. That kind of episode can tear a team apart. "Instead," offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said, "it did the exact opposite. It brought them so much closer together. That's why these kids never panic. They believe in each other. They trust each other. It doesn't matter who's quarterback. It doesn't matter who's running the ball. It doesn't matter who's on defense. Chief [defensive coordinator John Chavis] makes plays with all those guys. And that has brought this team closer together." The brawl that appeared to endanger LSU's national championship run may have helped put it together.
|13. Richardson power
Anyone who says Richardson didn't have a signature moment this season has clearly taken a helmet-to-helmet shot. Richardson's signature is written all over Bama's season -- including the first game against LSU. All he did was account for 169 of those 295 Bama yards. I could see a breakout game for Richardson, especially now that backup Eddie Lacy will be almost fully recovered from a toe injury. Lacy's return allows the Tide to use their regular running back rotation, keeping Richardson fresher for the entire game. Richardson, playing on a fast track at the Superdome, is going to get his yards. And unlike the Nov. 5 game, he'll also get a touchdown to go with the yards. And if you need more numbers, guess who leads the FBS in rushing yards during the second halves of games? Richardson (938 yards). Who leads the FBS in yards per rush (with at least 90 attempts) during the second halves of games? Richardson (7.4 ypr). My Heisman choice doesn't get tired; he gets stronger. And for what it's worth, Bama ranks ahead of LSU in scoring offense, rushing offense and passing offense. "I'm glad somebody took note," Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said.
|12. Courage under pressure
||12. Know your enemy
The Crimson Tide prepared primarily for LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee the last time around. Then Lee threw two interceptions (including one so hideously awful that Miles looked like he wanted to eat the bill of his cap) and was benched. Jordan Jefferson, who drove LSU to the game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter and the winning field goal in overtime, has been the full-time starter ever since. Lee is more of a classic drop-back passer. Jefferson is a poor man's supersized version of Michael Vick. Knowing that Jefferson is the starter now will make a difference for the Crimson Tide defense.
|11. Calm under pressure
When Studrawa said that his team doesn't panic, he may have been referring to the last two games of the season. The Tigers fell behind Arkansas 14-0, then cruised to a 41-17 victory. A week later, LSU fell behind Georgia 10-0 in the SEC championship game. The Tigers failed to make a first down in the first half. They won 42-10. In the fourth quarter, LSU outscored Arkansas and Georgia by a combined 31-0. No, the Tigers don't panic.
LSU is the team carrying the extra weight of an undefeated season in its backpack. LSU is the team playing essentially a home game -- with all the home-game expectations and pressures. LSU is the team that knows it was a made field goal from losing to Bama in early November. Now the Crimson Tide can come to New Orleans and do what the Tigers did in the first game: play loose, play to ruin LSU's run to perfection, play to exact revenge. Those are three powerful football motives.
|10. Les is more
Nick Saban has lost 12 games in five seasons at Alabama. Six came in 2007, his first year. The only coach to beat Saban more than once is LSU's Les Miles. Miles is 2-1 against Saban in Tuscaloosa and 3-2 against Saban overall. But here's the statistic that says advantage, Miles: in all three of those victories, Alabama led after three quarters. In 2007, 27-24 (final: LSU 41-34). In 2010, 14-10 (final: LSU 24-21). In 2011, 6-3 (final: LSU 9-6 OT).
|10. In Nick we trust
|9. Experience matters
Strength of schedule may be a hollow argument when we have the evidence of LSU-Alabama I. The Tigers and the Tide fought each other to a draw, right? Hold on a minute -- Alabama played that game before a raucous home crowd but couldn't close the deal. LSU comes into New Orleans with more experience -- and success -- against the nation's best. The Tigers opened with No. 3 Oregon. They closed with No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Arkansas and No. 12 Georgia in the last five weeks. Alabama played one top-10 team: LSU.
|9. Get-well cards
Bama will have had 44 days between kickoffs, meaning 44 days to get healthy. That high ankle sprain that had bothered Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones? Much better, thank you. Those dinged-up ankles of wide receivers Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze (it wouldn't be Maze unless he had some sort of injury concern)? Feeling good. Lacy's toe boo-boo? Just about there. Safety Mark Barron's tender ribs? Healing nicely.
|8. Just for kicks
LSU holds a distinct advantage in the kicking game. Punter Brad Wing's ability to place his kicks and to punt on the run are big reasons the Tigers are fourth in the nation in net punting (43.82-yard average; LSU has allowed a total of 6 punt-return yards). Kicker Drew Alleman's range may be limited -- his long kick is 44 yards -- but at 16-of-18, he is money.
|8. AJ McCarron's security blanket
Horrible pun alert: LSU is going to get a whiff of Bama tight end Brad Smelley in this game. The senior from Tuscaloosa was a major factor for the Tide down the stretch, catching a combined three touchdown passes from McCarron in Bama's last two games. As good as LSU's linebackers are -- and they're hellacious -- Bama's tight ends might make more of a difference than you'd think.
|7. Protecting the ball
The Tigers play a disciplined brand of football. Look no further than their turnover statistics. LSU is first in the FBS in fewest giveaways (8) and first in turnover margin (plus-22), as well. Given that the Tigers have deployed two QBs and four RBs, the offense's care with the ball is remarkable.
|7. No grass for you!
|6. Sweet as Honey
No cornerback since Charles Woodson of Michigan won the 1997 Heisman Trophy has captured the nation's attention like LSU sophomore Tyrann Mathieu. He became a Heisman finalist, the Bednarik Award winner (top defensive player), a ball hawk (two INTs, six forced fumbles) and a top punt returner.
|6. Point to prove
|5. Mo problems for Bama
The Honey Badger may be the most identifiable LSU player and a national award winner, but he's not even the best cornerback on the Tigers' defense. Junior Morris Claiborne won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back. Claiborne has size (6 feet, 185), speed (4.45 40-yard dash) and hands (six interceptions for 173 return yards and a touchdown). Because Mathieu has been on the other side, quarterbacks have had to throw at him. That's worked out well for the Tigers.
|5. Low freak-out factor
Experience matters, especially in national championship games. Bama has five starters who played in the Tide's championship victory against Texas in 2010: offensive tackle Jones, Barron, center William Vlachos and Maze and Hanks. And nine other Bama players, including Richardson, Smelley and Kirkpatrick, played but didn't start in that game. If you crunch the numbers, here's what you get: Forty-three Crimson Tide players remain on the roster from the 2010 national title team. Only eight LSU players remain from the Tigers' 2008 championship roster.
|4. Time on their side
Miles beat Saban in November when both teams had a bye week. Miles is 7-0 in season openers, including this year, when the Tigers soundly defeated No. 3 Oregon 40-27. And Miles is 5-1 in bowls, the lone loss coming to Penn State 19-17 in the mud bath that was the 2010 Capital One Bowl. Give Miles and his staff time, and they will find a way to beat you.
|4. Calendar is Bama's friend
Nothing against Miles (who, by the way, was my coach of the year selection), but if you took a poll and asked other coaches to name the guy to whom you'd least like to give 44 days' worth of prep time, Saban would be the winner. LSU's staff is outstanding, but there's something reassuring (if you're a Bama fan) about Saban having more than six weeks to devise a game plan.
Saban long has been one of the top defensive minds in the game. But LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is respected throughout college football. He spent 14 seasons running the defense at Tennessee, including the 1997 championship team, before coming to LSU in 2009. After coaching a unit on which 10 Tigers made first- or second-team All-SEC, Chavis won the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach.
|3. The Crimson wall
Have I mentioned that Bama's defense -- not LSU's -- leads the nation in rush defense, pass defense, scoring defense and total defense? Since the NCAA began tracking those stats in 1937, only one team (Oklahoma in 1986) has finished the season ranked No. 1 in all four of those categories. To repeat, the Tide defense has given up the fewest touchdowns in 2011: a grand total of nine. And it held LSU to TD goose eggs on Nov. 5.
|2. Red zone ready
LSU capitalizes on its opportunities better than Alabama does. The Tigers are 57-of-61 in the red zone this season, scoring 44 touchdowns and 13 field goals. Alabama is the only team that held LSU without a touchdown in the red zone, but the Tigers did convert three very important field goals. The Tide went 48-of-55 in the red zone this season. However, those 48 scores include 32 TDs and 16 FGs.
|2. Finding balance
Don't be surprised if McCarron is asked to do more than hand the ball to Richardson all night. "You keep adding with every quarterback," McElwain said. Translation: McCarron isn't the same quarterback he was two months ago. LSU is going to stuff the box like cream in a cannoli. Which means McCarron has to deliver. "I didn't play like myself last time," said McCarron, who has promised to be more emotional in The Rematch. Here's betting he will.
|1. Animal instincts
||1. Bama 17, LSU 16
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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