I have a great amount of respect for Brett McMurphy, my colleague here at CBS. The guy has broken more news on all the conference realignment stuff than anybody this year. I'm proud to work with him. Which is why I can say, respectfully, that he's going to be flat-out wrong about this one. LSU coming into Tuscaloosa and beating Nick Saban's team? Sorry, I'm not buying that one.
I've seen a lot of LSU this year. A ton actually. Seen them more than any of the other top 15 teams in the country. I spent a week with the West Virginia staff as they poured over Tigers film for hours upon hours, probing for any weaknesses they could unearth leading up to their matchup with LSU in late September. Then I had a chance to see that scary display of speed and aggressiveness up close from the sidelines when they beat the Mountaineers by 26. In a word, the LSU D is awesome. But having seen and said all that, I still will be very surprised if LSU can come into Tuscaloosa and beat the Crimson Tide. That's how nasty and tough I believe Nick Saban's team is.
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I will concede LSU's defense has probably been even more impressive than 'Bama's higher ranked group, given that the Tigers have faced much better offenses than the Crimson Tide == short-circuiting the explosive Oregon attack, destroying Dan Mullen's MSU offense and holding the WVU pass game to only 21 points on the road were all eye-catching performances == but they haven't matched up against anyone as physical as 'Bama. The Tide's O-line is much better than anything else LSU has faced. And nobody has a powerhouse runner like Alabama's Trent Richardson. It's not like Penn State doesn't have a very good defense with a great D-line, and Richardson got 100 yards on them in Happy Valley. Florida had the nation's No. 5 run defense (allowing under 57 yards a game) before Richardson and 'Bama came to Gainesville in early October. Richardson had more than three times that many rushing yards by himself.
I don't expect Richardson to run wild on LSU the way he has against the Gators and Ole Miss and Arkansas, but he will wear down the Tigers defense, which isn't quite as big or as physical as Saban's.
LSU's offense has been a pleasant surprise. Jarrett Lee has a lower interception ratio than any of the top 40 QBs in the country. Jordan Jefferson, LSU's other quarterback, has been very sharp too. They also have a lot more options in their backfield. LSU has more big-time, ready-for-prime-time running backs than any team in America. But who is running on 'Bama, at least for more than a series or two?
As former NFL GM Phil Savage pointed out in my story about the Crimson Tide defense, the biggest difference with this team now is that Saban has so much confidence in his players, especially in the secondary where he can get a feel for what the opponent's game plan is, then make shrewd in-game adjustments and shut it down.
And don't think that the 'Bama D didn't hear LSU's DeAngelo Peterson say the 'Bama linebackers were "slow." OK, well technically, Courtney Upshaw, one of 'Bama's 270-pound 'backers, said Wednesday night he hadn't heard the tight end's comments, but when he was informed of them by the media, he didn't respond. He really didn't have a chance before an Alabama spokesman interjected. Well, Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and the rest of the Tide linebackers will get their chance to respond Saturday.
Of course, we know LSU will come with a few curveballs. This is, after all, what Les Miles does in big games. Miles is a wiz at that stuff and at getting his team focused amid a lot of distractions. Nothing he does shocks me anymore, and I say that with a great amount of respect. But my hunch is 'Bama forces the Tigers into few more mistakes than vice versa and Richardson has a game similar to what he had in State College == a good, productive, workman-like game moving the chains while the aura of invincibility about Saban's latest defense grows.
I had a mediocre week, going 9-9 against the line, dropping me to seven over .500 vs. the number this year. The good: picking picking OU to hammer K-State. The bad: picking Tennessee to upset South Carolina. The ugly: picking Clemson to handle Georgia Tech. This week's guesses:
Arkansas 24, South Carolina 17: The Hogs were fortunate to get a W against Vandy last week. They'll be sharper this week, although this figures to be another game where Tyler Wilson's toughness is showcased. Pregame: South Carolina-Arkansas
Oregon 43, Washington 37: As much trouble as I expect the Dawgs D to have with the Oregon speed, expect Steve Sarkisian to keep the Ducks off balance with Chris Polk doing a lot of damage. Pregame: Oregon-Washington