Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Only one Game of the Century on Saturday


Let's get right to it: The breakdown of The Game Of this Century.

(Still can't get over Nebraska-Oklahoma, 1971. Let Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson tell you.)

What, you expected in-depth analysis of Houston-UAB?

TRich: Trent Richardson is how Alabama wins the game. If he is slowed, injured, turns it over, the Tide's chances are diminished significantly. Alabama's tailbacks are one area where the Crimson Tide have an obvious advantage. Inside College Football on Richardson's impact

Until this season I had my doubts whether Richardson could run consistently between the tackles. Now I feel embarrassed and ashamed for even thinking that way. It will be up to Richardson to establish the running game so that AJ McCarron has some room for play-action. If not, then the Tigers will pounce.

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Richardson is motivated. It was in this game last year that he tore an abdominal muscle and knee ligament after being hit by LSU'S Patrick Peterson.

"It's always in the back of my head that these guys took me out and I had to sit two more games after that," TRich said. "I know they're going to try to take me down. I need to put a chip on my shoulder and make sure we keep driving on these boys."

Point spread: A team does not want to trail by more than a touchdown in this game. Beyond, the obvious -- it's hard to come back against an elite team -- this figures to be a low-scoring game. Falling behind by more than seven would mean the trailing team would have to take chances. That would unleash one of these fearsome defenses. The first offense that has to go (somewhat) one-dimensional is going to face something like this.

That said, I don't think there will be more than a touchdown's difference for the entire game. If there is, LSU is most vulnerable. It is on the road and has trailed for all of 6½ minutes this season. Fun fact: Only three of the last 11 1 vs. 2 matchups have been decided by a touchdown or less. Alabama's defense for the ages

The defenses: To me, the biggest factors in this game almost cancel each other out. Alabama may have eight future pros, but LSU has underrated playmakers all over the field. Also, don't discount the return of Tyrann Mathieu. Feldman on ''Bama's defense

So how to move the ball? I already mentioned Richardson. LSU isn't quite as physical with Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. Both offenses, then, are going to have to take calculated risks to gain an advantage. LSU-'Bama offensive comparisons

To break it down we approached celebrity analyst Dan Mullen. The Mississippi State coach lost to LSU earlier this season 19-6 and hosts Alabama next week.

Mullen: "One of the things we tried to do with [LSU's defense] was limit as many play-making opportunities that they had. We said, 'Let's try to play the field-position game and not take chances. Make sure we're not turning the ball over.' You didn't want to get into an athlete shootout with them.

"Their offense, they are not a wide-open high-scoring offense. They are content to grind the game out. They'll make a play or two. That's what both of those teams do so well. Saturday night, I don't know if one team is superior to the other. If they played 10 times, you might have 10 different results.

"Who is going to make the least number of mistakes? Which receiver is going to jump up? Which defensive back makes the interception?"

The trick plays: Les Miles has been known to call a few. The famous toss reverse sweep to tight end Dangelo Peterson on 4th and 1 from 'Bama's 26 helped clinch last season's win over the Crimson Tide.

You can imagine how that sits with Alabama. I say look for LSU's Russell Shepard. The junior receiver was suspended earlier this season and seems to be almost a forgotten part of the offense. He has touched the ball only 16 times all season. He remains arguably the fastest guy on the field. It would be in LSU's best interests to get him the ball in space. LSU confident as big games approaches

End around? Screen? Flea flicker? Will Alabama be ready?

Fan Poll

Which team wins the big SEC West showdown?


Total Votes: 57,494

The coaches: Nick Saban is the best big-game coach in the game. Miles is the most unpredictable and completely underrated. You can bet both have something for the other that we haven't seen. Saban and Miles on Saturday's showdown

The Mad Hatter showed me something last year when he squeezed a great game out of Jordan Jefferson against Alabama just when Tiger Nation was down on him the most.

After years of Alabama wandering in the desert, Saban duplicated what he did at LSU -- telling everyone to get the hell out of the way and setting the program on a course for national dominance. The Tide aren't going away anytime soon. Saban vs. Miles remix

"I think Alabama was just a diamond waiting to get shined," said Josh Booty, who played on Saban's first LSU team in 2000.

The intangibles: Decibels, what decibels? Alabama is 25-1 in its last 26 home games. How much louder can it get? ... Alabama has played in five of the 45 1 vs. 2 games. LSU has played in one (2007 BCS title game) ... LSU leads the country with only three turnovers lost, and has 18 takeaways with as many as six games left. ... The Tigers went the month of October without turning it over and have turned it over only three times all season ... The last five 1 vs. 2 games have been played by only six teams, three of them from the SEC (Florida, Alabama and Auburn) ... Alabama has won its last nine games by at least 16 points, a school record ... 'Bama leads the country in three-and-outs (7.1 per game). Staples on Alabama's mental approach

The prediction: This is a first-one-to-20 type game. Alabama is favored by 4½. Three of those points come from just being at home. That means that 'Bama is 1½ points better on a neutral field which sounds about right.

LSU is No. 2 in turnover margin. McCarron has thrown one interception since opening day. Alabama has won its games by an average of 32½ points. The Tigers have had a tougher schedule. Alabama has two shutouts and held five opponents to single digits.

Richardson runs for 120. The defense picks off Jarrett Lee late and turns it into the game-winning points. Jeremy Shelley kicks a 53-yard field goal at the gun.

Alabama 20, LSU 17. Prequel to The Sequel. Bring on the rematch.

Scouting the Nation

Wait, there are other games?

The SEC's unpublicized secret: In separating themselves from the country, LSU and Alabama obviously have separated themselves from the SEC as well.

Outside the big boys, the Strength Everywhere Conference isn't that good this season. The East is awful. South Carolina is becoming unwatchable and is without its best player (Marcus Lattimore). Georgia has won six in a row over teams with a combined record of 21-27 (one of those FCS Coastal Carolina).

Once it started playing quality competition, Florida lost four in a row. Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt? The point here is let's not get too excited about South Carolina-Arkansas Saturday night. If it wasn't for the league chasing a sixth consecutive title, the SEC this season is sliding toward the O-word -- overrated. Pregame: South Carolina-Arkansas

Cowboy up: Now that Kansas State has been exposed and Oklahoma State has clearly established itself as the Big 12's best team, expect some epic numbers against the Wildcats in Stillwater.

Well, epic for the Cowboys who are 8-0 for the first time since 1945, sporting their highest-ever November ranking (No. 3) and about to post a school-record, fourth-consecutive nine-win season.

This is relevant because Oklahoma State controls its BCS title game fate. Even if they win out, the assumption is the Cowboys aren't going to be jumped by an undefeated Boise or Stanford ... or the loser of LSU-Alabama. Pregame: Kansas State-Oklahoma State

Overshadowed: I lied. I am mentioning Houston-UAB.

I caused a small stir this week having Houston's Case Keenum No. 1 on my Heisman list. That's nothing compared to what television is doing to Keenum's candidacy Saturday night. Houston will be kicking off against UAB in Birmingham an hour before LSU-Alabama game. The over/under on attendance at Legion Field starts with the security guards. Hey, at least it's homecoming.

Keenum needs 267 yards to pass Hawaii's Timmy Chang on the NCAA career passing list. He should get it by halftime.

The A&M Upchuck: It's not an involuntary reflex, it's Texas A&M's second-half performances.

Just to update everyone: The Aggies (at Oklahoma) have blown second-half leads of 17, 18 and 11 this season -- all in the state of Texas. Maybe coach Mike Sherman should think about bleeding some clock if he's up at halftime. Cyrus Gray is available. The Aggie tailback is only the sixth Big 12 player to rush for 6,000 yards.

One wise-guy hack last week tweeted, "Texas A&M is the best three-loss team in the country. That's not meant as a compliment." Pregame: Texas A&M-Oklahoma

And on the Left Coast: Oregon travels to Washington in one of the most underrated rivalries around.

It has been populated by blowouts, accusations, even Rick Neuheisel -- when he was a hot coaching candidate.

This one goes back to when Oregon was putrid -- yes Gen Ys, it's true -- and Washington was going to Rose Bowls. This time the Ducks are trying to stay spotless in the Pac-12 before meeting Stanford. Take a good look at Husky Stadium. This will be the last game in the crumbling old relic before a multi-million dollar renovation. Pregame: Oregon-Washington

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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