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January 9, 2012

College Football Report - 2011 Bowl Picks - Allstate BCS National Championship Game:

Allstate BCS National Championship Game

#1 LSU (13-0) vs. #2 Alabama (11-1)

V S.

8:30 PM, ESPN, Monday, Jan. 9, New Orleans, LA

Every so often a game comes around with the feel of a heavyweight title fight. You can feel the tension, the magnitude and the intensity like no other game. That was the case on November 5 when the LSU Tigers traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tigers won, in overtime, in a touchdown less 9-6 bout, a testament as to how good these defenses really are. In a bowl season, and regular season, where offensive records were broken and set, where yards and points were placed on the scoreboard like high-score pinball numbers, it’s only fitting that defense and discipline will settle college football’s National Championship. On November 5, the intensity of the game and dedication put into it was on display in true definition. It’s time for the rematch.

Quarterback: Quarterback was a touchy subject heading into the season for both teams. The Tigers began the season with senior Jarrett Lee as their starter, after fellow senior Jordan Jefferson was suspended following a bar fight. Lee held the reins for the first eight games of the season, before turning them over to Jefferson. The two combined for 1,990 yards on the season with 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Jefferson adds escape ability, as well, adding 248 yards and three scores on the ground. For the Crimson Tide, first year starter AJ McCarron has manned the position all season long. The sophomore passed for 2,400 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season, with just five interceptions. McCarron has added a comfort level and consistency to the offense many didn’t think the Tide would have in 2011. Advantage: Alabama

Backfield: Each team goes about their own way of getting yards on the ground in a different way. In the case of Alabama, a workhorse is given the majority of the carries and let loose. For LSU, it’s a shared and open backfield, where the hot hand his rewarded. The Tide’s workhorse is none other than Heisman finalist Trent Richardson, who rushed for 1,583 yards this season and 23 total touchdowns. The Tide also give it off to sophomore Eddie Lacy, who accumulated 631 yards and seven scores this season. For LSU, four tailbacks brought in at least seven scores on the season. The Tigers top two carries, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, combined for 1,455 yards and 15 touchdowns. Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard add to the mix, as well. The Tigers may not have the big name the Tide make use of, but they’re equally imposing come gameday. Advantage: LSU

Receivers: Neither team brings a deep rotation to the table, but each has a skilled wideout they can rely on in a pinch. For the Tigers, it’s 6’4’’ junior, Rueben Randle. The lone playmaker in the Tigers receiving core brought in 50 catches for 904 yards on the season and eight score. Randle accounted for nearly half of the Tigers receiving yards on the season. Wideouts Odell Beckham and Russell Shepard have proved to be reliable receivers, but they've failed to be consistent throughout the year. Alabama’s No. 1 wideout has been a key part to the offense for three years now. Senior Marquis Maze brought in 56 catches for 627 yards on the season, though he scored just one touchdown. It was the third straight year in which Maze brought in 500 or more yards. To go along with Maze, Alabama gets the ball to wideout Darius Hanks and tight end Brad Smelley, who combined for 587 yards on the year. Advantage: LSU

Offensive Line: The Tide and Tigers may not be more evenly matched in any other position than along their offensive lines. Each team brings in All-SEC and All-American performers. For the Tide, their lead lineman is junior offensive tackle Barrett Jones. A unanimous All-American selection this season, Jones won the Outland Trophy, award to the nation’s best lineman. The Tiger’s top lineman this season goes to guard Will Blackwell. The senior garnered numerous All-American honors. Other All-SEC selections include Alabama center Will Vlachos, LSU tackle Chris Faulk and LSU tackle Alex Hurst, voted upon by the coaches. Each side is nearly dead equal in sacks given up and yards rushing on the ground this season, but the Tide have seemed to play with an edge along the line like no other team. Advantage: Alabama

Defensive Line:
Possibly college football’s most underrated unit, the LSU Tigers defensive front is half the reason its group of All-American defensive backs were able to do what they did this season. The unit contains three All-SEC performers, one of which isn’t even a starter. Defensive end Sam Montgomery even brought in All-American
recognition after bringing in 44 tackles, 13 for a loss and nine sacks. Sophomore end Barkevious Mingo started just three games on the season, but managed 41 stops, including 13.5 for a loss and eight sacks. The remainder of the group is made up of tackles Michael Brokers and Bennie Logan and end Kendrick Adams. The group has yet to allow a 100 yard rusher on the season. The Tide’s three man run stopping front is made up of three technique ends Jesse Williams and Damion Square; with nose Josh Chapman holding down the front. The three combined for just 2.5 sacks on the season, but did most of their work outside of the stat sheet. Advantage: LSU

While the Tigers may get most of their physical presence and defensive dominance from their front four, the Tide bring one of the best linebacker cores in the nation. The group is led by All-American middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower. As a junior, Hightower led the team in tackles with 81, finished with 9.5 stops behind the line and three
sacks. He sets the tone for the defense with his smarts and bone jarring hits. The Tide’s quarterback pressure comes from outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. The 265-pound senior brought in 45 stops, including 17 behind the line and 8.5 sacks. Middle linebacker Nico Johnson and outside man Jerrell Harris round out the top four. They’ve help lead the nation’s No. 1 rush defense, giving up just 74 yards a game on the ground and three scores. For LSU, Ryan Baker and Kevin Minter have been the glue to a solid, yet unspectacular, core of linebackers. The two combined for 113 stops on the year. Advantage: Alabama

ary: No position may be harder to award to the other than the defensive backfields of each team. For the Tigers, their leading defender is freelance cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. A Heisman finalist, Mathieu, AKA the “Honey Badger,” did a bit of everything for the Tigers, leading the team in tackles with 70, while bringing
in 6.5 stops behind the line and 1.5 sacks. He intercepted two passes and broke up another seven, forced six fumbles, recovering five and returned two for touchdowns. Leading the Tigers in interceptions was All-American corner on the other side, Morris Claiborne. As a junior, Claiborne brought in six takeaways for 173 yards, returning one for a score. The Tide is led by an All-American candidate of their own in safety Mark Barron. The 6’2’’ senior finished the year with 66 stops and two interceptions. Defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick became a shutdown corner this season, bringing in nine pass breakups on the year, while often being avoided by opposing quarterbacks. Advantage: LSU

Special Teams: In a game that very well could come down to special teams, like the first meeting did, whichever team plays better here has the upper hand. In the first matchup, it was the LSU Tigers walking away with the better special teams on the day. That’s the way it’s been all season for the Tigers, though. Punter Brad Wing gained All-American honors with his 44.1 average, including 23 kicked inside the 20 yard line. Kicker Drew Alleman garnered All-SEC honors after connecting on 16-of-18 field goal attempts. Return specialist Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu combined for three scores on the year. For Alabama, it’s all about Marquis Maze. The kick and punt returner for the Tide, Maze combined for 726 yards and one touchdown on the year. Kicker Jeremy Shelley went 16-of-20 in field goals this season , with long distance kicker Cade Foster adding 2-of-9 on the year. In the first meeting, though, the two combined to go just 2-of-6. Advantage: LSU

Each coach brings a different mentality and style to the table. The Tide, led by Nick Saban, has bee
n one of the most prepared teams in college football over the last five years. From the gameplan, to the discipline the players bring to the table, Saban always has his team ready to play. For LSU and grass eating head man Les Miles, things feel a little more laid back on gameday. While Miles has a moxy and must win attitude on the sidelines like Saban, he doesn’t seem to be as intense. Miles is surrounded by strong coordinators, particularly defensive coordinator John Chavis. There’s something about giving Saban over a month to prepare for a game, though. Advantage: Alabama

And the winner is… It’s going to be a black-and-blue match any way you look at it. Another field goal filled shootout can be expected, although a touchdown or two should be expected as well. The defenses dominated the first meeting, with each team coming away with less than 300 yards of total offense. Turnovers are key in any game, but in a game where three field goals can win the game, they’re huge. The Tigers rank No. 1 in the country in turnover margin with 30 takeaways on the season, compared to just eight turnovers. While the Honey Badger and the LSU front will need to contain Richardson on the ground, Randall and the LSU passing game will need to make some plays in order to win the game. Special teams will go a long way, though. In a game of field position, a big punt return can be the difference between winning and losing. Les Miles, who is 4-0 in BCS games in Louisiana, gets the upper hand over Saban and gets his second national title. Pick: LSU 16 – Alabama 12

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