The LSU/Alabama game has become one of the most well-known college rivalry games most likely to define the entire season. Since World War II, LSU and Alabama have met five times as two top-10 opponents. ItTomorrow will be the sixth. Currently LSU ranks second in the opening College Football Playoff rankings, while Alabama ranks fourth.
Alabama has won four out of the last five match-ups and eight of the last ten match-ups against the Tigers. So far the average score of a Saban/Miles clash is Alabama-24, LSU-17. It was 20-13 last year in Baton Rouge. Alabama managed a game winning drive to defeat the Tigers. This year in Tuscaloosa it could be a very similar story…but the question is which team will score the game winner?
LSU’s defense may not be up to par with other contending teams, ranking thirty-sixth in the defensive S&P+* rankings after finding themselves at number two in 2011, and at number three in 2007. Although LSU’s underwhelming pass defense numbers are especially worrying, it may not be an issue when they travel to Tuscaloosa. Not surprisingly, LSU’s offense ranks ninth in rushing, powered not only by the nation’s best overall running back and Heisman favorite, but also by quarterback Brandon Harris, who averages about five keepers per game at 5.6 yards per play. The Tigers run most of the time while only passing on 48% of downs. Although most other teams have given up running against Alabama, which faces more pass attempts than almost any other team in the country, LSU has a player who may tilt the odds in their favor. The Tigers have running back Leonard Fournette. This weekend might prove to be one of his biggest tests to date. Play well against Alabama, and he might as well start prepping for his Heisman speech.
Alabama’s defense ranks third in rushing S&P+. Last year on paper, the Crimson Tide defense was pretty good. They were number twelve nationally in total defense having yielded 328.4 yards per game and third in the SEC behind LSU and Arkansas. Only Ole Miss and LSU were better in scoring defense. Alabama was number 30 in passing defense, but don’t mention that to the Tide. Alabama’s offense has adapted pretty well also, playing at a top-40 tempo. One thing is for certain though, when LSU has the ball, Alabama will see a more balanced offense than they have become accustomed to seeing in recent years.
Whatever happens tomorrow, this will most definitely be the football game that everyone is expecting. This game is likely the closest thing to a College Football Playoff elimination game we will see this year. LSU may have the best player in the country, but Alabama of all teams has the defense to possible drag him down. Quarterback Brandon Harris may have to put the Tigers on his shoulders and have a break out game in order for LSU to leave Tuscaloosa with a victory and an inside track to the College Football Playoff. Who will you be pulling for?
*The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play and drive data of all 800+ of a season’s FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays).
The components for S&P+ reflect opponent-adjusted components of four of what Bill Connelly has deemed the Five Factors of college football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, and finishing drives. (A fifth factor, turnovers, is informed marginally by sack rates, the only quality-based statistic that has a consistent relationship with turnover margins.)