By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) It’s the biggest game ever… again.
Yup, just two months after the BCS took credit for creating the most important regular season game ever, the same exact game is being played again, of course proving that the first game really didn’t mean that much.
OK, I’ll set aside my BCS complaints for another day. The truth is, no matter what you think about the BCS and who should and should not be playing in tonight’s BCS National Championship Game, we got a good one. LSU and Alabama are two extremely good and evenly matched teams and tonight’s game promises to be an epic battle.
Let’s take a look at who has the edge:
None of the quarterbacks in this game are elite, but LSU’s Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee are two seniors who have more experience and play-making ability than Alabama’s AJ McCarron.
It’s pretty simple, the Crimson Tide have a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist in Trent Richardson and LSU does not. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware split carries for LSU and both average 58 yards per game on the ground.
There’s not a huge advantage here for the Tigers and we’re starting to see why there were only 15 combined points in the first meeting between these two teams. LSU’s Rueben Randle has had the best season out of any receiver in this game and true freshman Odell Beckham, Jr. can be dangerous too. For the Tide, Marquis Maze is their go-to guy, but Darius Hanks and Brad Smelley can make plays too. If you need further convincing, Randle has eight touchdowns on the season and Maze only has one.
Neither tight end is a huge weapon in the passing game, but Alabama’s Brad Smelley is more dynamic in the red zone and leads the Tide with four touchdown catches. LSU’s Deangelo Peterson only has 17 catches on the year, but the Tigers don’t go to the tight ends as much.
Both lines are good, but Alabama’s is a little better. Alabama left tackle Barrett Jones won the Outland Trophy this year and center William Vlachos is the best center in the SEC. LSU left guard Will Blackwell was a second-team All-American and right tackle Alex Hurst is pretty good too. LSU allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC, but overall, the Tide’s line has more experience and opens up bigger holes in the running game.
Surprisingly, these defensive lines are not as dominating as they have been in recent years. LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery was a third-team All-American though and was probably the best defensive lineman in the SEC this year. Defensive tackle Josh Chapman is Alabama’s biggest weapon on their line.
There’s probably not a scarier blitzing linebacker in the country than Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw who racked up 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. And yet he might be the second best linebacker on the team. Upshaw was a second-team All-American while Dont’a Hightower was a first-teamer. The Tide has a sizable advantage at this position. Ryan Baker and Kevin Minter are solid linebackers for LSU, but they aren’t quite the same playmakers.
LSU has earned the reputation of having the best defensive backfield in the country, but Alabama’s secondary isn’t far behind. LSU’s Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu are elite cornerbacks, but keep an eye on Alabama corner Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron tonight. Still, Claiborne and the Honey Badger are the kind of playmakers who can singlehandedly win a game like this. LSU gets the nod.
If you saw the first game between these two teams, you know Alabama lost because it couldn’t make a field goal. Meanwhile, LSU might have the best punter in the country in Brad Wing, and Claiborne and Mathieu can both make game-changing plays in the return game. LSU has a sizable advantage here, and as we saw in the first meeting, it’s the kind of advantage that can determine the outcome of the game.
Both Les Miles and Nick Saban are very good coaches, but I have to give the nod to the guy who appears to have a better handle on what’s going on at all times. Miles is known as the Mad Hatter because he has gotten away with some crazy luck in recent years, but hey, it works. Plus, he likes to eat grass. This is a close call, but I give a small advantage to Saban because I’ve spent a lot less time scratching my head over his moves.
The Verdict: As you can see, these teams are very evenly matched. That said, LSU is the best team in the country and they’ll still be the best team in the country after tonight. The Tigers have already beat two teams that won BCS games this year (Oregon and West Virginia) and they already beat the Crimson Tide. Alabama is a very good team, but LSU has more playmakers. Combine that with a little home field advantage in New Orleans and the Tigers will win.
Let’s call it LSU 24, Alabama 21.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.