It's No. 1 LSU against No. 2 Alabama, and really, it doesn't get much better than this. In our weekly college football preview, Dave Shook previews the game of the week in Tuscaloosa. Locally, Boston College hosts Florida State on Thursday night.
WEEK 9 REVIEW
Just a few weeks ago it seemed as though we were headed for BCS Armageddon with a slew of unbeaten teams that would likely be the favorites in almost every game they played for the rest of the season. After this past weekend, we bid farewell to the national title hopes of two more of those unbeaten teams when Kansas St. was exposed by an angry Oklahoma squad, and Clemson (as predicted in this space) couldn't catch up to the triple option of Georgia Tech.
Elsewhere in the country, upsets and near upsets seem to be the theme of the day as Michigan St., and its impressive run of victories over unbeaten teams, came crashing back to earth when Nebraska drilled them in Lincoln to the tune of 24-3. The Spartans' up and down offense was largely neutered, while their questionable run defense was shredded by Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead.
One of the victims of the Spartans' recently-ended hot streak, Wisconsin, suffered a bit of a hangover from their first loss of the season. For the second week in a row, they were felled by an unlikely deep pass into the end zone, this time from Ohio St. quarterback Braxton Miller. After the Badgers had regained the lead, Miller rolled out to his right, and heaved the ball 40 yards across his body and into the waiting arms of receiver Devin Smith. The 33-29 win by the Buckeyes all but eliminated the Badgers from BCS contention and threw the doors to the Big 10 title game wide open.
Texas A&M continued its bizarre series of come from ahead losses, this time to unranked Missouri. If you've read this column before, you know that I think Missouri is far better than their record, and that their brutal schedule has done them no favors. After being competitive with the likes of Arizona St, Oklahoma, Kansas St., and Oklahoma St. (all but one on the road), they were well overdue to break through against a ranked opponent. After trailing 28-17 through the first three quarters, quarterback James Franklin came alive in the fourth quarter and overtime, rallying his Tigers to a 38-31 overtime win over Ryan Tannehill and the Aggies.
As for the close call department, Virginia Tech had to hold on for dear life against perennial ACC doormat Duke in the closing moments to avoid an ugly upset, Arkansas started slowly for a second straight week, this time against Vanderbilt, before rallying in the fourth quarter for a 31-28 win, and the game formerly known as the "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" came down to the closing moments when Georgia rallied past the Florida Gators for a rare win in the rivalry.
But easily the wildest game of the day took place in Los Angeles at the Coliseum. Stanford was hoping to put its name into the mix as a potential national championship contender with a big win over USC, but the Trojans weren't going to roll over. What ensued was one of the better offensive displays you'll see in college football this year. Future NFL-ers Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck masterfully navigated their teams up and down the field against previously solid defensive teams in a back and forth affair that looked to be over late in the fourth when Luck threw a game-changing interception to USC cornerback Nick Robey. Robey returned the gift to the end zone and gave the Trojans a 34-27 lead.
Noticeably angry on the sidelines, Luck marched his team right back down the field in two minutes, to set up the game tying touchdown by running back Stepfan Taylor. After Robert Woods was tackled in bounds on the final play of regulation, the clock ran out on the Trojans and off to overtime we went. After trading touchdowns in the first two OT's (including a brilliant catch by Cardinal receiver Levine Toilolo in the second), Stanford scored first in the third OT. While driving for the matching TD, Trojan running back Curtis McNeal fumbled the ball into the end zone. The Cardinal jumped on the ball, and Stanford had its first signature victory of the season over a strong USC club.
Despite there being a slew of good match-ups, there really is only one. Forget about No. 7 ranked Arkansas hosting No. 9 ranked South Carolina and No. 3 ranked Oklahoma St. taking on No. 14 ranked Kansas St., the only game that matters is the rare regular season meeting of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country: LSU and Alabama will tangle in Tuscaloosa in the SB Nation Boston Game Of the Week.
All games are scheduled for Saturday, November 5th unless otherwise noted. Times are EST.
Lock up the women and children because this one will not be for the weak at heart. These are two teams that are each powered by overwhelming defenses, each loaded with NFL caliber talent. Alabama has arguably the best run defense in the country with future 1st round picks Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw manning the linebacker spots. The secondary is no slouch either, as the Crimson Tide possess maybe the best cover corner in the country in senior Dre Kirkpatrick and heavy-hitting free safety Mark Barron. They'll match up with an LSU offense that, similar to Alabama's, is more efficient than it is explosive. Quarterback Jarrett Lee is wildly improved from his interception throwing ways of a few years ago, and the integration of Jordan Jefferson as a situational quarterback has given the Tigers a solid base from which to operate. Both have been relatively mistake free this year and are simply asked to keep from throwing the ball to the other team. With the aforementioned run stopping talent in the Alabama front seven, Tigers running back Spencer Ware will likely be limited, meaning that leading receiver Reuben Randle will need to find a way to win his one-on-one battle with Kirkpatrick and give Lee a target to throw to. The other receiving threat to watch will be Russell Sheppard. After being suspended the first three weeks, he's largely been a disappointment this season with just nine catches. This would be a great weekend for him to break out and have a big game and give them a multiple receiver attack that is desperately needed. Alabama will likely bring a ton of heat defensively to try and rattle Lee into some bad throws (leaving their corners in man coverage), so the offensive line needs to be up to the task and give him time to survey the field.
Turning the tables, the LSU defense might have even more talent than Alabama's. Their biggest strength (there really is no weakness) is clearly in the secondary where future NFL players like Brandon Taylor, Eric Reid, and Tyrann Mathieu are all capable of taking away the weapons in Alabama's passing attack. Mathieu in particular has been among the best in the country this year at his position and was a darkhorse Heisman candidate as recently as a few weeks ago. Trying to free himself from the shackles of the LSU secondary will be Alabama's leading receiver Marquis Maze. Maze won't be confused for the departed Julio Jones, but he's talented enough to make an impact and be a reliable target for quarterback A.J. McCarron. Coach Nick Saban has done a great job of keeping the passing game on track this year, but I think his receivers might be a little overwhelmed in this one. That would seem to indicate that running back Trent Richardson will be much more involved in the passing game than he has been to this point. Richardson is the engine that makes this team go, but like his counterpart Spencer Ware, it's going to be tough sledding running against this LSU front seven, defensive tackle Sam Montgomery in particular. Between Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, and Michael Brockers, the Tigers defensive line has decimated almost every offensive line they've seen this year without really blitzing. That's not to say they won't when the situation arises, but it hasn't been a requirement for Les Miles' team to disrupt opposing offenses. If Alabama is to move to the ball, they'll need to find ways to get Richardson the ball in space, so watch for Saban to move him around and even line him up on the outside occasionally. Toss sweeps, bubble screens, and a variety of play action out of different formations will likely be the order of the day to help the Tide try and move the ball.
History says that the team ranked second wins these match-ups more often than not for some reason, and with Alabama playing at home, it's understandable that some people keep leaning that way. I, on the other hand, don't think that the Tide have enough weapons on offense to challenge the LSU defense. McCarron has done a nice job this year, but he hasn't faced anything like what he'll see Saturday night. If they are unable to run the ball behind Richardson and keep the third downs manageable, McCarron is going to have to force some throws into the teeth of that secondary under an unrelenting four or five man pass rush. The Alabama defense will keep them in this game as long as they can, but I think LSU will be able to cobble together a couple of scores and keep the Tide out of the end zone for the most part.
Prediction: LSU 24, Alabama 16
UPSET SPECIAL (RECORD: 4-5)
James Madison Dukes (5-3) @ New Hampshire Wildcats (6-2) -- 12:00 p.m.
Towson Tigers (6-2) @ Maine Black Bears (7-1) -- 12:30 p.m.
William & Mary Tribe (4-4) @ Rhode Island Rams (2-6) -- 1:00 p.m.
Villanova Wildcats (1-8) @ UMass Minutemen (5-3) -- 3:30 p.m.
Brown Bears (6-1) @ Yale Bulldogs (4-3) -- 12:00 p.m.
Harvard Crimson (6-1) @ Columbia Lions (0-7) -- 12:30 p.m.
Princeton Tigers (1-6) @ Pennsylvania Quakers (4-3) -- 1:00 p.m.
Cornell Big Red (3-4) @ Dartmouth Big Green (2-5) -- 1:30 p.m.
Robert Morris Colonials (2-6) @ Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils (2-7) -- 12:00 p.m.
Bryant Bulldogs (5-3) @ Albany Great Danes (6-2) -- 1:00 p.m.
Sacred Heart Pioneers (5-3) @ Wagner Seahawks (1-7) -- 1:00 p.m.
Holy Cross Crusaders (4-4) @ Lehigh Mountain Hawks (7-1) -- 12:30 p.m.