Nick Saban is fond of Michael Jackson, so we chose an MJ opus for the title of this post, as Nick’s present team, the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC), hosts Nick’s former team, the #1 LSU Tigers (8-0, 5-0), at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night. This Turkey has nothing to write about this week, as it is a Penn State bye week, so I’m writing about this game, the latest “Game of the Century.”
Between the Tigers and the Tide, Saban coached the NFL Miami Dolphins. Before LSU, Saban did wonders for Moo U. For a guy who likes only three bands/artists (the Eagles, Michael Jackson, and Al Green) and who annoys his wife by playing the same three over and over again, Saban has sure had a distinguished coaching career. You don’t get to the absolute top of your coaching game by being single (or triple) minded.
It appears to this Turkey that the winner of this vaunted, overhyped game should be able to cruise right into the BCS SSMNC game. That’s theoretical, of course, because surprises can and do happen. But both teams have a relatively easy regular season schedule, with the possible exceptions of the always dangerous rivalry games (Arkansas (7-1, 3-1) vs. LSU and Auburn (6-3, 4-2) vs. Alabama). The SEC East looks to be pretty tame this year, with South Carolina (7-1, 5-1) and Georgia (6-2, 5-1) tied for the lead, which means that the SEC championship game should be just another practice game for either the Tigers or the Tide. And with so many pundits placing these two schools so many miles beyond the rest of the BCS contenders, THIS COULD BE IT! The SSMNC, early edition, right here.
This game probably won’t live up to its hype — which “Game of the Century” ever has? — as it reaches a new zenith every day. Over 600 sets of media credentials have been requested for the game, requiring that Bryant-Denny Stadium to increase the available media area. The normal media count for an Alabama SEC game is around 450.
Yeah, this is the hot ticket. Several former LSU players who Saban coached have requested tickets from him. His administrative assistant tells them, “I can’t put you in the Alabama section if you’re going to be cheering for LSU.” They respond, “No, we’re fans of Coach Saban.”
Saban has that kind of charisma. His bonds with former players are stronger than the players’ bonds with their alma mater. That’s one reason why his $32 million, eight year coaching contract is one of the biggest in not only college football, but also the NFL. Those kind of bucks have bought the Alabama faithful a 51-11 record under Saban.
Les Miles is no slouch, either, as his $3.75 million annual contract (plus bonuses) would have one believe. Having coached the Oklahoma State Cowboys to become perennial bowl contenders in the Big 12, he was hired at LSU when Saban left for the NFL. Miles was also one of the rumored candidates for the Michigan job when Rich Rodriguez got his ass canned there. (R-Rod has since written a book called “Three and Out”. I don’t think I’ll buy it.) Miles has strong ties to Big Blue, having played and coached there under the legendary Bo Schembechler. Miles was also a contender for the head coaching job at Michigan in 2007, after Lloyd Carr retired, but he bowed out of consideration, stating that he wanted to continue as head coach of LSU. Since showing up during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Miles has compiled a 70-17 record there.
Why am I dwelling so much on coaching? Because I think it will come down to which team is better prepared and makes better adjustments. The coaches are the key here.
LSU has to figure out how to generate some offense against Alabama’s stingy defense. Alabama ranks #1 in Rushing Defense, Pass Efficiency Defense, Total Defense, and Scoring Defense. They’re giving up under seven points per game. With a secondary as fast as Alabama’s, it might not be too wise to throw against them, but LSU’s junior WR Rueben Randle has the size (6’4″ – 208) to make plays even when tightly covered. Senior quarterback Jarrett Lee can deliver the goods if Randle seizes the advantage. Meanwhile, Alabama has allowed only 44 yards per game rushing. (Penn State managed to get just over 100.) Sophomore running back Spencer Ware will have to find a way to penetrate that staunch defense. Good luck, mah man!
Meanwhile, junior running back Trent Richardson has led the rushing attack for Alabama to a 14th best 229 yards per game. Richardson himself should go over 1000 net yards in this game. LSU’s rushing defense is allowing 77 yards per game. Alabama’s passing attack, led by sophomore quarterback A. J. McCarron, lost Julio Jones to the NFL, and thus, does not have the oomph that it had last year, assuming that we know what the hell “oomph” is. The Tide’s passing offense ranks #63 and it will face a stingy LSU pass defense, ranking #10 in the nation.
It’s going to be a defense oriented game, obviously, where coaching will be the make or break influence.
And so, so as not to exacerbate the hype with a lot more drivel here, we’ll go immediately to the Official Turkey Poop Prediction for The Game of the Cen-tu-ryyyyyyyyyy. Alabama, playing at home, is currently favored by 4.5 points with an over/under of 41.5. I don’t think either team has seen defenses like they’re about to see. I’m committed to the “under” here. I also think that the spread is too wide. I don’t know why I think that. I just do. Alabama 20, LSU 17.