Nothing could be better for college football than a matchup of Top 5 teams in one of the greatest settings in the sport. The only element missing in Baton Rouge next weekend is the belief that the home team actually has a chance to win the game.
The countdown is on for Alabama’s visit to LSU on the first Saturday in November. Combined, the two teams have gone 15-1 this season. LSU alone has wins over ranked teams Miami, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State. Three of those opponents were undefeated and ranked in the Top 10 at the time LSU beat them.
The Tigers have come alive behind a stout defense that has stars at every level and a gritty quarterback who is on his way to earning his Bayou name, Jeaux Burreaux (for now he’s simply Joe Burrow from The Plains, Ohio).
Both Alabama and LSU control their own destiny in their pursuit of the SEC West title, the overall SEC championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
ESPN GameDay will be there to provide the hype. CBS will be on hand to televise the game.
But does all the hype feel a little too forced? Is it all just make-believe that this is going to be the most exciting game of the college football season? Do observers really think LSU has a legitimate chance to pull off the upset?
The experts in Las Vegas certainly have their doubts. More than a week before kickoff, Alabama is a two-touchdown favorite. That’s much less than the 29 points the Tide was favored by in its last road game at Tennessee, but it’s still a substantial number.
College teams that are 14-point underdogs win those games only 14.9 percent of the time. That win percentage drops to 6.3 when a team is a 17.5-point underdog. I expect the Alabama-LSU line to settle somewhere between those two numbers.
So, is there reason to believe LSU could overcome those daunting odds and pull the upset? Or, the better way to phrase the question might be to ask if Alabama is going to allow LSU to hang close long enough to pull off the upset in the fourth quarter at a raucous Tiger Stadium.
Among the dozens of crazy stats about this Alabama team, this one may be the most amazing: Georgia is second in the SEC in scoring at 39.0 points per game. Alabama is averaging 38.7 points in the first half alone. Overall, the Tide is scoring more than 15 points per game more than second-place Georgia.
Alabama has scored a touchdown on every opening drive this season. LSU will be without Devin White in the first half while he sits out a suspension for targeting, so that certainly doesn’t help the Tigers’ chances of stopping that streak.
The Tide has sucked the life out of opponents — and college football in general — by playing with a double-digit lead during 82 percent of all game time this season.
This LSU team, on the other hand, has proven to simply be a bunch of winners who are easy to love. Despite a loss at Florida, the Tigers have risen to No. 4 in the country without the benefit of explosive offensive playmakers such as Leonard Fournette or Odell Beckham Jr.
Defensively, it’s been nice to see former Murphy High star Neil Farrell emerge as a very effective player on the defensive line for the Tigers, who do have plenty of star power.
I want this to be a great matchup. For the sake of college football, LSU needs to at least show there are some chinks in the Alabama armor, even if the Tigers can’t pull off the upset.
Here’s the truth ESPN and CBS and all the national media hyping this game and this season don’t want to admit: It may well be that LSU has a better chance to beat Alabama next week than any team left on the Alabama schedule — and that includes the postseason.
This is the only true road challenge on the Alabama schedule. No matter all the gaudy stats Alabama has accumulated, LSU is not going to be intimidated or lose the game before the opening kickoff like so many teams in the past.
The only serious teams left on the Alabama schedule — Mississippi State, Auburn and potentially Georgia in the SEC Championship Game — have already proven they aren’t as good as LSU.
Notre Dame would be no more a challenge for this Alabama team than the team that made the national championship game and was humiliated by the Tide.
Clemson could certainly offer a challenge and even a great offense like Oklahoma would be an interesting matchup against the Tide.
But, factoring in the home field advantage at Tiger Stadium, none of those teams has a better chance to derail the Tide than the Bayou Bengals. Can they do it? The odds say no. But all the hype leading up to the game will certainly make most of us believe just enough to be glued to the game next weekend.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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