With an easy outright win by underdog Oklahoma State at Texas Tech in Week 10, the free Game of the Week feature is now 8-1-1 (89 percent ATS) on the season. This week, we will discuss what is probably the third biggest game of the weekend, yet still features two teams ranked in the top 13 in the BCS Standings (and the other two noteworthy games - Oregon @ Stanford and Oklahoma @ Baylor - take place on Thursday). In this rivalry game that has dominated college football headlines for three seasons, look for LSU's offense to do enough to keep the game within single digits. Since the start of the 2012 season, Alabama has allowed 71 points in two games to Texas A&M and 78 points to all other SEC teams combined in regular season games. However, it is the non-regular season SEC game from the past year that stands out as a game that could look similar to the outcome on Saturday. In the 2012 SEC Championship, Alabama defeated Georgia in a classic 32-28 shootout on a neutral field. On what might as well be a neutral field (more on that later), LSU looks like a comparable foe to 2012 Georgia for the Crimson Tide and a similar result is expected.
Playing against the 28th ranked schedule to-date, LSU is 7-2 straight-up and 4-3-1 against-the-spread on the season. The Tigers have wins over two teams - Florida and Auburn - that rank in the top 30 in our College Football Power Rankings and two losses, both on the road and both by a field goal, against teams - Ole Miss and Georgia - that rank in the top 20 in our Power Rankings. LSU itself comes in at #7 overall, six spots higher than the team is in the current BCS standings. While the Tigers have their normally aggressive and physical defense, which ranks 15th against the pass and 14th against the run, it's actually the passing offense that is the team's greatest strength. Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who made his presence known on the national scene with a great game against Alabama at home last year (24-of-35 for 298 yards in a 21-17 loss to the eventual national champions), has caught on quickly to new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's open attack. LSU currently ranks #2 in the country in our strength-of-schedule-adjusted passing efficiency metrics. Only Baylor is better at throwing the ball on a per-play basis. Though Alabama may have its best set of skill position players ever, the same could be said for LSU, especially on the outside where receivers Odell Beckham (48 receptions, 1,009 yards) and Jarvis Landry (58 receptions, 882 yards) may be the best duo at the position in all of college football.
Alabama is 8-0 straight-up and 5-3 against-the-spread and has played against the nation's 46th toughest schedule in 2013. For just the second week (though it is a second consecutive week) in the last 56 weeks that we have published our College Football Power Rankings (dating back over three years), Alabama is not our #1 team in the country (Oregon is). Alabama is still #2, though, and ranks in the top ten in overall defense, passing offense, rushing offense, passing defense and rushing defense. That's basically everything. Alabama is as complete and well-balanced as any team in the country. However, the team has struggled with big, physical receivers like Texas A&M's Mike Evans, and LSU has those type of players in Beckham and Landry. Also, Alabama is significantly better at defending the run than the pass. That may have been a problem for previous iterations of LSU's offense, but that's a positive for the Tigers in this case.
And lastly, home field advantage is essentially irrelevant here. LSU ranks 88th and Alabama 116th historically in home field advantage. This essentially means that the teams play about the same regardless of the venue. A neutral field game would yield a similar result in our expectations.
As Texas A&M and Georgia have proven in the past two seasons, attacking Alabama with multiple, physical weapons and a fast pace is the best way to stay in the game with the Crimson Tide. Look for LSU to do something like that to prove it belongs on the field with the nation's top ranked (according to the BCS) team. According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Alabama wins over LSU 64 percent of the time and by an average score of 33.9-25.0. As 12.5 point underdogs that lose by single-digits on average, LSU covers the spread 54.6 percent of the time, which would warrant a $23 wager from a normal $50 player. With as good as the LSU offense is this season (we've quickly come a long way from 2011's 9-6 game), the OVER (55) covers 55 percent of the time, strong enough to justify a $28 play from a normal $50 player.