SEC can’t lose as Alabama, LSU vie for national title

It’s finally here – the BCS national championship game. Or, as Southeastern Conference fans call it, the SEC title game, Part Deaux.

The SEC will claim its sixth straight national title at the conclusion of an epic rematch between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama.

Les Miles’ undefeated Tigers nipped Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, 9-6, in overtime on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Miles is looking for his second national title; Saban is after his third.

Not a lot has changed since the November meeting. The same 22 players that started for Alabama against LSU the first time also started the Tide’s rout of Auburn in the regular-season finale.

The only significant change in LSU’s lineup is at quarterback. Jarrett Lee started against Alabama, but was quickly replaced by current starter Jordan Jefferson. It’s unquestionably Jefferson’s team now.

Alabama (11-1 overall, 7-1 SEC) is No. 1 in total defense; LSU is No. 2. So a shootout is unlikely. Neither offense amassed 300 yards or reached the end zone in the first meeting.

Special teams might be the difference again, and LSU has the advantage. The Crimson Tide missed three field goals in the first game.

This is a historically close championship game with Las Vegas sportsbooks listing the pointspread at Pick ‘em in late December. No BCS National Championship Game or Super Bowl has ever had a closing line of Pick ’em.

LSU has played the toughest schedule in the nation. The Tigers’ opponents are 78-44. Alabama’s opponents went 68-45.

Alabama running back Trent Richardson led the Tide in rushing and receiving against LSU. He’ll need some help from sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron and a receiving corps that lacks a go-to guy for the Tide offense to have a better showing this time.

In his first year starting, McCarron has been solid, but unspectacular. He completed 66.7 percent of his pass attempts with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. He hit 16 of 28 passes against LSU with an interception.

Even if Alabama’s offense struggles, its defense is very capable of keeping the Tide in the game. As many as five starters are projected to be early NFL draft picks, led by like strong safety Mark Barron and star linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw.

Kicker Jeremy Shelley has made 16 of 20 field goals with a long of 37. He has missed both his attempts of 40 yards or longer.

The LSU (13-0, 8-0 SEC) defense is equally talented, featuring a loaded secondary led by game-changers Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu.

Offensively, Jefferson, a dual-threat, has been a sparkplug. He was suspended the first four games for altercation outside a Baton Rouge establishment and was used sparingly behind Lee until the Alabama game. The Tigers averaged 44 points with Jefferson starting their last four games.

Don’t underestimate LSU’s advantage on special teams, which includes punter Brad Wingo. LSU is allowing .35 yards per punt return, thanks to Wingo’s booming hang-time.

Kicker Drew Alleman has made 16 of 18 field goals and is 3 of 3 from beyond 40 yards.

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