NEW ORLEANS — Let me first make a bold prediction about tonight’s Bowl Championship Series national title game: There will be not one but two offensive touchdowns – gasp! I also foresee a non-offensive touchdown and – no surprise here – a handful of field goals in this replay of the so-called “Game of the Century” on Nov. 5.
This may be a rematch between unbeaten Louisiana State and Alabama, but I don’t envision a carbon copy of that no-touchdown, turnover-plagued overtime game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. As we have seen before – most notably when Ohio State played Florida a few years ago in Glendale, Ariz. – a long layoff could dramatically affect both teams. It is almost like this is a new season.
When you tune in tonight, you are guaranteed to see an incredibly physical game. There won’t be many offensive players running freely like we saw in the high-scoring Orange, Rose and Fiesta bowls. But the game is bound to break open at least a little bit offensively. Let’s hope for at least one touchdown, right?
Alabama running back Trent Richardson had success on the ground (80 rushing yards) in the first meeting against a defense that is extremely deep on the line and in the secondary. I expect Richardson to cobble together similar numbers tonight. The question is how well sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron will play after admittedly missing some reads and open receivers in the first meeting. Alabama does not have a Julio Jones at receiver, although Marquis Maze can be a deep threat. The problem for Alabama, of course, is that LSU has an ultra-athletic secondary that includes two first-team All-Americans in cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. Look for tight end Brad Smelley, who has contributed more later in the season, to perhaps be an X-factor.
It’s important to remember that LSU had some success with the option after quarterback Jordan Jefferson replaced struggling Jarrett Lee in the first meeting. Jefferson started the remaining regular season games. Alabama players appeared a little edgy this week with all the questions about how they planned to contain the option. Jefferson is a capable passer at times, particularly when he gets out of the pocket. But LSU managed just 91 passing yards in the first meeting, and it is unlikely that it will beat Alabama through the air. Jefferson’s ability to run and how LSU uses a stable of four running backs will be the key against the nation’s top-ranked defense that includes the nation’s best linebacking corps. Alabama was prepared for the option in the first meeting, they say, but expect Alabama to be better prepared to stop it this time.
It is difficult to go against Alabama Coach Nick Saban when he has had 40-some days to prepare for a rematch of a game that his team has lost. But look at the other sideline, where that grass-eating, clock-mismanager Les Miles stands. Can you really go against the Mad Hatter in a big game? There are sure to be new wrinkles thrown in by both coaches. Does Miles have the nerve to call a fake field goal, behind-the-head bounce pass like he did a few years ago during the regular season? Don’t put it past him.
In the end, a game between two evenly matched teams could be decided by a single special teams play. And it’s difficult to argue that the special teams edge does not go to LSU, and not just in the return game. LSU punter Brad Wing can place the ball anywhere he wants on the field, a skill that could dictate field position all night.
I was told hotels are at about 99.8 percent capacity in New Orleans, which has been overflowing with LSU, Alabama and Saints fans for days. Mix them together in the wee hours of the morning and it’s, well, an interesting scene with the crunching of broken glass under your feet, odors that you’d like to forget and the sight of some fans, beverage in hand, going belly up right in front of you (from what I hear, of course). The game can’t be as sloppy as the nightlife. My call is for LSU fans to leave the Superdome late tonight and ravage the French Quarter once again to celebrate their team’s third BCS national title in the last 10 years.
Prediction: LSU 17, Alabama 13