In case you've forgotten amid all the hype, this is technically not a play-in game for the national championship. The team that wins here still has a few obstacles to overcome before it can start making hotel reservations in New Orleans (for the national title game, though the Sugar is still possible for either).
Details, details. The winner here will be favored in each of their games, up to and including the SEC championship bout in Atlanta, and will be about as sure a lock as you can find to run that table and make its way onto the sport's biggest stage. If every week is really a playoff in college football, then this is a semifinal.
Alabama leads the SEC in eight major statistical categories. LSU leads in four more. Only one team on the schedule has held the Tigers to fewer than 35 points, and only two have lost by fewer than 28; those numbers for Alabama are two (because they defeated Vanderbilt 34-0) and two.
So why do I feel like LSU is such a clear favorite in this game? Not in Vegas, perhaps, just in the way I feel about this one. I don't think it will be an overwhelming win, mind you -- if anybody wins by more than a single score, I'd be more than a little bit surprised. But if you were ask me to give you a percentage likelihood that LSU would win the game, it would be a good stretch north of 50 percent.
Part of it is the strength of schedule. I see easy wins over Oregon, West Virginia, Auburn and Florida as better than Alabama's top four -- Arkansas, Penn State, Florida ... and, who? Tennessee? And while I don't like to rely on the computers too much, Jeff Sagarin backs me up on this -- LSU has the 18th-highest strength of schedule, while Alabama's checks in at 39th.
Alabama fans have pointed to the difference in the raw statistical rankings between the two teams, but that doesn't account for the difference in the competiton. I'm not sure how you can come up with that kind of "weighted" standard if you wanted to, but I have a hunch it would go LSU's way if you could.
It's not so much that I think Alabama is a paper Tide -- far from it. If this were any other team in the nation, I would probably give Alabama a huge advantage. And maybe there's part of this that comes from having not seen Alabama play as much, because they haven't been in as many high-profile games (and my travel schedule has kept me from seeing some of the Tide's bigger matchups). But LSU looks to me like a team that's explosive, powerful and dangerous.
So I'm going to go with my instincts on this one. For now, the team in the driver's seat for the SEC's berth in the national championship goes to the Bengals.
LSU 24, Alabama 20