Kevin C. Cox
Tonight's game will be close and (with any luck) will boast a higher score than either of last year's contests. But that doesn't mean that the winner isn't already clear
The only reason for Alabama fans to be nervous about this game is that they are such clear-cut favorites nearly everywhere you look. Because there's almost no reason on the fundamentals for Alabama to be nervous about this game, and it's for a very simple if counterintuitive reason: Alabama is one of the best offenses that LSU has faced all year, and they pair it with the best defense in the nation.
That's not to say that the game won't be close -- I think it will be. But all close games are not coin flips. And while it's not trivial to note that the game is in Baton Rouge at night, there's only so much of a difference that the evening air in Louisiana can make.
LSU's problem is the same problem that teams like Florida and South Carolina have had: Their defense is absolutely great, and the Tigers probably have the best of those three teams. But the offense is terrible, and LSU might just have the worst of those three teams. Florida has certainly spent the last couple of weeks contending for the title, but right now I think LSU still has the edge.
Of course, that doesn't in anyway override the fact that LSU beat South Carolina, and did it in the same nighttime Death Valley environment that Alabama will walk into tonight. But Alabama is better than South Carolina, both on offense and defense. And South Carolina remains the only quality defense against which LSU has scored more than 20 points this year. In fact, the Tigers have played four SEC games so far and been held to fewer than 14 points in two of them.
Meanwhile, no defense of any caliber has held Alabama to fewer than 30 point this year. Of course, the Tide hasn't faced a defense that's anywhere near as good as LSU is this year -- one of the reasons why Alabama is currently fourth in the SEC in total offense. But with AJ McCarron and the Tide defense on one side, and the LSU defense and Zach Mettenberger on the other, it's hard to come up with any reason that LSU's homefield advantage will do much more than make the game look closer than it will be.
Alabama 21, LSU 20