The Game: LSU Tigers at Alabama Crimson Tide, Nov. 7
What's at Stake: Positioning in the SEC West. As the Big XII South taught us last year, you can't call any game among three relatively equal contenders an elimination game. But this one could be for Alabama if they fall short against Ole Miss a few weeks earlier in Oxford. And a loss by LSU here would make the later game against the Rebels a make-or-break tilt, eliminating the Bayou Bengals' margin for error.
Where It Falls on LSU's Schedule: Between Tulane and Louisiana Tech -- even if the stakes weren't as high as they obviously are, this would be no one's definition of a trap game. In fact, the Tech game shapes up to be a potential pitfall for the Tigers, with the trip to Tuscaloosa on one end and the the journey to Oxford, followed by the home game against Arkansas, on the other.
Where It Falls on Alabama's Schedule: Between a bye before the game and at Mississippi State and vs. Chattanooga on the other end. In other words, about the best possible place. The Tide will have already played Virginia Tech, Florida International, Norht Texas, Arkansas, at Kentucky, at Ole Miss, vs. South Carolina and vs. Tennessee. After the Western Division Bulldogs and the Mocs, it'll be off to Auburn for the season-ender against the other Tigers.
What Happened This Past Season: Rashad Johnson picked off Jarrett Lee three times -- he would have been tied for LSU's third-leading receiver -- including a key interception in overtime that allowed Alabama to then win the game, 27-21, on a John Parker Wilson sneak. It was not exactly an offensive showcase -- the quarterbacks were a combined 28-of-65 and averaged 6.1 yards per attempt between them. LSU actually outgained the Tide by 29 yards.
What Will Decide the Game This Year: Probably defense again. Neither of these teams look to be an offensive powerhouse, and we all know about Alabama's defense. You have to believe John Chavis will have LSU's D playing better as well.
LSU Will Probably Win If ... They can keep the ball on the ground. The last thing you want is to have Jordan Jefferson flinging passes into the Alabama secondary -- though it would also help if Charles Scott can find some room around Mt. Cody. The key will be not just keeping Alabama close on the scoreboard, but having the ability to actually gain ground by running instead of watching Scott bang his head into a brick wall.
Alabama Will Probably Win If ... The offensive line can hold up against LSU's defense. The Tigers are still stacked with talent on the front seven, even if some of that talent hasn't lived up to expectations. Keeping Greg McElroy standing and giving Mark Ingram room to run should be enough to score three TDs or so, which might be all it takes.
Conclusion: Even though they return more starters than the Tide -- particularly on defense -- I can't shake the feeling that the Bayou Bengals are a bigger question mark this year.
No. 3 -- Georgia vs. Florida (Jacksonvile)
No. 4 -- LSU at Ole Miss
No. 5 -- Florida at LSU
No. 6 -- LSU at Georgia
No. 7 -- South Carolina at Georgia
No. 8 -- Tennessee at Florida
No. 9 -- Auburn at Tennesee
No. 10 -- Kentucky at Vanderbilt