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SEC Football: Previewing LSU-Alabama With Adjusted Stats

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Alabama rolls into Baton Rouge for a Saturday night game.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night features a game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers that will probably have playoff ramifications, as 'Bama is still holding on at No. 5 in Tuesday's playoff rankings. Alabama has held serve all season outside of losing in Oxford, and LSU's talented young squad has been on a tear since squeaking out their game in Gainesville a month ago. The majority of both fanbases are probably pleased with their respective seasons for the most part, but that could change for the loser's supporters as both teams are on the precipice of not competing for the national title. It's also a rivalry game airing in CBS' only Saturday evening broadcast. Playoff hopes (to different degrees) + natural rivals + Verne Lundquist = must see TV.

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Let's break down the F/+ numbers to see how these teams match up. F/+ rankings are comprised of the S&P+ ratings and the FEI ratings. This is how those ratings are described:

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams -- win or lose; and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.

The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from both play-by-play and drive data from all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are four key components to the S&P+

If interested, here is a glossary for additional use.

Lastly, the F/+ percentage ratings measure every team against a perfectly average team. So, if the F/+ rating of a team is 0 percent, that team is considered perfectly average by this rating system.

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Alabama and LSU Rankings
Measurement Alabama LSU
F+ Overall 5 (33.4%) 9 (27.8%)
F+ Offense 7 (18.1%) 19 (10.8%)
F+ Defense 6 (16.8%) 14 (14.0%)
F+ Special Teams 96 (-1.5%) 10 (3.1%)
FEI Overall 5 20
S&P+ Overall 1 (267.2) 8 (248.7)
S&P+ Rushing Offense 20 (126) 27 (121.9)
S&P+ Rushing Defense 1 (167.3) 19 (123.9)
S&P+ Passing Offense 2 (161.9) 11 (139.4)
S&P+ Passing Defense 18 (126.5) 5 (146.4)

Alabama looks to have the edge, according to these stats. Both S&P+ and FEI think better of the Crimson Tide, but LSU fields a better special teams unit. Alabama has the top-ranked rushing defense to thwart LSU's 27th ranked rushing offense, while LSU's rushing 19th ranked rushing defense is evenly matched with Alabama's rushing offense. LSU's 11th ranked passing offense does look to have a bit of an edge over Alabama's passing defense, and LSU's secondary looks equal to Alabama's passing attack.

Offensively, there's little secret to what Alabama wants to do. It will be throwing the ball towards Amari Cooper. Cooper will be targeted on short, intermediate, and deep passes and could turn any reception into a big play. He'll be the best receiver LSU's defensive backs have faced yet this season. Meanwhile, LSU's secondary also only allows 160 yards in the air per game. Something is going to give.

Alabama's run game may prove decisive. Alabama is averaging 218 yards per game on the ground, and just barely cracks S&P+ Top 20. LSU, meanwhile, allows on average 160 yards rushing per game this season. Ole Miss has a lower S&P+ rushing attack (32nd) but managed 137 yards rushing against LSU. Alabama stands a strong chance of matching the LSU's allowed season average behind its stable of elite running backs. The more effective Alabama runs the ball, the more opportunities Cooper will have as the game progresses.

LSU looks to have an advantage throwing the ball against Alabama's secondary. LSU's offensive staff have received some grief this season for, putting it simply, trying to force quarterback Anthony Jennings to run their pro-style offense without adapting more to his strengths. Despite those criticisms, S&P+ ranks LSU's passing offense as the 11th best in the country. This ranking comes despite only 20 passing attempts per game on average which is near the bottom of the SEC.

LSU makes up for the quantity of attempts with the quality. LSU averages 8.8 yards per attempt which is fourth best in the SEC. Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre both average over 23 yards per reception, and are legitimate threats. Dupre's fellow freshmen Trey Quinn and John Diarse have also started to get their footing, and are poised for breakout Novembers. Even running backs Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee are threats catching the ball out of the backfield. LSU doesn't throw often, but makes defenses pay if they cheat up to stop the run.

LSU's issue may be an inability to get the run game going. The Crimson Tide are holding teams to 75 rush yards per game this season which is far lower than any team LSU has faced yet, including Ole Miss. The adjusted stats show Ole Miss has the 7th best rushing defense, but LSU did manage over 250 yards rushing in that game, but against Florida's 24th ranked rushing defense they were "held" to 195 yards rushing. LSU should have success running beyond the average Alabama is allowing, but replicating the success against Ole Miss likely won't occur.

Despite Alabama's overall F+ advantage in two phases, Baton Rouge on Saturday nights is where teams go to have their season's expectations humbled. These stats show LSU is even with Alabama when Lane Kiffin chooses to pass or run. LSU also holds a significant advantage in special teams. Alabama on the other hand looks to have firm control containing LSU's rushing attack which may in turn disrupt big passing plays benefiting from play-action. Both teams have elite play-makers, though, and it only takes one play to break open what on paper looks to be a close, defensive struggle.