LSU Tigers (6-2, 3-1 SEC) at Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC)
When: 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT, Saturday, November 4, 2017
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, AL
TV coverage: CBS
All-time series: Alabama leads, 51-25-5
Last meeting: Alabama won, 10-0, on November 5, 2016
Odds (via oddsshark.com): Alabama -21; over/under 47
This doesn’t have the same luster it’s had in past years
It’s not just because LSU enters the game as a 21-point underdog. LSU has righted the ship in recent weeks, responding to a homecoming loss to Troy with three straight wins.
Still, in Alabama’s recent run of dominance over college football, the LSU game has almost always been the one game (aside from the Iron Bowl, obviously) that everyone pointed to that could be the spot where the Tide’s stranglehold over the West ended. But now, Alabama has won six in a row against LSU dating back to the 2012 BCS National Championship, and almost everybody assumes Alabama will make it seven in a row. People looking for a spot where the Crimson Tide might slip up aren’t pointing to this game; they’re pointing to next week’s trip to Starkville, Mississippi.
For the first time since 2004, LSU is ranked outside the top 15 entering the Alabama game, and it’s the first time since 2007 that either team has been ranked so low entering this game. Yes, CBS picked this game up as one of its few prime-time SEC broadcasts of the season — but that almost seems like it’s because of a lack of appealing options than anything else.
Still, LSU might be the best team Alabama has faced
Alabama is 8-0 and hasn’t really been challenged this season, and a look at their schedule might tell you why.
Ignore the names on the schedule. Alabama has played just two teams ranked in the S&P+ Top 40, and they’ve played zero teams that are currently ranked in the CFP top 25. The best team they’ve played this season is arguably Fresno State. Or maybe Colorado State. Those two and Texas A&M are the only teams they’ve played that currently sport a winning record. (Sorry, Florida State.)
Yes, Alabama has been dominant against that schedule, winning those eight games by an average of 33.2 ppg. And, of course, Alabama has earned a lot of benefit of the doubt over the years. Still, if Alabama has any weaknesses, have they even played anybody who’s good enough to expose them?
So, yes, since Florida State has turned out to be a complete dud, LSU is the first time we’ll get to see what Alabama can do against good competition.
Can LSU open up the passing game?
A big reason that LSU hasn’t been able to get over the hump in the past few years is that, basically, they’ve been trying to out-Alabama Alabama.
The one thing that’s consistently been problematic for the Tide in recent years — aside from the occasional Iron Bowl shenanigans -- has been teams with elite quarterbacks that can open up the vertical passing game or who can make plays with their feet. Alabama has lost seven games in the last five years, and those teams were quarterbacked by Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall, Trevor Knight, Cardale Jones, Chad Kelly (twice), and Deshaun Watson.
Aside from maybe Trevor Knight, Danny Etling doesn’t belong in the same sentence as any of those guys. While against most teams, handing the ball off to Derrius Guice and getting out of the way is a viable strategy, LSU has tried to beat Alabama that way in the past and it’s resulted in six consecutive losses. Etling is a reliable game manager, but he’s not the kind of quarterback who can win games for you. But he might have to beat that guy if LSU wants to win.