Alabama-LSU and Oregon - USC (November 3, 2012)

ALABAMA AND LSU SQUARE OFF AGAIN WITH BCS CHAMPIONSHIP RAMIFICATIONS

They played each other twice last year...with Alabama winning a regular season wrestling match over LSU in overtime...then looking much more dominant in a rematch for the BCS Championship in January. Sports bettors must now determine what has changed from last year to this year...and what possible changes LSU can make to get points on the board.

First, let's take a shorthand look at last year's meetings:

ALABAMA 9, LSU 6 (in overtime)
Total Yardage: LSU 239, Alabama 295
Turnovers:  LSU 2, Alabama 2

It's easy to forget now that Alabama missed FOUR field goals (three in regulation) in a game where neither team could score a touchdown. The Tide were getting the best of it in terms of moving the ball. They just couldn't turn that yardage edge into a scoring edge until they survived extra time. A brutal game to watch. But, it was brutal because both teams had national championship caliber defenses.

ALABAMA 21, LSU 0
Total Yardage: LSU 92, Alabama 384
Turnovers:  LSU 2, Alabama 0

This was actually a more one-sided game than the final score makes it seem. LSU could barely tie its shoes. Alabama was in complete control from start to finish, making a run at 400 total yards against a very strong LSU defense. There was no doubt once eight quarter and extra time were in the books. Alabama owned score board 30-6, and total yardage 679-331.

So...THAT'S the backdrop heading into Saturday Night's nationally televised encounter on CBS. Let's see what our indicator information suggests about the most anticipated regular season game of the 2012 college football schedule.

ALABAMA at LSU in (8 p.m. on CBS)
Las Vegas Spread: Alabama by 9, total of 42.5

Home field advantage is usually worth three points in college football, though LSU is known to get more than that in prime time games on this field. That means the market is saying Alabama is at least 12 points better than LSU on a neutral field...and possibly a bit more. That's actually in line with last year's results. Alabama won 30-6 over two games...which is +12 points as a per-game average. Knowingly or not...the market has settled on the premise that not much has changed since last year's meetings. The pointspreads have changed...but that's the market catching up to the reality Alabama demonstrated.

CURRENT BCS RANKINGS
Alabama: 1st
LSU: 5th

It depends on who you ask...some people will suggest that Alabama is off on an island by themselves at #1...which the teams just behind them like Oregon, Kansas State, and Oregon truly more like #5-#10 caliber teams. The market certainly has Alabama on an island compared to LSU...who's a respectable #5 even with a loss to Florida on its resume. Alabama is very likely to coast home undefeated if they survive this test (though Texas A&M is no rollover, and the SEC East champion is going to show up with an attitude). The math says one of the two BCS entries will be determined in this game. And, there's an outside shot that we're talking about LSU...because a one-loss Tigers team would grade out very well with Alabama's scalp in its hand.

HEAD COACHES
Alabama: Nick Saban
LSU: Les Miles

It's generally accepted that Saban is the best coach in the colleges by a mile in terms of putting all the pieces together. He recruits very well...teaches very well...builds an NFL style defense with athletes...and does enough on offense to put his team is the title mix every year. Miles does some of those things, but is enough of a riverboat gambler to blow things up every so often. Sometimes that's a gamble that puts his team over the top. Sometimes it's a bad mistake that reeks of recklessness. The edge goes to Saban...but there's always going to be a bit of gamble to any Les Miles coached game.

QUARTERBACKS
Alabama: A.J. McCarron
LSU: Zach Mettenberger

McCarron isn't flashy, but gets the job done within a safe context. Saban wants game managers and McCarron manages fine. Mettenberger has been a relative disaster this year, particularly against good defenses. He's likely to be extremely overmatched by the Alabama defense...just as LSU quarterbacks were last year while scoring only 6 points in eight quarters plus overtime. The only reason this isn't an "of course you take the defensive home dog" automatic bet is because Mettenberger may not get much of anything on the board. It's easy for favorites to cover spreads in the 8-12 range if the underdog isn't going to score.

LAST WEEK'S BOXES

ALABAMA 38, MISSISSIPPI STATE 7
Total Yardage: Mississippi State 256, Alabama 414
Rushing Yards: Mississippi State 47, Alabama 179
Passing Stats: Mississippi State 19-36-1-209, Alabama 17-24-0-235
Turnovers: Mississippi State 3, Alabama 0
Third Downs: Mississippi State 31%, Alabama 36%
Vegas Line: Alabama by 21, total of 44

Alabama has a knack for building an advantage than sitting on the lead with their great defense. That makes it hard for raw stats to truly capture the greatness of this team. The final score is a better representation of Alabama's dominance in this game. The stats condense the advantage because Alabama worries more about clock than boxscore production once they get way ahead. The keys to focus on here are rushing yardage (179-47 in dominant fashion) and turnovers (0-3 thanks to a QB who manages games well). Alabama beats you at the point of attack. Well, they HURT you at the point of attack in a way that you never forget. Can LSU dodge the pain?

(LSU had a bye last week, this is their most recent game)

LSU 24, TEXAS A&M 19
Total Yardage: LSU 316, Texas A&M 410
Rushing Yards: LSU 219, Texas A&M 134
Passing Stats: LSU 11-29-0-97, Texas A&M 39-56-3-276
Turnovers: LSU 0, Texas A&M 5
Third Downs: LSU 13%, Texas A&M 38%
Vegas Line: LSU by 3.5, total of 51

The good news is that LSU won on the scoreboard...at the point of attack...and in the turnover category. The bad news is that they didn't really do much beyond forcing turnovers and hoping they could turn that into points. If you can only convert 13% of your third downs against A&M, what's going to happen against Alabama?! The passing line was very poor too. Mettenberger threw almost 30 times but couldn't reach 100 yards in the air. Good luck running on Alabama.

BEST EXPECTATION
The best expectation based on what's in the past is that LSU has no hopes of moving the ball and scoring points vs. this Alabama defense. If you're going to bet LSU...that's because you think Les Miles has some trickeration up his sleave...or because you think the LSU defense can force enough turnovers to keep the score low and within striking range. Betting the dog means you expect a defensive battle of field goals where LSU gets some field position breaks thanks to home field advantage and creative coaching. Betting the favorite means you think LSU will be lucky to pass 10 points, while Alabama can coast into the 20's again.

It's not an exaggeration to say that JIM HURLEY has been handicapping this game since the BCS title tilt ended last year. He knew these teams would be playing again. It wasn't outrageous to think that both might end up 1-2 again based on who was returning from last year's teams. LSU lost a honey badger before the season started (amidst other trials and tribulations), which lessened that likelihood. But, it didn't lessen the resolve NETWORK had for picking the winner in the most anticipated college football game of the 2012 regular season.

We've posted this preview a day early because the game is so important. You'll have to check the home page of this website Saturday morning for the final word on whether or not this game qualified for major release status of TV Parlay consideration. You can build your weekend bankrolls Friday Night with Washington/California in the colleges, and the best from an NBA schedule that includes Houston-Atlanta, Milwaukee-Boston, Miami-New York, and LA Clippers-LA Lakers.

If you have any questions about NETWORK service, click here or call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on seasonal basketball rates so you can win seven days a week. Don't forget that college hoops is just around the corner!

Back with you Saturday to preview the Oregon-USC game set for prime time on ABC. The blockbusters are on the big screens...and you want to cash your winning tickets!

OREGON'S FIRST REAL BCS TEST OCCURS ON ROAD AT SOUTHERN CAL

Through no fault of its own, Oregon's strength of schedule just keeps getting easier and easier. And, what was once a dangerous late season gauntlet may not be enough to push the Ducks in the BCS championship game even if they do run the table.

But, a test is still a test...and flunking it will look even worse now!

Saturday Night's game at Southern Cal (to be nationally televised by FOX in prime time) is Oregon's first real test of the season in terms of big time talent. Oregon and Arizona State had the potential to be a threat...and was a test in terms of "environment" coming on the road in the desert in a national TV game. That was a laugher because ASU isn't in Oregon's class. At least now, Oregon is facing somebody who has a chance to hang with them.

The problem is, maybe NOBODY in the Pac 12 can hang with Oregon...and they're so far from hanging with Oregon that the Ducks will be penalized by their soft slate.

  • Southern Cal lost last week at Arizona, suffering their second conference loss of the season already. The popular Preseason pick to win the BCS Championship is now a home underdog of more than a touchdown to the team everyone out West should have been backing all along. If Oregon beats USC handily, they simultaneously look great but knock the Trojans out of the BCS Top 20.

  • California seemed like a potential threat back when they were crushing UCLA. They've fallen apart in recent weeks, and are a longshot to provide much of a thrill next week in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Oregon State was upset by Washington last week, ending the potential for two undefeateds playing in a regular season finale rivalry game. Oregon-OSU will still be a war of course...but it may not be a war that gives the Ducks a boost past the likes of Kansas State or Notre Dame if those teams remain undefeated.

  • The eventual opponent in the Pac 12 Championship game may enter that matchup with THREE league losses. Good luck getting any juice out of that.

Rock and a hard place. If Oregon dominates down the stretch, they build on the perception that they're playing in a weak conference. If Oregon doesn't dominate, they don't look like championship material.

At least Stanford still looms as a truly meaningful foe on November 17th. We're assuming for now that we'll be previewing that game for you on these pages in two weeks!

In this moment...it's time to preview Oregon/USC in the second most anticipated college game of the week behind LSU-Alabama (which we previewed for you yesterday).

OREGON at SOUTHERN CAL (7 p.m. ET on FOX)
Las Vegas Spread: Oregon by 8.5, total of 70

The line opened at Oregon -5.5 or -6 depending on where you were looking offshore. Sharps (professional wagerers) were surprised USC wasn't penalized more for the weaknesses that were exposed in the Arizona loss, and jumped on the Ducks. Smart money drove the line all the past a full touchdown. The public loves betting TV favorites anyway...so the line just kept rising. Maybe the oddsmakers get the last laugh. Or, maybe the guys behind the line who loved USC before the season started will get spanked again for another misread. You can see that a high scoring shootout is expected with that big total. Oregon plays fast. USC tries to strike for big plays. Could get wild.

CURRENT BCS RANKINGS
Oregon: 4th
USC: 17th

We're not amidst the group of analysts who believe Oregon is better than Alabama. But, so little separates Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame right now that it's okay with us if you think of all three of those teams as co-number two's. The "official" rankings have the Ducks at #4, and now well ahead of plummeting Southern Cal. As is the case with all "plummeting" teams, you can't be sure where they really rank until they hit bottom. USC has been inconsistent enough this year that they may not even be top 25. That being said...they're good enough to score an upset at home with a few breaks. That's what BCS Chaos is all about.

HEAD COACHES
Oregon: Chip Kelly
USC: Lane Kiffin

Kiffin was getting a lot of positive Preseason run when it was incorrectly thought that he had built a national championship contender. Now, the wolves are out again because he's supposed to have too much talent to struggle this much vs. expectations on a regular basis. Kelly's not struggling. In fact, Kelly has managed to keep his team looking great while holding back! Oregon has been CRUSHING teams in the first half this year, then resting its starters. That should have kept this fresh for this late season gauntlet that may not turn out to be much of a gauntlet anyway. We not only give the coaching edge to Kelly here...we understand that it may be a coaching mismatch in terms of X's and O's and true leadership. How many sideline interviews do we have to see with Lane Kiffin where he keeps saying his players make too many mistakes? Coaches are supposed to fix that!

QUARTERBACKS
Oregon: Marcus Mariota
USC: Matt Barkley

Barkley is no longer Andrew Luck II, but is still seen as a guy who can shine at the next level because of his pedigree. He didn't shine enough against Stanford and Arizona when it counted...so you can't assume he's going to be the ultimate difference-maker here. Mariota is still a work in progress because he has to sit so much each week. Defenses are certainly having trouble dealing with his versatility. His weakness is in the air...so USC must contain his runs and force him to pass. Both of these guys are going to impact the game. Mistakes by either could determine who wins and covers.

LAST WEEK'S BOXES

OREGON 70, COLORADO 14
Total Yardage: Colorado 245, Oregon 617
Rushing Yards: Colorado 150, Oregon 425
Passing Stats: Colorado 14-27-0-95, Oregon 14-28-0-192
Turnovers: Colorado 2, Oregon 1
Third Downs: Colorado 15%, Oregon 67%
Vegas Line: Oregon by 46, total of 68

It's a shame Colorado falls in this spot since the Buffaloes are so horrible. But, most Oregon games end up looking something like this because that's how they play. Oregon makes everyone look like Colorado! Note that Oregon still only completed 50% of its passes against a non-defense.

ARIZONA 39, SOUTHERN CAL 36
Total Yardage: USC 618, Arizona 588
Rushing Yards: USC 125, Arizona 219
Passing Stats: USC 31-49-2-493, Arizona 27-51-1-369
Turnovers: USC 5, Arizona 1
Third Downs: USC 45%, Arizona 35%
Vegas Line: USC by 5.5, total of 68

This is an ideal boxscore to study because Oregon is a much more potent version of Arizona. USC's problems? They were outrushed badly. Having to throw the ball all the time led to a turnover debacle. Throwing downfield all the time led to 18 incomplete passes. Arizona is so shaky they could only turn those factors into a nailbiter win. Oregon will win by at least three touchdowns if they almost double USC on the ground and win the turnover battle like that. Southern Cal will have to play its best game of the year just to hang with Oregon, let alone think about springing an upset.

BEST EXPECTATION
The best expectation based on the visible evidence is that Oregon will determine its own fate. If they play sharp, and force mistakes from Barkley...then it's an easy cover on top of being a win. The problem is...Oregon's schedule has been so soft this year that we may be looking at one of those teams that runs up the score on inferior opponents, but shrivels up when the other guy doesn't  blink. Remember, Oregon was very good last year but lost at home to USC. The New England Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl in a while, nor the Yankees a World Series. Maybe this is the game where a true champion is showcased...or maybe it's the game where a pretender is dealing with its first real chance of being exposed.

JIM HURLEY knows how excited you are about the marquee games on the card this week. That's why he's been working so hard on Oregon-USC and Alabama-LSU. Check here Saturday morning for big play bulletins regarding the games everyone's talking about. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Don't forget to check on early bird basketball rates. The NBA has already started and college basketball tips off Friday!

Back with you Sunday with a stat preview of Dallas-Atlanta in an NBC Sunday Night game that is sure to make headlines. Now...proceed immediately to JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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