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Fearless prediction: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama

Saturday, No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama (-4.5), 8 p.m. (CBS)

Henry’s pick: Just how close is LSU to Alabama and vice versa? LSU is ranked second in the country in scoring defense and Alabama is ranked first. LSU is 13th in the country in scoring offense and Alabama is 12th. So what’s the difference? LSU’s run to the top of the polls has been most impressive because of its strength of schedule. As simple as that sounds, it’s true. The Tigers handled an excellent Oregon team, they won at West Virginia and Mississippi State and destroyed Florida and Tennessee. Simply put, this LSU squad is used to these types of hyped up games. What gives LSU the edge is its versatile offense. Jarrett Lee has done fine under center, while Jordan Jefferson has made his presence felt recently. Lee and Jefferson both completed long touchdown passes in LSU’s 45-10 thrashing of Auburn two weeks ago. This doesn’t mean Alabama doesn’t have a chance. The Crimson Tide is more than capable of getting the win. With the hometown crowd behind it, Alabama’s defense is chomping at the bit. But will Nick Saban’s crew have the offense? Alabama won’t be able to run against LSU’s defense, which means A.J. McCarron will have to ignite the passing game. Look for LSU to pounce. LSU 27, Alabama 24

Rose’s pick: Game of the year. Game of the century. Armageddon. Label this monster game whatever you wish. The bottom line is that LSU and Alabama are clearly the two best teams in the country and the entire nation can witness the classic 1 vs. 2 showdown in primetime. It’s certainly no secret that both teams have strong defenses. Alabama is strong and physical, while LSU is fast and skilled. Alabama has the top-ranked defense in the country, allowing just 180.50 total yards per game. LSU is fifth nationally (251.38 yards per game). One big key for Alabama is to establish its running game early with Trent Richardson and its large and physical line. Richardson has 989 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s averaging 124 yards per game and had six straight 100-yard games before last week’s 77-yard effort in a blowout win over Tennessee. Sophomore Eddie Lacy is also capable of getting some key carries and pounding away at the LSU defense. LSU will want to shut down Richardson and force A.J. McCarron to beat them with his passing. LSU is third nationally in rushing yards allowed (76.63 per game). If that’s the case, LSU’s big-play secondary, led by Tyrann Mathieu, could be the difference. McCarron has been steady this season, completing 67 percent of his passes for 1,664 yards and 10 touchdowns. LSU is also going to need to establish its running game with Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. Watch out for the running of Jordan Jefferson, who could be a factor when he subs in for starting quarterback Jarrett Lee. Lee has been very good this season, managing the game and avoiding mistakes. Lee has thrown 13 touchdowns with just one interception. The Tigers appear to have the slight advantage with offensive weapons. The combination of wide receivers Rueben Randle, Russell Shepard and Odell Beckham should be an area of concern for Alabama’s defense. Alabama’s rush defense, however, is even better than LSU’s. Alabama is allowing just 6.88 points per game and just 44.88 yards per game, best in the nation by a large margin in both categories. LSU is third in the country in both scoring defense (11.5 points per game), and total defense, giving up just 76.63 yards per game. These teams are so evenly matched that it’s not easy to pinpoint where the game will be won. Turnovers could be a factor. Alabama has turned the ball over just eight times this season. LSU has turned the ball over just three times and has the second best turnover margin in the country (1.88). Special teams will also be a big factor, especially in the battle for field position with not many points expected. LSU is 31st nationally in kickoff yardage defense (19.78 per return) and Alabama is 32nd (19.93). LSU is fifth nationally in net punting (43.89 per punt). The Tigers are also fourth in punt yardage defense, allowing just seven total yards on 11 punts this season. Another interesting matchup will be the coaches. Alabama’s Nick Saban will likely stick to a conservative game plan. LSU’s Les Miles has been a risk taker in the past. It will be interesting to see if Miles tries to do some different things in the game. My view is that the game will ultimately be won in the trenches. If Alabama can control the game with Trent Richardson and the offensive line, then the Crimson Tide will win. Alabama 17, LSU 14
 

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