Just days after the first College Football Playoff rankings were released, two of the top four teams will be squaring off in Tuscaloosa, Ala. No. 3 Alabama (8-0) hosts No. 2 LSU (8-0) in a marquee matchup that may be the game of the year in college football.
Here is a preview of Saturday’s game, along with odds and a pick.
Almost one year ago to the day, these teams went head-to-head in Death Valley. However, Alabama was dominant from the start, shutting out LSU in a 29-0 rout. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns, while Damien Harris ran for 107 yards and a score.
Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow couldn’t get anything going against the Crimson Tide’s stifling defense, throwing for 184 yards and an interception. LSU was also held to just 12 total rushing yards.
Why LSU Will Win
This year has been the coming-out party for Burrow. The senior quarterback has thrown for 30 TDs and just four interceptions with a dazzling .788 completion percentage. That’s a massive increase from last year when he threw for just 16 TDs on a .578 completion percentage with about 120 more pass attempts.
Case in point, Burrow’s rise from game manager to potential first-round pick in the NFL Draft has been the difference-maker for LSU’s perfect season.
What’s even more impressive about the Tigers is who they have beaten as well. They beat a tough Auburn team two weeks ago with Burrow completing 76 percent of his passes and gaining over 300 yards. They also beat Florida earlier this season, with Burrow putting up similar numbers with the addition of four touchdowns.
Whenever they have been challenged, the Tigers have been able to hit big plays to stay in control of the game, with their defense having enough talent to be able to hold leads.
Meanwhile, Alabama has yet to play anyone overly impressive. They have one win against a ranked opponent, a road win against then-No. 24 Texas A&M. Through eight games, LSU has already played and beaten Texas on the road and Florida and Auburn at home, with all three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time.
While Alabama is the toughest test the Tigers have had or will have for the season, they know they’re good enough to beat elite teams.
Why Alabama Will Win
The big question for Alabama coming in is the status of Tagovailoa. Listed as “questionable,” coach Nick Saban expressed confidence earlier this week that his quarterback would be ready to go. If he plays, Alabama will field one of the few signal-callers in the country better than Burrow.
Tagovailoa is following up last year’s campaign as a Heisman finalist with another great year, throwing 27 TDs to just two picks with a .747 completion percentage. Assuming he plays, he will present a great challenge for LSU, which got torched for over 400 yards and four touchdowns by Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
But if Tua can’t play, and Mac Jones is the starter, Alabama still has the luxury of sending out multiple NFL-caliber receivers. Jerry Jeudy is a projected top-10 pick in next year’s draft, and yet he’s second on the team with 682 yards and eight touchdowns to Devonta Smith, another elite talent. Those two, combined with Harold Ruggs III, form the best receiver trio in the nation, putting the pressure on the LSU secondary.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Alabama without mentioning their elite defense. The Crimson Tide blanked Burrow and LSU completely last year on the road, and now they face them at home. While the Tigers are improved from last year, and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for over 130 yards against both Auburn and Florida, Alabama’s defense can clog up running lanes and make offenses struggle.
Odds and Pick
Alabama is -6.5 at home, though some sportsbooks have even placed them as low as -5.5. Regardless, this will be a close game that, at the very least, will prove why each of these teams deserves to be in the Playoff in December. While LSU does have the much better strength of schedule going in, Alabama is just slightly more balanced and has weapons that LSU may not be able to contain. I’m picking LSU to cover, but Alabama to win by about three or four points.