ALLSTATE BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: #1 Louisiana State (13-0) vs. #2 Alabama (11-1)

[Monday, Jan. 9 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN]

How They Got Here

These two teams played each other in Tuscaloosa in early November, with LSU eking out a 9-6 overtime win after Alabama missed its fourth field goal of the game during the extra period. But aside from that close finish, no one has come close to matching LSU this season. The Tigers have won every other game this season by at least 13 points and have an average margin of victory of 27.8 points per game this year.

Alabama had to sweat things out down the stretch, but just managed to hold off Oklahoma State in the final BCS poll to earn a rematch in the national title game. Like the Tigers, outside of the game against LSU, the Crimson Tide rolled over their opposition with an average margin of victory of 29.9 points per game. No one other than LSU even came within 16 points of Alabama.

Defense Wins Championships

For obvious reasons, much of the focus in this game is on the two defenses, which are two of the best that college football has seen in recent years. How good are they? If you took the total number of points both teams have given up combined this season, they would still rank as the 15th best defense in the nation. Alabama ranks first in the nation in virtually every defensive category, including rushing defense, pass defense and total defense. They also lead the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 8.8 points per game.

While the Crimson Tide’s defense is all-world status, LSU’s isn’t far behind. The Tigers rank second nationally in scoring defense (10.5 points per game) and total defense. They also recorded 37 sacks this season, good for 13th in the country, and led the nation in turnover margin.

But Don’t Forget the Offense

While the two defenses garner the headlines, both offenses have shown an ability to rack up points (LSU ranks 12th in scoring offense; Alabama is 17th). LSU quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee combined for nearly 2,000 passing yards and 20 TDs this season. They were complemented by a potent rushing attack that averaged 215.2 yards per game, good for 17th in the country. Alabama also featured a potent run/pass combination led by running back Trent Richardson. The Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman finalist rushed for 1,583 yards (6th in the nation) and 20 touchdowns this season. He is partnered with sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron, who threw for 2,400 yards and 16 touchdowns this year.

Really Special Teams

While special teams always plays a role in football games, it could have a bigger impact in this one than in most. As mentioned earlier, Alabama missed four field goals in the first game against LSU, and cannot afford to let those opportunities get away again if they hope to come home with a national championship. The Crimson Tide will also face the tough task of slowing down LSU sophomore return man Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu. The Heisman finalist led the nation with 16.2 yards per punt return. In his last two games against then-#3 Arkansas and then-#12 Georgia, Mathieu had seven returns for 234 yards and two touchdowns. As a defender, he also recorded two interceptions and forced six fumbles.

Keys to the Game

While the first meeting between these two teams turned into a defensive slugfest, don’t necessarily assume the same thing will happen this time around. Both teams have shown they have potent offenses that are capable of moving the ball. Additionally, coaches from both teams have hinted this week that they are prepared to take more chances on offense than they did the first time around. That said, points will still be at a premium and both teams will need to capitalize on any scoring opportunities they get. Alabama will need to keep the game close early, as LSU has outscored its opponents by an astounding 267-61 in the second halves of games this season. Look for LSU to make at least one big play in the return game, and it will be important to see how the Crimson Tide responds. While Oklahoma State fans (and anyone else who didn’t want to see a rematch in the title game) can only sit back and wonder what might have been, the BCS title game should still prove to be an exciting matchup that, like the first game, could go down to the final play.

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