When the College Football Playoff Committee released its inaugural rankings for the 2015 season Thursday, they made a controversial decision to include the one-loss Crimson Tide as the fourth seed team.
The internet responded, well, pretty much like you’d think. Turns out people weren’t fond of a team third place in its own division getting a shot at a national title. Obviously the only set of playoff rankings that really matters is the last one, but Bama has a shot to prove its bona fides this weekend.
With Bama coming with the loss to Ole Miss, neither team can afford a loss, but the
THE BATTLE OF FOURNETTE AND HENRY
Two of the nation’s best running backs will face off, and it will be a visceral display: these two backs run to hurt, muscling and overpowering would-be tacklers rather than outspeeding or going around them. Leonard Fournette‘s bona fides are well-known: averaging almost 200 yards per game at 7.7 yards per attempt for fifteen scores. If the Tigers try to pound the ball against Bama (and why wouldn’t they, with Fournette toting), they’ll be in the minority: rather than challenge the Tide defensive line, teams have passed the ball on 48% of standard downs (13th most in the nation) and 80.1% of passing downs (2nd most). Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris has found a rhythm this season, efficiently picking his shots when called upon to do so with a 58.6% completion rate for 7.6 yards per attempt, nine touchdowns, and no interceptions. Can he carry the team if the Tide shuts down Fournette?
Derrick Henry (and his understudy Kenyan Drake) have been impressive also, combining for 5.5 yards per carry. Similarly, quarterback Jake Coker has been trending positively after an up-and-down start, completing 75% of his passes in the last three games. If the Tigers have an advantage in this matchup it’s that offensively the Tide lack a big play threat (Henry isn’t ripping off highlight runs like Fournette), which leads into my next point:
WHERE WILL EACH TEAM GRAB POINTS?
I daresay the Tide offense is getting a bit too much credit for big wins over Georgia and Texas A&M, wherein Bama benefitted from multiple special teams and defensive touchdowns. LSU isn’t going to make those mistakes (as mentioned before, Harris hasn’t thrown a pick and Fournette hasn’t lost a fumble) and Les Miles‘ special teams units are routinely among the nation’s best.
So once more, it will come down to the defenses. LSU’s seems to play up to its competition, limiting Mississippi State and reining in Western Kentucky’s powerful passing attack . . . but hapless Syracuse and South Carolina had success. Bama’s preferences are known: it’s the spread-’em-out offenses that keep Nick Saban up nights, not the straightforward ground attacks the likes of which LSU employs . . . and I think that might be the difference in a low-scoring game.
A SEASON-DEFINING GAME
The Alabama/LSU game has had national title implications each of the past several years, and with both squads sitting pretty in the inaugural playoff rankings this matchup doesn’t appear to be much different. Dating back to 2009 the Tide hold a 4-2 advantage in regular season games with an average score of 21.7-15.8 . . . which seems to be a pretty good score for this one.