The Alabama Crimson Tide have scant been tested in 2012, easily dispatching any and all opponents they've been tasked with. Their closest game came at home against Ole Miss, who managed to hang in there and lose by a meager 19 points.
This weekend, however, that all figures to change.
Alabama takes its show on the road this week, heading down to Baton Rogue to face their fiercest rival, the LSU Tigers. It's a rematch of last year's National Championship––which Bama won handily––but it's also a rematch of last year's regular season game, which went to LSU.
With blue chip NFL prospects and college stars lining both sidelines, let's take a look at the three biggest matchups to watch on Saturday.
DEs Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery vs. OTs Cyrus Kouandijo and D.J. Fluker
Like most Bama-LSU games, this contest will be decided firstly, secondly and thirdly in the trenches.
Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery have both come on strong these past two years, and both appear to be early first-round draft picks come April. They've combined for 24 sacks over the past year-and-a-half, and are equally strong in the run game.
On the other side, Cyrus Kouandijo and D.J. Fluker both also seem to have the mark of future first-round pick all over them. But they're less experienced. Kouandijo is just a sophomore and Fluker is a junior.
The LSU pass rush will be vital to stopping Alabama's methodical offensive precision. Almost as important as stopping the run. Speaking of which....
DT Anthony Johnson vs. C Barrett Jones and G Chance Warmack
Johnson, just a sophomore, has been earning rave reviews within NFL scouting circles this season. At 6'3", 310 pounds, the guy is a physical freak of nature shooting through gaps.
But this will be his toughest test by far.
Jones and Warmack both figure to have long NFL careers ahead of them; many scouts have them graded as the top center and top guard in the draft, respectively.
Their veteran leadership will be paramount in creating holes for the Alabama running game. If they can push around Anthony Johnson––a task almost nobody has been able to do this season––Bama might be able to control the clock.
QB Zach Mettenberger vs. QB A.J. McCarron
Yeah, yeah––who cares if they don't actually match up against one another. This matchup will be almost as important as the one in the trenches.
Both QBs are asked to do similar things for their teams: manage the clock, get the ball where it needs to be and don't turn it over. They're both similarly criticized, or given the dreaded label of game manager, but they do exactly what it takes for their teams to win.
When teams are so equally matched, and talent is so equally distributed, a large part of the outcome is the result of a chess match. And if Les Miles and Nick Saban are the guys playing chess, Mettenberger and McCarron are most definitely the Queens. They can make the most drastic individual moves.
However it shakes out, it should definitely be a fun one.