State of the SEC West: The Contenders, Part One of Three—LSU
I would like to begin this article by commenting on a previously published article regarding the wide-open race of the SEC. It was written just after much-embattled QB Ryan Perrilloux was banished from LSU before he went on to Jacksonville St. in Alabama.
I picked the SEC West to be wide open—which was obvious. I, however, picked just four teams who I thought had legitimate shots at the West title. In recent months, possibly brought on by the self-reflection that comes with European travel, I began to reconsider the four teams I had chosen.
I had chosen to leave Arkansas and Ole Miss out of my mind's contention—an easy call considering they were inducting new head coaches, and we all know the growing pains associated with new philosophies and mismatched coaches/players.
I chose Mississippi St. as a potential dark horse. This is the reconsideration I had over the summer.
I had neglected to realize that more people were aware of MSU than I thought. Thus, the very nature of their dark horse candidacy would be diminished, and it has been. They beat both Alabama and Auburn last season, negating my call for their "dark horsedness," as I will call it.
After my prediction of only Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and MSU being available for the Georgia Dome this winter, I could only hope that MSU would realize my mistake and produce something resembling an offense. This would not be the case.
Thus, I'm forced to admit my mistake and render MSU as unable to attend December's Conference Championship.
As it stands, LSU (5), Alabama (8), and Auburn (15) have the only legitimate shots of representing the West (as I should have stated all along). Let's dissect these team's chances, shall we? Let's start with...
The Bayou Bengals have probably the most talent in the SEC, at least in their starters. Florida may have more talent in their depth, but LSU's starters/seniors are second to maybe only USC, who has to turn away four-star recruits with regularity because of scholarship limitations (tough life, huh?).
The Tigers from here on out will face Florida on the road, Georgia in Baton Rouge, and Alabama at home. These are their true tests, though, like anybody in the SEC, they have the potential to be upset by other opponents (the Mississippi schools, Arkansas, etc.).
The Florida game will be interesting because the LSU defense is so tough. Florida hasn't had to show its offensive arsenal yet this season because they haven't had to. LSU will be the first game in which Percy Harvin will be a difference-maker in the sense that he will be needed to be such.
If Florida can't stop the bevy of capable backs LSU has, led by Charles Scott, expect a Tiger win. However, it will remain to be seen if the Tiger secondary can hang with the 9,000 burners Florida has on offense.
If Florida can admirably play the run, they will win. Neither Jarrett Lee nor Andrew Hatch—Harvard or not—will be able to keep up with the Gators without the help of a stellar running game.
I pick Florida in a nail-biter because of the home field advantage of The Swamp.
Georgia is a very similar team to LSU: not terribly dynamic at any one part of their game, but darn good at most all parts.
The Bulldogs are scary because of Matthew Stafford's golden arm and spotless conscience. The kid is much like Brett Favre (a lofty comparison, yes) in that he has a gun and likes to use it. He'll sling a pick to the other team and forget about it by the time the whistles blows the play dead. He'll then carve up your secondary with throws of 30 yards that no players can defend.
If Stafford plays smart and Knowshon Moreno runs for 100, forget it, because the LSU QBs can't pick apart Georgia's elite DBs when they know it's coming. However, LSU has both the best offensive and defensive lines in the best conference in the country. This alone will keep them in every game they play (even in Championship games).
If LSU can (again) run effectively, they will beat Georgia. I pick LSU because the lines of Georgia are hurting—primarily their offensive line, which is in flux right now. LSU's greatest overall strength is its defensive front seven. Knowshon Moreno can't run if there's nowhere to run to.
Lastly, the Tigers must face Alabama. This is always an intriguing matchup. LSU won a breath-taker last season in Tuscaloosa. If you follow the series, one of the quirkier stats in the history of the rivalry is that the away team has always been somewhat dominant. LSU won't take Alabama lightly, even with home field advantage.
The offensive line of Alabama and the defensive line of LSU will probably deadlock one another. Same goes for when each team is on the other side of the ball. LSU's receivers are good, but so are the Tide's DBs. Alabama's receivers are pretty good, and so are the Tigers' DBs.
The QBs for each team: also pretty good. The running attacks for both teams: equally impressive, considering that LSU may have a slight advantage in talent, while 'Bama has a slight advantage on cohesion in conjunction with their blockers.
With special teams: same—a deadlock. Javier Arenas and Trindon Holliday are both scary. The Tide likely has the small advantage with Arenas himself, but their kickoff coverage is only average, making Holliday a little more impressive. Each kicker is very good as well.
Now on to coaching: Alabama has the superior head coach, plain and simple. I know it's a broken record, but LSU fans have to acknowledge it soon: Nick Saban made LSU what it is now. Les Miles was a lock to bolt for Michigan (a perfect fit for him in every way) until Kirk Herbstreit let the cat out of the bag.
What do you tell 85 kids that have placed their trust in you right before the SEC Championship game? You're gonna jet? "Sorry, it was fun, but I gotta go"? No. If you want an SEC Championship on your resume, you tell them you're staying.
Then LSU wises up to what was about to happen and offers him about 12 cents more than Nick Saban. Coincidence? Come on!
Les Miles got lucky with some unbelievably ridiculous play calls last season. He called so many idiotic fourth down go-for-its that he was still a borderline goat for it. You can't be lucky for a whole year? Tell that to Coach Miles. Tell that to the June Jones' of the world who like their teams to play basketball on a football field.
For pure talent's sake, LSU should win this game. If they don't, Les Miles will be the reason they lose. Keep in mind that Coach Saban is playing with 15 freshmen. He should not win this game.
LSU wins another close one by default, because if Alabama's offensive line or defense begins to lose starters, they won't have the depth to make up for it.
LSU's record prediction: 11-1 (7-1)
Stay tuned in the coming hours/days for the dissection of Alabama's and Auburn's SEC West title chances.
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