It's official. Regardless of how you feel about the "Game of the Century II," Alabama will get another shot at LSU, this time with the BCS National Championship on the line.
The SEC is guaranteed to win its sixth consecutive national title, but Alabama has to improve on its November 5 performance against LSU if it wants the Waterford Crystal trophy to return to Tuscaloosa instead of Baton Rouge in January.
The Crimson Tide had ample opportunities to beat LSU the first time around, but didn't take advantage of enough of them to win. Let's look at five improvements that Alabama needs to make to prevail in the rematch and bring home its 14th national championship.
Both of Alabama's turnovers in the November 5 game against LSU were pivotal mistakes. In the third quarter, Tigers corneerback Morris Claiborne jumped an out route and picked off an A.J. McCarron-floater near the sideline. His subsequent return deep into Alabama territory set up LSU's second field goal, which wound up being enough points for LSU to send the game into overtime.
Even more painful for Alabama fans was Tigers safety Eric Reid's fourth-quarter interception at his own one-yard line. When wide receiver Marquis Maze took a snap out of the wildcat and lofted a pass to tight end Michael Williams, it looked like Alabama would have a sure first-and-goal, if not touchdown. But Reid timed his jump well and wrestled the ball away from Williams for the interception, ending what was shaping up to be the Tide's best chance to find the end zone all night.
McCarron and his offense have to take better care of the football to beat LSU the second time around.
Invitations to the Heisman Trophy presentation have yet to be formally sent out, but running back Trent Richardson figures to be on the short list of favorites in New York City next Saturday night.
Richardson has run for more than 1,500 yards on the season on his way to scoring 23 total touchdowns. In his last outing at the Iron Bowl, he finished with 203 rushing yards on 27 carries. Perhaps more significantly, he keyed the Alabama offense last month against LSU's superb defense, totaling 169 yards from scrimmage.
Richardson has touched the ball on 36 percent of Alabama's snaps this year. If offensive coordinator Jim McElwain knows what's good for him, Richardson will get at least that many of Alabama's touches in the title game next month. The Tide's best shot at finding the end zone and putting up more than six points on LSU in the rematch is to ride their star running back from start to finish.
Trent Richardson, A.J. McCarron, and co. moved the ball relatively well the last time they faced LSU's stingy defense.
Finishing with 295 yards of total offense won't get most offense coordinators excited under normal circumstances, but LSU's defense isn't normal. The Tide's downfall was being unable to cap off drives and cash in with points.
They failed to score a touchdown—most notably on the drive that ended with Reid's interception—and ended the game with the same number of points as field goal attempts.
Alabama has to finish off the type of drives it puts together in its first matchup with LSU if the Tide want to win in New Orleans.
Speaking of finishing drives, the Tide has to make the most of field goal attempts in what could well be another low-scoring affair against LSU.
Place-kicker Cade Foster missed three field goals in the first matchup, and place-kicker Jeremy Shelley had another one blocked. Since that game, the Tide's kicking tandem has been only 4/7 on field goals, and hasn't made one from longer than 32 yards.
Foster, who handles long field goals, is only 2/9 on the season. Shelley has made 16 of 20 short to mid-range kicks. The pair has a little over a month to regain their confidence, which will be crucial if the kicking game is as integral to the Alabama-LSU rematch as it was the first time.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide really need make only one improvement on its last Game of the Century result: Just win.
It's not often that a college football team gets a chance at redemption, a chance to avenge its only blemish, let alone with the national title on the line. But that's the opportunity that BCS decimal points have afforded Saban and Alabama.
Saban has the fortune of another shot at the program he used to coach, Richardson has a chance to win the Heisman-plus-national-title double, and the Crimson Tide have the opportunity to bring home the national championship for the second time in three years.
If the Tide can just find a way to win—attractively, hideously, or anything in between—all sins from the loss to LSU earlier in the year will be forgotten and forgiven, outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, at least.