The BCS national champion has come from the SEC for six straight years… and counting. LSU and Alabama played in last year’s national title game and both are expected to content again this season.
Trying to figure out which team SEC power is in better shape moving into the 2012 campaign is a bit tricky. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach made LSU his way-too early preseason No. 1 immediately back in January.
5Dimes.eu and PinnacleSports.com both have LSU as the favorite to win the national championship, although 5Dimes has the Crimson Tide (+220) slightly ahead of the Tigers (+225) to win the SEC championship.
Two weeks ago, the Golden Nugget sportsbook released spreads on 111 college football games. Alabama at LSU on Nov. 2 was among those games. The Nugget opened with the Tigers giving 2-points, a short number for the home team that plenty see as the best team in the country.
I asked Tony Miller, Golden Nugget sportsbook director, about the spread and he said his team saw LSU as the third best team behind USC and Alabama. Aaron Kessler, the book’s lead oddsmaker, explained their reasoning in an email to Covers this week:
“I have Alabama rated slightly (1-2 points) about LSU on a neutral field,” Kessler wrote. “Alabama has many question marks in terms of replacements, but LSU has large (and slightly more visible) ones on offense. Both teams are fighting it out for No. 1 in the country in my opinion, and there’s not really a wrong answer as to which one is better.”
Kessler added that the betting market seems to like LSU a bit more than Alabama but the Nugget isn't the only shop in Vegas with Alabama rated higher than LSU.
"I still think Alabama is a better team, but I think LSU has a little easier schedule getting Alabama at home," Las Vegas Sports Consultant oddsmaker Andrew Patterson said in an email. "Alabama plays at LSU, at Arkansas and although significant favorites, they have Michigan in Dallas. LSU has to travel to Florida, Arkansas and Auburn.
"These two teams are very close, but Saban is the best coach in college football. We currently have Alabama at 10.5 under -185 and LSU at 10 over -140."
I decided to ask for a little bit of help with this LSU vs. Alabama debate. Billy Gomila writes for the LSU blog AndTheValleyShook.com and he sees three reasons why the Tigers will have a better season than the Crimson Tide this season:
Experience: It’s a narrow edge, with LSU returning 13 starters to Alabama’s 11, and both teams will be promoting experienced backups from last season. But, in addition to the “official” new starters, the Tigers return another 30-40 career starts in players like Josh Dworaczyk, Chase Clement, Tharold Simon and Craig Loston. They’re more than just backups with playing time on the resume – Dworaczyk started 26 straight games prior to missing 2011 with a knee injury, while Simon and Clement were among the first players off the bench in different formations and personnel groupings.
Proven Playmakers: Alabama returns a proven quarterback in A.J. McCarron and running back Eddie Lacy will almost certainly thrive in the running back position behind a fantastic offensive line. But otherwise, the Tide are breaking in newbies across the board. The top-four wide receivers are gone, including valuable H-back Brad Smelley. That’s not to mention a litany of studs on defense as well.
Meanwhile, LSU returns all four of its top running backs from 2011 – with a combined 30 rushing touchdowns between them – plus a gang of young and athletic wide receivers that saw significant time last season. On defense, defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo both project as first-round picks, and of course there’s Bednarick Award-winner Tyrann Mathieu, who scored four touchdowns on defensive and special team returns in 2011.
Schedule: Again, the margin is narrow – LSU’s 2012 opponents have a slightly higher winning percentage (.579 to .536), but Bama faces a tough neutral-site opener against Michigan, plus games at Arkansas, Missouri and rival Tennessee. And of course, Bama will face LSU in Baton Rouge, where the Tigers have won three out of the last four versus the Tide. LSU, meanwhile, plays its toughest games at home with the exception of the season-ender at Arkansas.