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Tag:Courtney Upshaw
Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:40 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Alabama.

Spring Practice Starts: March 9

Spring Game: April 14

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 specialists

Three Things To Look For:

1. Motivation level at low Tide? Ask Nick Saban what the difference was between his 2009 and 2011 national titlists on one side and his 2010 disappointments on the other (for a given definition of "disappointment," of course), and he'll tell you that the former teams were driven, focused squads that put everything into their practice time, and the latter was a little too happy with the previous year's championship. We'd argue the bigger difference was the mile-deep rivers of experience that flowed through the Tide defense in '09 and '11, rivers that helped convert Saban's frightening stockpile of talent into two of the better defensive units in college football history ... but that's neither here nor there, really, since that talent is still there in abundance. Even if the experience isn't, if the Tide adopt the work ethic of their recent champions, there's no reason they can't at least approach their success, too. Spring will give us our first glance if that's the case or not. 

2. How well are the defensive holes being plugged? Of course, no matter how many four- and five-star studs are waiting in the wings, losing Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Chapman, DeQuan Menzie and Jerrell Harris is still losing Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Chapman, DeQuan Menzie and Jerrell Harris; the Tide have their work cut for them. It's time to see if Jesse Williams can fill Chapman's shoes, Adrian Hubbard Upshaw's, Trey DePriest Hightower's, etc. The spotlight will be particularly bright on the secondary, where even the return of Robert Lester may not be able to mask losing players --and leaders -- the caliber of Barron and Kirkpatrick.

3. Is T.J. Yeldon the real deal at running back? While owning the nation's No. 1 recruiting class gives Alabama fans plenty of options when it comes to their favorite newcomer, there's probably an especially soft spot in the heart of the Tide faithful -- and a diamond-hard one in the chest of your average Auburn fan -- for early-enrolling freshman running back Yeldon, a five-star recruit who committed to Auburn early and stuck with the Tigers until mere days were left before his enrollment ... whereupon he switched to the Tide. The neutral observer might not blame him, given the opportunity presented to him: with Trent Richardson on his way to the NFL, de facto starter Eddie Lacy out for spring following surgery for turf toe, and one-time star recruit Dee Hart coming back from an ACL tear in spring 2011, it's possible Yeldon could exit spring as the Tide's No. 1 tailback. And given that the last two guys to hold that honor both wound up attending the Heisman Trophy presentation before their careers were out, that would be a very, very nice place to be.

To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule

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Posted on: January 12, 2012 2:23 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 2:28 pm
 

Alabama losing talented duo to the NFL

Posted by Tom Fornelli

if Alabama plans on defending its national championship, it'll have to do so without two of its most talented players from the 2011 team. It was announced at a press conference on Thursday afternoon that running back Trent Richardson and defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick were all leaving school to enter the NFL Draft.

While both players are great, Trent Richardson is the biggest household name, as he went to New York this season as a Heisman finalist. Richardson rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Tide in 2011 and finishes his Alabama career with 3,860 total yards and 42 total touchdowns. Richardson is ranked as the top running back in the 2012 draft class by CBSSports.com, and is projected to go in the first five picks of the draft.

As for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, he's not exactly a slouch. Kirkpatrick had 29 tackles and broke up 9 passes this season while also forcing 2 fumbles. He did not have an interception in 2011, but that's because opposing quarterbacks tested him as little as possible. CBSSports.com has Kirkpatrick ranked as the second best cornerback prospect in the 2012 draft, behind only LSU's Morris Claiborne. He's expected to go within the first ten picks of our mock draft.

So if it wasn't already clear, this is a lot of talent leaving Tuscaloosa early, and it doesn't even include the seniors like Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron that are graduating. Of course, this is where we point out that Alabama had four players drafted in the first round of last year's NFL Draft, and that loss of talent didn't stop the Crimson Tide from winning a national title this season.

Get caught up on the early-entry announcements HERE, and all the latest rankings, mock drafts, and breaking news check out the NFL Draft Home 

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Posted on: December 10, 2011 1:38 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2011 1:39 pm
 

FWAA releases 2011 All-American Team

Posted by Adam Jacobi

The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) announced its 68th annual All-America team on Sunday. The list is headlined by Heisman favorite Robert Griffin III of Baylor, and top-ranked LSU put three defenders on the team this year. Alabama, who is set to face LSU in the BCS Championship Game, leads all schools with five FWAA All-Americans. Here's this year's roster in full:

Offense

QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE Dwayne Allen, Clemson
OL Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL David DeCastro, Stanford
OL Barrett Jones, Alabama
OL Nate Potter, Boise State
C David Molk, Michigan

Defense

DL Vinny Curry, Marshall
DL Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
DL Sam Montgomery, LSU
DL Devon Still, Penn State
LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
LB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
DB Mark Barron, Alabama
DB Morris Claiborne, LSU
DB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
DB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

Special Teams

K Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P Bobby Cowan, Idaho
RS Joe Adams, Arkansas

Anyone get left out? Tell us who you think got snubbed by the FWAA at the official Eye On College Football Facebook page. 

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Posted on: December 7, 2011 8:24 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 11:53 pm
 

CBSSports.com 2011 All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The season has wrapped, the bowl games are set and it's time to hand out some awards. As part of CBSSports.com's look at the regular season, here is the best of the SEC.

Awards

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR 

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. No SEC player was more electrifying to watch on a weekly basis than the Tide workhorse, whose raw strength and unmatched determination could turn an average four-yard gain (usually into the teeth of half the opposing defense) into must-see TV. Of course, the elusive, explosive 70-plus-yard bursts -- like his showstoppers against Ole Miss and Auburn -- weren't too shabby, either. Few have ever combined those gifts like Richardson, and no one in the SEC was any better this season.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Claiborne wasn't just the best one-on-one man-coverage corner we saw this season, bar-none, SEC or elsewhere--he might have been the best defender we saw this season, SEC or elsewhere. By erasing his side of the field (except for those lone occasions when he was tested and -- as AJ McCarron found out -- usually ready to make a pick), Claiborne set the tone for the best secondary in the country and played arguably the biggest role of any LSU defender in getting the Tigers to the national title game.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Les Miles, LSU. James Franklin 
has earned legitimate consideration for his work at Vanderbilt. But when you look at not only the juggernaut constructed by Miles in Baton Rouge but his ability in steering it through the storms of the preseason bar fight incident, suspensions, and quarterback controversy, there's not really any other choice to make in this slot.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Brad Wing, P, LSU. A punter, over a running back like Isaiah Crowell? When we're talking about the nation's third-best net punting average for a No. 1-ranked prfect-record team that thrived on field position, you bet. That Wing's best two games came at the best possible times -- at Alabama and vs. Georgia in Atlanta -- makes his selection even easier.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Tyler Wilson, Jr., Arkansas. It was far from a banner year for quarterbacking in the SEC -- only three teams were even able to keep the same starter for all 12 games -- but you wouldn't know it from watching Wilson, whose 3,422 passing yards led the league by nearly 600 yards. No team in the conference was more dependent on their quarterback, but despite taking frequent poundings behind a suspect line Wilson repaid that faith to the tune of a 10-2 record.

Honorable mention: Georgia's Aaron Murray led the league with 33 touchdowns and was the East champions' clearcut best offensive player, but his 12 interceptions were also an SEC high. AJ McCarron struggled for Alabama in the LSU showdown but still finished the year with an SEC-best QB rating and that spot in the BCS title game.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama. It won't win him the Heisman Trophy, but Richardson's brilliant 2011 season -- 1,583 yards, 23 total touchdowns, an eye-popping 6.0 per-carry average despite a league-high 263 carries, and more highlight-reel runs than any running back in the country -- deserves to have cemented his status among the SEC's all-time backfield greats. Not even his predecessor Mark Ingram was ever better.

Michael Dyer, Soph., Auburn. The only back besides Richardson to average more than 100 yards per SEC game, Dyer was often the only thing the sputtering Auburn offense had going for it--and he still finished with 1,242 yards while averaging better than 5 yards a carry.

Honorable mention: Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy quietly enjoyed a breakout season as the league's second-most explosive back behind Richardson, scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging 6.2 yards a carry.

WIDE RECEIVER

Jarius Wright, Sr. Arkansas. Though not the most heralded of the Hogs' star-studded receiving corps entering the season, Wright quickly established himself as Wilson's go-to receiver and arguably the league's top wideout, finishing in the SEC's top two in receptions (63), yards (1,029), touchdowns (11), and average per reception (16.3).

Da'Rick Rogers, Soph., Tennessee. Like Wright, Rogers was supposed to take a back seat to fellow Vol wideout Justin Hunter. But when Hunter went down with an ACL injury in Week 3, Hunter stepped forward to lead the SEC with 1,040 receiving yards and 67 receptions--despite often being the woeful Volunteer offense's only threatening playmaker.

Rueben Randle, Jr., LSU. Rather than take a tight end, we're promoting a third receiver to our first team to make room for the SEC's biggest downfield threat. Randle caught "only" 50 passes (fourth in the conference) but saw eight of them go for touchdowns and averaged 18.1 yards per completion, making him one of only three BCS-conference receivers nationally to clear both 50 total catches and 18 yards a reception.

Honorable mention: If we'd gone with a tight end, Georgia's Orson Charles (44 receptions, 572 yards, 5 TDs) would have been an easy choice. Alshon Jeffery didn't have anything like the All-American season expected of him at South Carolina, but he was still the only receiver outside Wright, Rogers, and Randle to finish in the league's top seven in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE

OT/OG Barrett Jones, Sr., Alabama. Whether at guard or tackle, Jones was hands-down one of the nation's best offensive linemen and a deserving All-American who's about to become quite the wealthy individual in the NFL. An easy selection.

OG Will Blackwell, Sr., LSU. The league's best prototype guard this season, Blackwell punished opponents in run blocking and played a major role in LSU's weekly second-half bulldozings on the ground.

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama. The SEC's best center, Vlachos put both his considerable strength and veteran guile to use in leading Alabama to the SEC's most productive rushing attack.

OT Alex Hurst, Sr., LSU. As effective as the LSU ground game was, the line also had to give Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson time to uncork those bombs to Randle. And thanks in large part to senior tackle Hurst, they did; the Tigers allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC.

OT Rokevious Watkins, Sr., South Carolina. Even without Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks averaged more yards per-carry and scored more rushing touchdowns than any team in the league outside of Alabama and LSU, and the much-improved Watkins was a huge reason why.

Honorable mention: Both Georgia tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones had strong senior campaigns (following) iffier junior seasons and have strong arguments for first-team inclusion. Kentucky never got anything going on offense, but guard Larry Warford was a bright spot.

ALL-PURPOSE

PR/WR/KR Joe Adams, Sr., Arkansas. Instead of reading this comment or looking up his stats, just watch this video:
 

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Melvin Ingram, Sr, South Carolina. His 13.5 sacks and 8.5 sacks -- both among the SEC's top five totals -- might have been enough anyway. Add in his two defensive touchdowns, critical fake punt touchdown rumble vs. Georgia, and skill at kick-blocking, and he's a total no-brainer.

DT Josh Chapman, Sr., Alabama. When you're the nose tackle that anchors a run defense that not only finishes No. 1 in the nation but allows an unbelievable three rushing touchdowns all season, yes, you've had quite the campaign.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. Don't hold the Vols' poor team numbers (or record) against Jackson; the ever-active veteran finished with 11 tackles-for-loss (second among SEC tackles) despite receiving constant attention from opposing offensive lines.

DE Sam Montgomery, Soph., LSU. Picking the best LSU defensive lineman is like picking which cast member of Arrested Development How I Met Your Mother is your favorite, but we'll go with Montgomery, who combined incredible disruption (9 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss) with stout down-to-down run defense.

Honorable mention: Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox led all SEC tackles in tackles-for-loss with 12.5 and Auburn's Corey Lemonier led all SEC ends with 9.5 sacks; both deserve a tip of the cap.

LINEBACKERS

Jarvis Jones, Soph., Georgia. Todd Grantham's 3-4 system made a star out of Justin Houston a year ago, but it paid even bigger dividends for Jones, who led the SEC in both tackles-for-loss and sacks and his Georgia defense -- one of the nation's best -- in tackles overall.

Courtney Upshaw, Sr., Alabama. Of the many terrors in the Tide linebacking corps, Upshaw may have been the biggest, collecting 17.5 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks, and as much general havoc caused as any player in the country.

Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. No SEC player filled the whirling-dervish tackling-machine middle linebacker role better than the veteran Wildcat, who led the league in tackles for a second straight year and seemed to be three or four places at once late in the season.

Honorable mention: We're pretty sure that Crimson Tide inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower makes the first team in any other league in the nation; given the Tide's unreal rushing defense numbers and Hightower's role in them, we won't argue if you want to put him first in this league, too.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Jr., Alabama. Much as we've talked up Alabama's run defense, the Tide's pass defense was No. 1, too, and Kirkpatrick was the best player in pass coverage Nick Saban had in 2011--quite the accomplishment considering the competition.

CB Morris Claiborne, Jr., LSU. As much as we admire Claiborne's mustelid teammate in the LSU secondary, Claiborne's outrageous cover-corner skills means that if forced to pick one or the other to build our secondary (or team) around, we don't even have to think very long before taking Claiborne.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. Ho-hum, just another All-American season as the leader of the nation's top pass defense and the second-leading tackler on the nation's top rush defense.

CB/S Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU. The Honey Badger is a tad overrated as a corner--which is why he wound up playing safety late in the year when Eric Reid suffered an injury. But it's pretty much impossible to overrate his nose for the ball or knack for the big play, which stands alone as the best in the nation.

Honorable mention: Casey Hayward and his five interceptions (and outstanding ball skills) for Vandy could and maybe should have him in the All-American discussion ... but since this is the SEC secondary we're talking about, he's here. The same goes for Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo and LSU's Reid, and though not quite in that class, Mississippi State corner Johnthan Banks had a season worth mentioning as well.

SPECIALISTS

P Brad Wing, rFr., LSU. We're assuming the Ray Guy Award voters left him off because they expected to simply hand the thing over each of the next two seasons.

PK Caleb Sturgis, Jr. Florida. His 21-of-25 season was a rare positive for the Gators in difficult season.
Posted on: October 31, 2011 6:17 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 31: Better front seven?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 5, or years in a row (counting 2011) in which both the Tigers and Tide have entered this matchup ranked. The average AP ranking for the two teams in that span? Alabama 5.6, LSU 8. But the Tide were the last of the pair to come into the game outside the polls; they weren't ranked for the Nov. 11, 2006 matchup.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: These are two of the best run defenses in college football. But is one front seven better than the other?

When we say "of the best," let's stipulate that we're maybe selling Alabama short here. Among the many statistics in which the Tide defense leads the nation are rush defense, yards per-carry allowed, and rushing touchdowns allowed ... but particularly interesting is that the Tide is well ahead of the pack in each category, ranking 28 yards per-game, .48 yards per-rush, and 2 touchdowns ahead of the No. 2 team in all three.

Which is why it's something of a surprise to say that LSU appears to have a clear head-to-head edge on the defensive line. It's true that 1. the Tide run a 3-4 instead of the Tigers' 4-3 and 2. thus don't ask their linemen to make plays as much as occupy blockers and let the linebackers behind them make plays, so the comparison's not entirely valid. Nose tackle Josh Chapman's value to the Tide is never going to be measured in tackles and sacks.

Still, it's surprising to see just how little statistical production the Tide is getting from their defensive line in the wake of Marcel Dareus's departure. Only one Tide lineman, backup DT Nick Gentry, has more than a single sack and the line as a whole is averaging less than one per-game. Though Jesse Williams, Ed Stinson and Gentry all have 3.5 tackles-for-loss or more, only 19.5 of the Tide's 61 TFLs (32 percent) come from linemen.

Contrast that with LSU, where four different linemen -- ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery and tackles Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan -- have as many or more TFLs as Stinsons' line-leading 5 at Alabama. Mingo, Montgomery and Logan have already combined for more than half of the Tigers' 19 sacks on the season, with Mingo in particular coming on a true terror in recent weeks. If the game comes down to one line or the other making a game-changing play, you'd be forced to bet on LSU.

But when weighing up the front sevens as a whole, we're still forced to give the edge to the Tide, because their advantage at linebacker is outright lopsided. Again, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison since LSU only uses 3 LBs in their base set and the Tide 4, but it's still bizarre to look at the Tigers' list of top tacklers and see just two linebackers in the top 11. Senior Ryan Baker and sophomore Kevin Minter have been productive, and you can't knock the linebacking unit of the nation's No. 3 rush defense too hard. But it seems that gaudy ranking has more to do the hyper-aggressive LSU secondary, and forget about LSU's LBs making a play in the backfield; Baker's two TFLs lead the unit.

Meanwhile, the Tide have a pair of legitimate All-Americans in Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, plus Nico Johnson, Jerrell Harris (pictured above) and several other veterans and blue-chips even if C.J. Mosley can't go. Add that bunch to a line that -- while not as spectacular as the Tigers' -- is expertly coached and does its job to perfection, and you get the best front seven in college football. LSU's is awful, awful good, maybe the second-best, but we still think Alabama's causes more problems for LSU's offense than vice versa.

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: If you're a Tide fan looking for an encouraging trend before Saturday, you could do much, much worse than this tidbit from the Birmingham News's Jon Solomon:
Ten years have passed since Saban lost in consecutive years to the same coach in college. Ever since Steve Spurrier pounded Saban's LSU teams 41-9 in 2000 and 44-15 in 2001, Saban has won 12 straight rematch games ... Saban has a 13-1 record as an SEC coach in rematch games against opponents he lost to the previous season. In those 14 initial defeats, Saban lost by an average of 14.4 points; in those 14 rematches the next year, he won by an average of 14.7 points.
Solomon points out that good records in these kinds of games aren't unusual; Spurrier went 13-5-1 in "rematch" opportunities at Florida, and Bob Stoops is currently 11-3 at Oklahoma. But neither of those records are quite what Saban's is, and the swing in points -- from two TDs down to two TDs up -- suggests that these are games Saban does take a little seriously than most.

Not that he'd ever admit such a thing, of course; at his Monday press conference Saban said he "loses sleep over every game, even the ones we win ... I don't know that there's any motivation from last year. There's lessons to be learned when you play year in and year out."

And he may be right on the motivation part in this particular case--once you've reached the kind of stakes that accompany Saturday's game, revenge is pretty far down the list of potential rewards. But we're betting all the same Saban studied the film of last year's loss a little bit harder than he would have if the Tide have won.

The other highlight of Saban's presser, which fell on his 60th birthday: his reveal that the players had given him a signed jersey with the number 60 on it. "I can't wear this, I'm a skill position guy," he said, proving that Les Miles won't have all the good one-liners this week.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Most coaches would treat a question about a potential rematch between the Tide and Tigers for the national championship with a curt "I'm just focused on the game this week." Miles is of course not most coaches, and told reporters Monday he would be A-OK the opportunity to play the Tide again.

"If in some way the guy that finishes left of the championship in the SEC can demonstrate statistically what kind of team he has, I'm for the SEC," Miles said. "I look forward to playing any and all."

Could he get his hypothetical post-loss wish? We'll stand by our earlier evaluation that it's highly unlikely (even after Clemson's loss), but that hasn't kept down the chatter; almost five years after CBS Sports' Gary Danielson and Lloyd Carr disagreed over whether Michigan should get a second shot at Ohio State, their comments to the Times-Picayune show they're still disagreeing over the issue of a rematch.

But back to Miles, who dropped a number of gems in today's comments. A sampling:
"The contact that takes place when our defense is on the field is very sincere and requires a ball carrier to hold onto the ball. That piece is the characteristic of a great defense."

"I saw the move [Trent Richardson] did against Ole Miss. That would have thrown my hip out its joint."

On whether he and Saban have friendly "correspondence":  "Correspondence would imply letters. I don't know that we send a lot of letters back and forth."

"How wonderful it is in college football that you have two quality teams that represent two great institutions that will take their best effort to the field to decide something that is difficult, clean and pure as a contest. How wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values. The school wins, the team wins and the state wins. It is a beautiful time. I am very fortunate to have such a great institution to represent and I look forward to a great afternoon and great evening in college football."
Miles also said that his roster was entirely suspension-free, a rare (and news-worthy) occasion for the Tigers this year. But who wants to bother with nuts-and-bolts reporting when we discuss "how wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values." We've said it before, we'll say it again: never change, Les.

Posted on: October 28, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 2:51 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 28: Secondary breakdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.

DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 8, or the number of wins for LSU in the series in the past 11 meetings. Before that uptick the Bayou Bengals trailed the Tide 42-16-5 in the all-time series and had never defeated Alabama three consecutive times. The man most responsible for the change in fortunes? Nick Saban, who went 4-1 against the Tide in his five-year stint at the LSU helm between 2000 and 2004, ending a run of 9 Alabama victories in 11 years. Saban hasn't had quite as much success turning the tables -- yet -- in Tuscaloosa, going 2-2 against LSU in his four years at Alabama.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has the better secondary? Or maybe more importantly: which team matches up better against the opponents' receivers?

Amongst the many superlatives that will be thrown around regarding this game, here's one that's entirely deserved: these are the best two secondaries in college football. 

And with all due respect to, say, Michigan State or Virginia Tech, we're not sure it's close. Between Alabama's fivesome of safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester and corners Dre Kirkpatrick, Demarcus Milliner and Dequan Menzie, and LSU's of safeties Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor (or Craig Loston) and corners Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon, it's possible the teams will combine for 8 or 9 future NFL defensive backs. (Hell: maybe 10)

So who's better? The stats give Alabama a slight edge, with the Tide having allowed an opposing QB rating of 83.68 to LSU's 96.49, just 4.5 yards per-pass attempt to LSU's 5.4, and a completion percentage of 48.1 to LSU's 53.1. (All of these numbers for both teams rank among the best in the nation, of course.) Alabama has also reached "total shutdown" phase more often, holding five of their opponents to a QB rating of 90 or worse while LSU has unlocked that achievement just three times.

In LSU's favor, though, is that 1. they've played the tougher schedule, thanks to facing teams like Oregon and West Virginia 2. they're more likely to come up with the big play, with 11 interceptions to Alabama's 9 and Mathieu among the national leaders in forced fumbles 3. as could be particularly important in a matchup of such fierce ground games, they're more involved in stuffing the run, with Taylor, Reid, Mathieu and Claiborne all among the Tigers' top five tacklers. 

So call all of that a draw. What about matchups? The Tide will be facing the toughest cover in the head-to-head in the form of Rueben Randle, now leading the SEC in average yards per-completion by a substanial margin, and they can't forget about true freshman Odell Beckham Jr. (27 receptions, 334 yards). Those are two of only three LSU targets in double-digit receptions for the year, though, while the Tide boast seven. Marquis Maze (pictured at the top of this post, opposite Mathieu in the 2010 meeting) leads the way, of course, with 39  catches and 482 yards.

So as with so many other aspects of LSU-Alabama, who wins the head-to-head between the secondaries will likely come down to whether the Tide can stop the big play. They couldn't last year, when the Tigers averaged 15 yards a completion. And on the other side of the ball, as relatively mistake-free as AJ McCarron has been, he hasn't faced the ball-hawking likes of Mathieu and Claiborne yet.

But if Barron and Lester can provide the necessary help against Randle over the top and McCarron stays in control, the matchup should swing in the Tide's favor--between their wider array of targets on offense and the LSU secondary's occasional pliability (see the 463 passing yards yielded to West Virginia), they should be more able to consistently disrupt the LSU passing game more often than LSU disrputs theirs. Especially with the Tide defenders having the advantage of homefield, we'll give the thinnest of  edges to Alabama here.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: That this LSU-Alabama game has already reached such colossal importance means it's a good time to remind fans of both sides that there's things that are actually more important than football (it's true!), and the continuing efforts to provide relief in the wake of the tragic April 27 tornadoes that ripped through the Tuscaloosa area are one of those things.

That's why Louisana chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto have paired up with Tide football legend Bob Baumhower to hold the first-ever "Lousi-Bama Gumbo Bowl," a charity fund-raising event for tornado relief to be held outside Bryan-Denny Stadium ... and produce the new Guinness World Record holder for the Largest Pot of Gumbo. If you weren't interested before ... 

The team will create a monster pot of gumbo, using a 300-year-old cast iron pot from the sugar cane fields of South Louisiana. The World's Largest Gumbo recipe calls for 750 pounds shrimp, 450 pounds catfish fillets, 100 pounds claw crabmeat, 50 pounds white crabmeat, 200 pounds alligator meat, and 25 pounds Louisiana crawfish tail meat.

The recipe will include 200 pounds of diced onions, 75 pounds of diced celery, 100 pounds of diced green bell pepper, 150 pounds of sliced okra, 50 pounds of dehydrated garlic, and 20 pounds of butter. After simmering for three hours, the pot will be weighed via a forklift. Then, the delicious, steaming contents will be doled out to hungry football fans during the pre-game tailgate.

Pardon us while we wipe up our drool. Tickets to the event can be purchased here. For more information (including the charities to benefit, click here

LSU's coaches have been committed to showing their defense a running back with something like Trent Richardson's power in practice. How committed? Richardson's role on the scout team has been played by a linebacker, freshman Trevon Randle. Not that Claiborne is planning on going strength-on-strength with Richardson no matter how much practice he gets on Randle. 

"Any way you can get him on the ground, you just get him on the ground,” Claiborne said of the Tide star. “I know where I’m going. I’m going for the legs.” (Not a bad plan, Morris, though we doubt Randle's going to help get you ready for feet like these, either.)

Via And the Valley Shookthe LSU film department has put together a trailer for the game. And it's one we find hard to imagine won't get the blood pumping for both Tiger fan and neutrals alike:

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Hey speaking of Richardson, we've got some good news for LSU fans. Here's what he said Thursday about the bye week:

“My body is probably in the best condition it's been in since I've been in college, and now I get a break, and my body will feel even better when I come back.” 

Oh, wait, sorry; that's terrible news.

Overall, the Tide's attitude towards LSU has been what you'd expect: respect, but clearly not too much respect. See, for instance, this al.com video of Maze discussing Mathieu. Or this quote from senior center William Vlachos on the LSU defense:

“They're dominant,” Vlachos said. “They're solid all the way around. Their coordinator does a really good job with their defense. That's something everybody's been talking about, and we're looking forward to the challenge of playing against a great defense.”

That's nice and all, but where's the bulletin board material, guys? (Our best guess: somewhere on the LSU side. Both teams are very much reflections of their head coaches, and who do you think might slip up and say something overconfident and/or "smack"-like: Saban or Les Miles?)

The honors have continued to roll in for the Tide defense. Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and offensive lineman Barrett Jones three of the 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award,  and Hightower and Barron have been named quarterfinalists for the Lott IMPACT Award.


Posted on: October 26, 2011 5:19 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 5:29 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 26: Rematch possible?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 10, or the number of first downs the Crimson Tide defense is allowing per-game, rounded very slightly up. The actual number: 9.9, best in the nation by nearly four first downs a game. LSU ranks fourth, at 14.5 per game. 10 is also the number worn by AJ McCarron, the SEC's No. 2 most efficient passer behind ... Jarrett Lee.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Could the Tide and Tigers stage a winner-take-all rematch in the BCS national championship game?


Lots of other people are asking this question, so we will too. And the best answer we can offer is: Probably not. But it's too soon to rule it out entirely.

As pointed out this week by resident CBSSports.com BCS expert Jerry Palm, it's safe to assume poll voters don't want a rematch after they vaulted No. 4 Florida over No. 3 Michigan in the wake of the Gators' SEC championship victory (and No. 2 USC's upset loss) in 2006. "I think there is a sense that it isn't fair to make the winner beat the loser again," Palm writes, and that's even before discussing the logical allure of taking the team that has a BCS conference championship over the one that doesn't (assuming their records are equal). As long as voters have a viable option other than the rematch, they'll take it.

So how would we come by a situation in which there is no viable option? Here's how:

1. A tight, competitive game Nov. 5. If one team blows out the other, the push for a rematch is going to immediately be reduced to just-barely-more than nothing. It would help if LSU was the team absorbing the narrow defeat, too, since the Crimson Tide get to play host.

2. Losses by Oklahoma State, Stanford and Clemson. (Oh, and Kansas State.) By season's end, the schedule conquered by any candidate from that pool would make them a no-brainer for the BCS title game. But will any of them cross the finish line unblemished? Football Outsiders numbers guru Bill Connelly pegs the Cardinal with the best chance of the foursome ... but at just 22 percent. The collective odds of one of them running the table is much better, but as Oklahoma and Wisconsin showed last weekend, avoiding the upset bug for a whole season is always easier said than done.

3. Continued dominant play from the LSU-Alabama loser paired with extra defeats or lackluster play from teams like the Sooners and Badgers. Down-and-out as they appeared to be Saturday, an Oklahoma Big 12 conference championship on the heels of a win over previously undefeated Oklahoma State or a Big Ten title for the Badgers won with a dominant revenge victory over an 11-1 Michigan State would thrust either directly back into the BCS championship game spotlight (assuming the game was reduced to taking a one-loss team). If the LSU-Alabama loser continues to destroy all comers, though, and the Sooners, Badgers, or any other one-loss team doesn't look the part, the voters could opt for the rematch.

That's already a lot of hoops to jump through before we even start asking whether the voters would take an undefeated Boise State over the LSU-Alabama loser, a debate potentially so headache-inducing we're cringing at the thought of it. So for now, the safest assumption is that it's win-in-Tuscaloosa-or-else for LSU and Alabama's national title chances. But we can't call that assumption a certainty just yet.

Want a second opinion? Here's CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Tyrann Mathieu's Twitter smack talk might have rubbed some opponents the wrong way, but the Tide's Courtney Upshaw doesn't seem likely to be all that bothered. In fact, when asked about the Bayou Bengals, he seems like something of a fan (emphasis added):
"I watch LSU, honestly ... Whenever we have a chance in the hotel, we're watching games, me and my roommate. There are a bunch of guys when I'm watching I'm like, 'Wow, those guys are real good.' And Tyrann Mathieu, I like that guy to death."
Right up until kickoff, we imagine.

The Tide returned to practice Tuesday after taking Monday off, but per Nick Saban haven't started LSU-specific game prep just yet. “[Wednesday] we'll work hard on fundamentals, and start later in the week with our preparation for the game we have next week," he said.

On the Tide injury front, starting right guard Anthony Steen has recovered from the concussion that kept him out of the Tide's win over Tennessee and is expected to return to the starting lineup vs. LSU. (His replacement vs. the Vols, Alfred McCullough, will now serve as the backup left tackle after the loss of Cyrus Kouandjio.) But there was some minor bad news as the Tide will miss reserve linebacker Jonathan Atchison, due to undergo bicep surgery this week. Atchison had appeared in two games this season without a tackle.

VIDEO BREAK: So, yes, this little promotional video was made by an (ahem) rival network. But it's too good not to share:



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE:
If you read yesterday's Daily this didn't come as a surprise, but the "Synthetic Three" were officially reinstated to the Tiger roster yesterday and practiced with the team. "We're preparing them to play," Les Miles said. "We plan on using them."

It goes without saying that having players like Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon around for the biggest game of their careers might be a little helpful. But Miles has to be particularly happy the issue has been resolved as quickly as it has been; brilliant as they are, all three players are only sophomores and will no doubt need an ample amount of practice time to be fully ready for an opponent like Alabama. If the decision (reportedly made by athletic director Joe Alleva) had dragged out much further, the results could have been seen on the field.

On the topic of suspensions, Miles dropped this typically wonderful Milesism:
"It's a real lifetime lesson. Just put yourself in the wrong spot and have proximity to real issues, and suddenly you're out of control. When you don't have control of the decisions that need to be made for your happiness, that's misery."
Like the Tide, the Tigers also got some good injury news on the offensive line. Miles said starting center P.J. Lonergan is practicing again after an ankle injury sidelined him the past two weeks, setting him up for a return vs. the Tide.  "He could really have played Saturday," Mile said. "It just worked out that we didn't need him."

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 4:40 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 4:41 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 25: They're that good

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 11, or the number of points (or fewer) to which LSU and Alabama have held 13 of their combined 16 opponents in 2011. (The exceptions: Oregon and West Virginia scored 27 and 21, respectively, against LSU, and Arkansas netted 14 against the Tide.) It's also the number worn this year by LSU starting tailback Spencer Ware, who we can now safely say will be playing against the Tide. (See below).

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Everyone thought Ohio State and Michigan were the nation's clearcut two best teams when they went 1-vs.-2 in 2006, and both of them crashed and burned in their bowl games. What are the odds LSU and Alabama aren't as good as the hype and rankings suggests they are, either?

The truth is that there's no way to guarantee the winner of LSU-Alabama will finish the national championship job the way the 2009 1-vs-2 SEC championship game winners did and the Buckeyes didn't, or that they'll even make the BCS title game. (Facing Georgia in the Georgia Dome might be tricky, for instance.) But there's two things we can say with certainty: 1. after the past five years, the SEC champion deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to playing for national titles 2. LSU and Alabama are both SEC championship-caliber teams.

In fact, both might be a good bit better than your typical SEC champion--or (with one exception) even any of the league's national titlists in its current streak. How can we say that? Here's how those five teams stacked up in terms of average margin-of-victory across their nine games vs. SEC opposition:
2010 Auburn: 13.4 points
2009 Alabama: 15.8 points
2008 Florida: 30.0 points
2007 LSU: 10.0 points
2006 Florida: 6.9 points
And with five SEC games already behind both the 2011 Tide and Tigers, here's where they stand in the same statistic:
2011 Alabama: 32.4 points
2011 LSU: 27.4 points
Now, a few caveats: this year's injury- and inexperience-ravaged SEC is in many ways not as tough top-to-bottom as the SEC of several of these previous five seasons; obviously, neither LSU nor Alabama has played the most difficult game on their SEC schedule yet (meaning each other), so those numbers will no doubt drop; and even the mighty '08 Gators slipped up against Ole Miss but still made the national title game, a luxury the winner on Nov. 5 (probably) won't have.

But caveats or not, those margins aren't just impressive; they're nearly twice what any team besides those 2008 Gators managed. Offering any "yeah, but" ojections is to ignore the obvious conclusion from everything we know about these two teams to date: whoever wins this is game is deserving of being the league's heavy favorite, they are the likeliest candidate to win the 2011 national title, and yes, whatever happened in 2006, this game deserves the hype.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: We'll let Tyrann Mathieu break the biggest news of the past 24 hours himself:



That's no doubt Mathieu celebrating the fact that he and two other members of the "Synthetic Three" were reinstated as expected Tuesday. It was just yesterday LSU's chancellor was saying Mathieu, Ware, and Tharold Simon would have to "get their act together" for A.D. Joe Alleva to give them the OK to play against the Tide; apparently Alleva didn't need that much convincing said acts have come together.

Speaking of Alleva, an open letter from the LSU A.D. to LSU fans announced the news that as part of moving this year's LSU-Alabama game to a prime-time kickoff, CBS has already agreed to air next year's Tide and Tigers showdown in Death Valley as a prime-time game. In this video, CBS Sports executive vice president Mike Aresco talks on the Tim Brando Show about the process of moving both this year's kickoff to 8 p.m. ET:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Nick Saban's parking ticket might have gotten the most attention out of his public appearance in Birmingham yesterday, but it was also Saban's first opportunity to say more about his Nov. 5 opponent than saying he wasn't going to say anything about them yet. His assessment:
"I think they've got great team speed, (they're) very athletic ... They've got good depth. They play a lot of players. Their ability to execute on a consistent basis has been good. The one thing they've been able to do offensively, they've run the ball effectively on everybody that they've played, and they've played very well on defense, pretty consistently against everybody that they've played. Because of the team speed that they have they're always a little bit of a matchup issue when it comes to special teams."
Parsing exactly what a master of press-conference speak like Saban really means is always tricky, but we think two things here are telling: 1. he doesn't bother praising the rejuvenated LSU passing game, saying the "one thing" LSU's done is run the ball well 2. while the other areas of the team are praised as "effective" or "consistent," the Tiger special teams is a "matchup issue." Despite Saban's protestations to the contrary, we'd wager a large sum of money some of his staff's man-hours the past coupel of weeks have been spent breaking down LSU film, and a substantially lesser amount of money that those special teams areas are where Saban's concerned.

It's been a busy week of award-collecting for Dont'a Hightower. The junior linebacker was named this week's SEC Defensive player of the week, the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, and Tuesday one of 12 Butkus Award finalists, along with teammate Courtney Upshaw. A big game against LSU could make Hightower -- already arguably the most visible member of the Tide defense, along with safety Mark Barron -- a Butkus favorite.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com