It doesn't carry the "game of the century" tag like the last time LSU and Alabama met in Tuscaloosa in 2011, but when the Tigers and Crimson Tide tee it up on Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium, it will still carry major division and national title ramifications.
LSU needs to win out, hope Auburn loses to either Tennessee or Georgia and then beats Alabama to force a three-way tie in the SEC West, in which case it'd play for the SEC title in Atlanta since it would have head-to-head wins over the Tide and the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Alabama is humming right along with the No. 1 ranking in the BCS Standings, but based on the landscape around college football, it might not have the luxury of playing for the crystal football with one loss like it has for the last two seasons.
What's the most important matchup in this one? Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger versus the Alabama defense.
Mettenberger got off to a hot start for the Tigers in 2013, but he has cooled of late. He has tossed more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) over the last two games, after throwing 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions over the first seven games of the season.
He's not carrying the momentum into this game that some thought he would, but that doesn't mean that LSU's chances are nonexistent.
In fact, he's been in this exact position before.
Mettenberger was average at best for the 2012 Tigers leading into the bye week and their showdown with Alabama in Baton Rouge. It wasn't exactly the ideal spot for a breakout performance, but that's exactly what it was for Mettenberger, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown against the stingy Alabama defense, nearly leading his team to the upset.
Can he repeat the feat again? It's certainly possible.
Alabama boasts the SEC's best pass defense at 179 yards per game. Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones have all taken turns in the cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue after John Fulton was torched by Texas A&M. Landon Collins filled in nicely at strong safety in place of injured starter Vinnie Sunseri, winning the SEC Defensive Player of the Week award for his work against Tennessee two weeks ago.
But three of the last four teams Alabama has played—Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky—rank 10th or worse in the SEC in passing offense. The fourth is Georgia State, which ranks 63rd in FBS in passing offense (241.0 yards per game).
Despite Mettenberger's recent struggles, he has weapons outside in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., and an offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron who knows how to take the top off of a defense.
The one thing Alabama does is make teams one-dimensional.
The Crimson Tide boasts the SEC's top rush defense (101.88 yards per game) and held the potent Arkansas rushing attack to 165 yards—46.22 yards below its season average.
That's exactly what will happen during this game.
The Tide defense will shut down Tigers running back Jeremy Hill with a stout front four in the same manner Ole Miss and Georgia did in the Tigers' previous two losses. That will force Mettenberger to beat them through the air.
With the keys to the game in his hands, Mettenberger will get rattled by the Alabama front seven, which will force enough mistakes for the Tide to pull away in the second half.
Even though ESPN's College GameDay will be in town, this game doesn't have as much hype surrounding it as more recent LSU/Alabama games. The Tigers would still need help to make it to Atlanta even with a win, and their national title hopes evaporated when the clock struck zero in Oxford.
But it is still a heated rivalry between two teams on a relatively even playing field in terms of talent. Alabama's talent on defense will win out on Saturday night in T-town.
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