USA TODAY Sports
Published 4:03 PM EST Nov 8, 2019
It’s this year’s Game of the Century. Yes, there’s some sarcasm there. But the game is pretty huge and has major College Football Playoff ramifications.
No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU were the last two teams at the top of the Amway Coaches Poll to play during the regular season eight years ago. That game finished 9-6 in overtime and no touchdowns were scored. That likely won’t be the case this year as both offenses rank in the top five in the country in scoring.
In addition to likely deciding the SEC West, this game should also impact the Heisman Trophy race with LSU’s Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa among the top contenders for the award. The winner should get a huge boost.
The USA TODAY Network college football staff make their picks for the game.
The Tigers haven’t beaten the Crimson Tide since their last 1 vs. 2 “Game of the Century” meeting in 2011 and have not cracked 20 points in this yearly rivalry matchup since 2010. Yes, LSU’s offense is much improved … but Alabama’s offense still might be better. Tua Tagovailoa is supposed to be back and a Tigers defense that falls in a little behind the Tide’s must navigate this game without Michael Divinity. There could actually be some scoring by both sides this year, but the pick is for the home team to prevail.
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The prediction: Alabama 31, LSU 27. We already know both offenses are superb, though we won’t until some point on Saturday afternoon just how well Alabama navigates offensively as Tua Tagovailoa recovers from his injured ankle. What’s unknown is the overall quality of both defenses. Relative to the rest of the FBS, both the Tide and Tigers rank in the top 20 nationally in yards allowed per play. It says something about each program’s recent history that the defense is consider the weaker side of the ball. When it comes down to it, the reason for picking Tagovailoa and the Tide isn’t too complicated: Alabama just beats LSU, which hasn’t won a game in this series since the 9-6 epic in 2011.
With Joe Burrow passing from the spread, LSU is a different animal than we’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, Alabama has not yet been tested against a very soft schedule – it’s so soft that a loss might effectively eliminate the Crimson Tide from College Football Playoff contention. But LSU’s fabulous offense has covered some significant defensive issues; against an offense at least as powerful, those will be exposed. Alabama wins a wacky, Big 12-style shootout, extending the Tide’s winning streak in the series to nine in a row.
There’s finally an expectation that the Tigers can score with Alabama after just putting up just 10 combined points in the last three meetings between the schools. The bigger question now is how well LSU can stop the Crimson Tide. Much of that will depend on the health of Tua Tagovailoa. The Alabama quarterback should be back in the lineup three weeks after ankle surgery, but his effectiveness is uncertain.
The Tigers allowed 38 against Texas and 28 to Florida. Even 38 to Vanderbilt. They’ll struggle to match up with the Alabama receiving group and the home crowd will certainly have an impact. To hold serve, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow will have to be outstanding and there will have to be some turnovers. The Tigers will come closer than recent games. But it won’t be enough. Alabama 34, LSU 30.
In a strange scheduling quirk, Alabama and LSU meet in their ninth game of the season without having faced a common opponent yet despite playing in the same division of the SEC. It’s fairly apparent, however, that the Tigers have had to work a lot harder to get to 8-0 than the Crimson Tide have. Quite simply, this year’s version of Alabama hasn’t seen a team with this much offensive fire power. Will the Tide be ready? Sure, as ready as they can be. But the Bayou Bengals have already faced a couple of talented defenses and come out on top. Yes, it’s in Tuscaloosa, but this is the year the Tigers break the streak. LSU, 38-27.
With the unknown of Tua Tagovailoa’s health and the fact that Alabama just hasn’t played anyone of consequence this season, this is as difficult a game to handicap as Alabama and LSU have played in a long time. So I’ll throw all analytics and track record out the window here and go with LSU based on nothing more than a gut feeling that this has been their year from the beginning. Everything has broken right for the Tigers to this point and it will continue in Tuscaloosa, 34-28, with Joe Burrow pulling into the lead in the Heisman race.