He’s the Bill Belichick of college football. He might have the personality of a houseplant, and he might not be Mr. Fuzzy when it comes to being the typical folksy head of a program, but he’s able to perfectly blend the NFL mentality with the college game and how it relates to 18- to-22-year-olds. Les Miles actually has gotten the better of Saban over the past few years when both teams have had time to prepare, but Saban is getting a second chance. Because of the styles of both teams and the way the two coaches run things, Alabama is going to come at LSU with more wrinkles and more looks. LSU might have a trick or two up its sleeve, but it’s not going to make any fundamental changes on either side of the ball. While Miles is vastly underappreciated and unfairly might be seen as a top-shelf recruiter who wins because he has the stars, Saban and his staff are widely considered the best in the game.
An ultra-inspired Trent Richardson
From all accounts, Alabama running back Trent Richardson appears to be ready to bust out a signature performance. Of course, being confident and running on the LSU defense are two different things, but he did his job the first time around with 89 yards on 23 carries to go along with five catches for 80 yards and a 23-yard kickoff return. With all due respect to LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle, Richardson will be the one true game-breaking offensive difference-maker on the field, and now it’s statement time. He might not have won the Heisman, but he took home the Doak Walker and he could be the signature player of the game on the way to his second national title.
No. 1 teams in BCS championships
To be fair, the main reason this is a stat is because the SEC team has been ranked No. 2 most of the time in the recent BCS championships. The No. 1 team beat the No. 2 team in the national title game from 1999 to 2002, and then No. 2 Ohio State shocked Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Since then, the No. 2 team has gone 6-3 in the national title game. The No. 1 team won the past two, but the Avis team usually seems to try harder and usually has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. For whatever reason, Alabama gets to play a huge game as the underdog.
The SEC championship first half
Here’s what LSU does, and it worked all season long: Come out slow, establish the run early, let the opposing team hang around, get one huge play that only a national title-caliber team can count on every week and let the O-line pound away while taking out the opponent’s heart. It sounds simple enough, but that didn’t really work against Alabama. LSU's one big play came from defensive back Eric Reid on an interception, but the offense didn’t do anything other than hold on for dear life and get the field goals when needed. The offense was along for the ride. LSU isn’t going to be able to steamroll over a 'Bama team that won’t wilt under the pressure.
LSU really doesn’t have a passing game
When the Tigers absolutely must come up with a deep throw, usually after opposing defenses sell out to stop the run, the home run is there. Thanks to the underappreciated Rueben Randle and quarterbacks who have been drilled on DON’T . . . FORCE . . . ANYTHING, LSU led the SEC in passing efficiency. Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson and Zach Mettenberger combined to complete 62 percent of their passes for 2,082 yards and 21 scores with just four interceptions — two of those coming against the Tide. However, even with one of the nation’s top pass defenses on the other side holding everyone but West Virginia under wraps, LSU still didn’t throw for as many yards as the secondary allowed. Alabama didn’t care a lick about the LSU passing attack the first time around and actually welcomed Lee throwing the ball in the middle of the field as much as possible. This time, the defense will be more than ready for Jefferson, who was good in the first game but isn’t going to complete six of 10 passes against the Tide secondary again.
Alabama actually was better the first time around
LSU won the game, but it was as paper-thin a margin as they come. LSU was able to pound away late with the running game, especially in overtime, but it only came up with 148 rushing yards. Alabama was limited to 96 on the ground, and Trent Richardson was able to gain just 89, but the passing game was far more effective with AJ McCarron accumulating 199 yards on 16-of-29 passing. The combination of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee were only 9-of-17 passing combined, for 91 yards and two interceptions. Alabama converted five of 13 third-down chances, LSU just three of 11. The Tide committed six penalties to LSU’s seven. The Tide had more sacks, averaged more yards per punt and led just about every statistical category except one: field goals. Alabama’s kickers hit two of six chances — note that they got six chances — while LSU’s Drew Alleman hit all three of his kicks. This time around . . .
Alabama kickers aren’t going to get the chance to stink
Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster might have struggled in the first game, but Shelley isn’t too bad from short range. Alabama's kicking will be the early storyline, but it’s not likely to be a factor as it was the first time around. Nick Saban won’t let it be. Knowing that his kickers don’t have any dependable range from beyond 40 yards, there’s no way Saban is going to let his team lose again on field goals. That means a few more aggressive play calls around midfield — which is a good thing to help bust Saban out of his conservative big-game tendencies — and, if needed, he’ll use his solid punter, Cody Mandell, to punt the ball deep. Saban will never let return specialist Tyrann Mathieu touch the ball and will take his chances with his defense and giving LSU 80-plus yards to go by drilling it into Mandell’s head to put it out of bounds. The Tigers didn’t get return a punt in the first game, and they're not going to get one in the title game, either.
Defensive schemes and styles
Not only is Kirby Smart (pictured) one of the best defensive coordinators in college football — and, shockingly, not taking a head-coaching gig after this game — but Saban also is a defensive-minded head coach who focuses most of his attention on figuring out ways to stop good offenses. Of course, LSU will have a few new things for the Tide offense, but the philosophies of the two teams are a bit different. LSU will be LSU and dare Alabama to have success where it didn’t in the first game. You want to try throwing deep on the Tigers' corners? Go for it, Alabama. Basically, the Tide will enter the game knowing what to expect. On the flip side, Saban and Smart will treat the time off as a chance to reinvent the defense a bit. It’s not like LSU has Tom Brady under center, and it’s not like the Tigers' offensive game plan is going to make massive changes on the fly. Watch out for Alabama to come up with something completely different from the first game when it comes to looks and blitz packages, and watch for LSU to have a difficult time adjusting early on. There’s not much mystery in what LSU is going to want to do, and there’s not much it can do if the Tide defense is dialed in.
The controversy over whether there should be a rematch should favor the Tide; they're not supposed to be here. LSU already has been crowned the national champion by some, including a few AP voters who opened up about how they might still put the Tigers No. 1 if Alabama wins. It’s the national championship, so of course both teams are going to feel pressure, but LSU is supposed to win. It’s supposed to be the best team in the country. It’s supposed to be able to beat the same team twice. It’s the SEC champion and it’s been through more wars than Alabama — against Oregon, West Virginia and, for a half, against Georgia. The problem, though, is that in most of their big wins the Tigers were able to turn it up a few notches late when they had to. They couldn’t do that the first time around against Alabama, and they’re not going to be able to do it this time, either. LSU hasn’t played a slew of tight games this year, and the longer it goes on and the longer it stays close, the more pressure should be on the No. 1 team.
The rematch factor
It’s really, really, really difficult to beat the same great team twice in the same season. The loser the first time around can adjust and tweak a bit more, and while the winner will do the same, the other team tends to make the bigger and better adjustments. Whether or not any of that is true, at least history is on Alabama’s side. When it comes to rematches between teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, the losers the first time around are 4-2 in the bowl, and that doesn’t count Florida State's win over Florida in the 1995 Sugar after the infamous 31-31 tie in 1994. Even in rematches when both teams weren’t in the Top 25, like last year’s Holiday Bowl between Nebraska and Washington, it’s tough to come up with the second victory. In the two rematches in conference championship games this year, Wisconsin beat Michigan State and Clemson beat Virginia Tech. However, on the plus side for LSU, in SEC championship rematches the team that won the previous game is 5-1, with the one win LSU's stunner over No. 2 Tennessee in the 2001 title game.