2012 BCS Championship Game Alabama vs LSU Odds, Free Picks and Predictions on ESPN 1/9/12

Free College Football Bowl Picks and Spreads: #2 Alabama vs #1 LSU 2012 BCS National Championship Game Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions on ESPN 1/9/12: Heading into Monday’s BCS Championship Game, only one thing is certain – the SEC will win its sixth consecutive national title. Other than that, the rematch between the top-ranked LSU Tigers (13-0) and second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) is open for debate. Both teams have demolished opponents with fierce, suffocating defenses and power running games, going unchallenged for most of the season. The lone exception was a November 5 meeting between the two schools, which resulted in a 9-6 overtime victory for the Tigers in Tuscaloosa. The first meeting ultimately decided the SEC title, but there is a much bigger prize at stake in the rematch. After such a close game the first time around, it is no surprise that LSU is only a one-point favorite Monday.

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Dominating may be an understatement for these two defenses. The Crimson Tide ranks first in the country in yards allowed (191.3) and points allowed (8.8), while the Tigers rank second in both categories, giving up just 252.2 yards per game and only 10.5 points. Against the run, both defenses rank in the top three in yards allowed and in the top four in yards per carry. More importantly, they rank first and second in rushing touchdowns allowed, with Alabama giving up just three scores on the ground all season and LSU giving up only six. Against the pass, both units rank in the top five in opponent completion percentage. Pick a defensive category, and these two defenses are probably among the best in the nation.

Dissecting each defense a bit more closely, the Crimson Tide appears to have an edge up front against the run. Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Robinson lead a front seven with as much sideline-to-sideline speed as any group in recent history. The Tigers counter with the deepest defensive front in the country that puts plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks thanks to defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Wingo. Both secondaries are loaded with talent and experience, but with the playmaking ability of first-team All-American cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, LSU’s group has the edge.

Despite what the 9-6 final of the first meeting mat suggest, Alabama and LSU bring potent offenses to the fight as well. Both teams ranked in the top 20 in scoring and rushing yards per game. The Tigers have the slight edge on the scoreboard, averaging 38.5 per game compared t o 36.0 for the Crimson Tide. However, Alabama’s rushing attack was the slightly better of the two. Neither side relies much on the pass. Alabama QB A.J. McCarron and LSU QBs Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson have simply been asked to manage games most of the year. To their credit, all three players have kept the turnovers to a minimum while completing more than 60 percent of their throws.

With power running games fueling both offenses, there will be plenty of pressure on each backfield to perform at a high level. The Tigers have gone with a running back by committee approach, with Michael Ford and Spencer Ware leading the way. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide has relied mainly on workhorse Trent Richardson and has mixed in Eddie Lacy as a change of pace option. Richardson is the player to watch. The Heisman finalist scored 20 touchdowns and ran for nearly 1,600 yards. He also had more than 160 yards of offense in the first meeting with LSU. Richardson will best back on the field Monday, and after having a good measure of success against the Tigers’ vaunted defense early in the year, he could help Alabama reverse November’s result.

While Richardson is the likely difference maker on offense for the Crimson Tide, Jefferson could play the same role for the Tigers. He essentially took over as full time starter midway through the first meeting with Alabama. Jefferson isn’t the most polished QB in the pocket, but his ability to make plays with his legs creates an added wrinkle that the Crimson Tide defense must account for. He also has a strong arm, and with wide receiver Rueben Randle a capable deep threat, Jefferson could loosen up the Alabama defense with a couple of big plays.

The X-factor in the game could be special teams. After all, four missed field goals by Alabama kickers Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster ultimately cost the Crimson Tide a victory in November. Touchdowns will likely be tough to come by again Monday, and the psyche of Shelley and Foster is questionable at best heading into a game when there will be even more pressure. Meanwhile, the Tigers have the ultimate special team’s weapon in Mathieu. Plain and simple, he is a playmaker. LSU leads the country in punt return yards, and Mathieu is a big reason why. He returned punts for touchdowns against Arkansas and Georgia, changing the momentum of both games in favor of the Tigers. A big kick return Monday night could tip the scale in favor of LSU.

There is likely to be a very different atmosphere surrounding this game compared to the regular season meeting. In the first matchup, both teams were playing not to lose. Deep down, Les Miles and Nick Saban knew that there was a good chance that the two programs could meet again as long as neither side was blown out. The play calling was conservative and the quarterbacks were tight most of the game. This time around, neither coach is going to hold anything back. Win or lose, the national title game is the finale for both teams. There should be a few more big plays on offense and defense from both sides, and the score should easily exceed the 9-6 final from the November clash.

There will be a ridiculous amount of talent on the field Monday, and a hard-hitting contest worthy of the BCS Championship Game should be on tap. In the end, it’s hard to imagine Monday’s game being anything but a down to the wire affair. Richardson is probably the most talented offensive weapon, but unless he breaks off a long scoring run, he is going to struggle to score in the red zone against LSU’s defense. Meanwhile, the running ability of Jefferson was able to give the Alabama defense a bit of trouble, and he is an extra weapon that is just tough to account for. Factor in Mathieu and the rest of the LSU defense and special teams, and there is a better chance that the Tigers will make a game-changing play. It will be tight, but the Tigers should pull out another close one.

Prediction: LSU Tigers (+1.5) Cover the Spread

Free College Football Picks and NCAAF Predictions: LSU +1.5 to cover the spread

2012 BCS Championship Game: #2 Alabama vs #1 LSU
Date: 1/9/12
Time: 8:30 PM EST on ESPN
Vegas Odds Favorite: Alabama -1.5 Total: Over/Under 40

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