Here's what I think today.
This is a tough game to bet on because much of LSU's strength is based on turnover margin and red zone conversion, and those are stats that do not inspire the confidence to underlie financial investments of any significance. You shouldn't bet those things should keep happening, and you shouldn't beat they they will stop happening.
Betting on this game is a crap shoot. If LSU hits their season averages on both of those stats, they probably win.
My prediction? I don't think they will. Those are two prime stats for regression to the mean, and Alabama will safeguard the ball better than anybody LSU has played. Plus Alabama has a secret weapon that should not be forgotten or underestimated: it is playing for Tuscaloosa, in Tuscaloosa, in 2011.
I think Alabama breaks even or better in turnovers and wins by more than a touchdown. If Alabama wins the turnover battle, this could be the 2009 SEC Championship again. Alabama's defensive stats are obscene, its offensive stats very nice. LSU's overall stats are outstanding, but not in Alabama's class, and the difference between the two teams' schedules not great.
Is wins over Oregon and West Virginia by 13 and 26 really that much more impressive than wins over Penn St. and Arkansas by 16 and 24? I don't think so. The scores were similar against the common foes of Florida and Tennessee, each team getting one home and one away in the group, and Florida had a healthy Brantley and was a very different team in the first half against Alabama than when it played LSU with 3rd-string true freshman Briskett at the helm.
LSU has a special teams advantage, but special teams don't win games unless offenses and defenses are equal. I don't think they are. Alabama can run on LSU, and LSU cannot run on Alabama. Alabama's running will open up the passing game for AJ McCarron--or if LSU comes out with 8 in the box, vice versa. One way or the other, I don't think LSU can stop Alabama except by turnover, and Alabama can shut LSU down. LSU's best hope of offensive success lies in the long pass, and that is really difficult to get going when you can't run.
It's so obvious that Alabama's size edge should allow Alabama to run inside and off tackle that LSU is likely to be sitting on it. In that case, Alabama will need to pass to open up the run. McElwain/Saban have shown a tendency to throw a lot early in big games to open up the run, but is it so obvious Alabama will go to the pass to set up the run that LSU will come out sitting on pass?
The best way to get offensive success in a tough game is not to lean on your strongest suits. It's to keep the other team off balance, to outguess them. LSU needs to outguess Alabama to win at the line of scrimmage. 50-50 in the guessing game and Alabama does a lot more shoving around than getting shoved. The key to that will be Alabama's first couple of offensive possessions. LSU must shut the Tide down, because LSU is likely to get shut down, at least most of the time. To shut Alabama down, LSU must outguess and outplan Alabama when Bama has the ball.
Don't rule that out, because LSU has outplayed expectations against Alabama each of the last 3 years. That could come from institutional memory of Saban in Red Stick. While that could heppen again, I don't expect it. Saban is a master of the two-week prep period, and that's what he has here.
In sum, LSU needs a 2-turnover margin and great red zone success. If they get both, they should win. They have gotten both all year, but if they flunk either of those it becomes very problematical for them. Flunk both and they lose. Lose the turnover battle by more than one and they could lose badly.