I usually don't post much on here, other than the odd comment now and then, and to this point I don't believe I've ever posted a FanPost. However, with this year's version of LSU-Alabama bearing down on me I have found myself with an unexpected abundance of time and that abundance has led to a build-up of nervous energy. This is the result of said energy.I should apologize ahead of time for the length, but as I said, I've had a lot of time on my hands.
As Alabama prepares for LSU this weekend in Baton Rouge, I couldn't help but compare the two teams from last year to the two teams from this year.
First, last year's numbers.
Last year's teams were eerily similar statistically leading up to the Game of the Century, even down to the two common opponents they shared. LSU beat Florida by 30 while Alabama beat them by 28, and both the Tigers and the Tide waxed Tennessee by 31.
LSU had averaged 39.3 ppg while allowing 11.5. Alabama averaged 39.4 ppg while allowing only 6.9. The actual numbers of offensive points scored and allowed to that point in the season were Alabama 294-55 and LSU 287-92(that’s taking out all defensive scores and return scores).
So, statistically Alabama averaged 1 ppg more on offense than LSU(36.8-35.9) and allowed just under 5 ppg less on defense in the first 8 games of the 2011 season. This could have been the reason that Alabama opened as a 4.5 point favorite a number that only grew as the game drew near.
Two other things factored in:
1. Alabama's schedule was significantly weaker than LSU's in the first 8 games.
LSU had opened the season by whipping a good-not-great Oregon, devoured sacrificial lamb Northwestern State, then took down decent Mississippi State, clobbered previously unbeaten West Virginia, embarrassed Kentucky, killed injury-riddled Florida, smacked terrible Tennessee, and destroyed a 5-2 Auburn team.
Alabama opened with an easy win over Kent State, followed by an easier-than-expected win over an eventual 9-4 Penn State, a shutout against North Texas, a defensive clinic against Arkansas, a mauling of Florida, a shutout of Vandy, a butt-kicking of Ole Miss, and a surprising first half battle that turned into a rout against Tennessee.
Both teams seemed to be winning easy, but the schedules were vastly different. Each played 6 non-common opponents. I've broken them down like this:
Alabama - 2 cupcakes(Kent State, UNT), 2 bad teams(Ole Miss, Vandy), 1 average team(PSU), 1 good team(Arkansas).
LSU - 1 cupcake(NW St.), 1 bad team(UK), 2 average teams (MSU, Auburn), and 2 good teams(Oregon, WVU).
LSU played 2/3 of their non-common games against average or better teams, while Alabama only played 1/3.
2. Alabama was the home team. This usually is an advantage, but in the last 25 years, the home team has only won 8 times in this rivalry.
From looking at these statistics, it's easy to see how these two teams were so evenly matched last season when they met in Tuscaloosa. Alabama had a slight offensive and defensive edge, but against weaker opponents. It's hard to critique a team that would eventually win the National Title, but Alabama might have been better served to play a second out-of-conference opponent like a West Virginia, if only to bolster their resume at the end of the season.
Secondly, a look at this year's numbers.
Unlike last year, Alabama and LSU have not played a common opponent in the first 8 weeks of the season. This forces us to analyze strictly by the numbers.
This year's Alabama team is averaging 40.6 ppg, while allowing 8.1. LSU has dropped off a bit, averaging only 30.1 ppg, and allowing 14.6. The actual numbers of offensive points scored and allowed up to this week are Alabama 311-58 and LSU 225-117(once again, taking out defensive scores and returns.)
Alabama now averages over 10 ppg more on offense than LSU(38.9-28.1), while allowing just over a touchdown less per game(7.3-14.6). This would lead you to believe that LSU might be as high as a 14-17 point underdog to Alabama this weekend, but once again, we have to look beyond the numbers.
Alabama's schedule is better this year, but not by much. Circumstances out of their control have influenced this. Tyler Wilson's injury and Michigan's relapse into irrelevance took the luster out of the early games. Tennessee and Mizzou are actually worse than first thought. The Mississippi colleges have been somewhat surprising, and the cupcakes were sufficiently submissive.
Alabama: 2 cupcakes(WKU, FAU), 3 bad teams(Arky, Mizzou, Tenn), 2 average teams(Ole Miss, Michigan), and 1 good team(MSU).
LSU has again faced a significantly tougher schedule, despite playing 4 terrible out-of-conference games. They played Auburn before the wheels totally fell off and won by a safety, rather shockingly got pushed around by Florida, then bounced back with wins over top 10 USCe and top 15 TAMU.
LSU: 3 cupcakes(UNT, Idaho, Towson), 1 bad team(Auburn), 1 average team(Washington), 3 good teams(Florida, USCe, TAMU)
Alabama has played 3/8 of their games against average or better teams, while LSU has played that many good teams, and 1/2 of their games against average or better.
This time LSU is the home team, but as stated earlier, that really doesn't mean much in this rivalry.
Finally, a look at how this and last year's teams compare.
Comparing Alabama's defense from last year to this year is amazing. This defense is allowing exactly .4 more ppg, while creating 3 more turnovers in 8 games than in all of last year. Offensively the Tide have increased their offensive output by a little over 2 ppg. These increases are happening against slightly better teams than a year ago.
LSU's offense is a little more than a touchdown per game worse than last year(35.9-28.1) and is allowing a field goal more per game on defense. This dropoff is happening against about the same quality of opponent as last year, maybe slightly better.
This year's Alabama team is statistically better than any of the three other teams(2011 Alabama,2011 LSU, 2012 LSU), and they've done it against slightly better competition than last year's Alabama, and slightly worse competition than either of the LSU teams.
Before I looked at any numbers, I honestly thought that this year's Alabama team was similar to last year's LSU team. After looking at the stats, I think that 2012 Alabama is more like 2011 Alabama, with fewer offensive turnovers and more defensive turnovers. LSU still holds the edge in strength of schedule to this point, but not as drastically as last year, and they've performed far worse than last year against similar opponents.
This year's Alabama team is about touchdown better than last year's LSU, less than a field goal better than last year's Alabama, and at least two scores better than this year's LSU, through 8 games. These are just stats, and sometimes the stats don't tell the story, but it took Alabama missing 4 field goals last year for LSU overcome the advantage Alabama had on offense and defense. This year it would probably take more than that.