Zemek: LSU-Alabama Is Still Bigger

Posted Nov 7, 2013

Matt Zemek's Final Thoughts & Musings Before Week 11

By Matt Zemek
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FEATURED GAME – LSU-ALABAMA: To beat Alabama, you need to throw the ball well and vertically. South Carolina and Auburn did this in 2010. Texas A&M did so last year and actually improved on the formula this year, but the Aggies' defense, of course, couldn't help Johnny Manizel the way it did in 2012. Speaking of 2012, that's when Zach Mettenberger – in the midst of a very disappointing season – played one of his better games against the Crimson Tide. However, Les Miles didn't trust him on a third-and-10 play inside the final two and a half minutes of regulation, and he didn't trust him on a subsequent fourth-and-six play with 1:39 left, leading 17-14. Miles chose to kick a field goal that still would have given Alabama a chance to win in regulation. The kick missed, but the larger takeaway from that situation is that Mettenberger was not allowed to win the game with his right arm.

This year, the passing game is an unquestioned strength for LSU, and with Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri out for the season with an injury, the Bayou Bengals have a real chance to throw the ball down the field for huge plays. If LSU can make this game into a shootout, and if Mettenberger is able to play his best game, all things are possible for the Tigers, even with their weak defense. What's attractive about this matchup is that it promises to be very different from the last LSU-Bama game played in Tuscaloosa, the 9-6 overtime slopfest of 2011. On that night, the defenses were legitimately great – even today, one must respect that reality – but the offenses (and special teams units) tripped over themselves for more nearly four hours.

This is a quarterback's game. We'll see how well Mettenberger and A.J. McCarron respond to the moment. It should be a lot of fun… and that doesn't even touch on the national title implications or BCS bowl stakes involved.

VIRGINIA TECH-MIAMI: Can these teams get out of their own way? Can Logan Thomas eliminate turnovers? Can Stephen Morris play with the same quality he displayed in the first half against Florida State? Miami showed more in a 27-point loss to a great team than it exhibited in the first two months of the season. Virginia Tech's defense continues to carry the full load for the Hokies; will Bud Foster's boys receive meaningful help from their offense for a change? Yes, Duke is in the mix, but the smart money still says that the winner of this game will take the ACC Coastal title. Miami has to win the division in order to produce a genuinely successful season.

BYU-WISCONSIN: After LSU-Alabama, this is the second-best matchup of the day in terms of quality (with Virginia Tech-Miami being the second-biggest game after Tigers-Tide in terms of significance). BYU and Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen know each other well, given that Andersen coached often against BYU at Utah State. The level of familiarity between the coaching staffs is one reason to love this game. The matchup between BYU's rushing defense and Wisconsin's rushing offense makes this must-see TV. When one realizes that a dumpy Mississippi State-Texas A&M game on CBS falls in the same time slot, it should be easy to spend your Saturday afternoon focusing on Cougars-Badgers.

AUBURN-TENNESSEE: The Vols play really well at home and do not buckle in tough situations – just ask Georgia and South Carolina. Auburn will be in for a fight; if the Tigers pass this test, they'll take another small but real step toward re-establishing full legitimacy as an SEC contender. No looking ahead to Georgia is allowed for the Gus Bus this weekend in Knoxville. The key game-within-the-game: Auburn's offensive line versus Tennessee's defensive line.

PENN STATE-MINNESOTA: Would you really want to bet against the Golden Gophers, given the way they're playing? The ability of this team to soar, not merely survive, in the face of Jerry Kill's health problems is one of the best stories in sports – not just college football – in 2013.

NEBRASKA-MICHIGAN: Who cares? That reaction is, in itself, the story of this game and, moreover, a commentary on how poorly both coaching staffs have performed, especially in the past one and a half seasons.

ARIZONA STATE-UTAH: If Utah wins this game, the notion that Oregon's strength of schedule in the Pac-12 clearly eclipses Florida State's strength of schedule in the ACC will be undercut. The Pac-12 and Oregon need Arizona State to become an upper-tier team. That can't happen if the Sun Devils stub their toes and pitchforks in Salt Lake City. This is a very important game to follow on Saturday.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE-DUKE: It's business as usual in the ACC. Duke, in the second week of November, is favored by nine points and can remain in control of its fate in the ACC Coastal. Wait, WHAT??????????????????

HOUSTON-UCF: UCF's win over Louisville represented the first great moment in the history of The American as a conference. Will Houston-UCF be able to compare? The burden is on the visiting Cougars to be competitive in Orlando. Louisville's last hope in The American is for Houston to win this game. If UCF prevails here, Louisville has no realistic path left to a BCS bowl. The Knights would just need to take care of business against markedly inferior teams the rest of the way.

TEXAS-WEST VIRGINIA: This won't be the Oliver Luck Acrimony Bowl after all. Funny how "Oliver Luck to Texas" encountered the same fate as "Texas to the Pac-16." On the field, the Longhorns are facing another diminished opponent in a down year for the Big 12. Is this Texas's fault? No. The Longhorns can't control perceptions of the program even in moments of victory. The objective for Bevo's Boys is to simply avoid losing. Criticisms about the relative value of wins are definitely "first-world problems" in college football.

UTAH STATE-UNLV: The Aggies must win in order to maintain a good chance of beating out Boise State in the Mountain West's Mountain Division. UNLV has three chances left to secure a bowl bid, which would be huge for the program. This is a significant game, even though it falls in the same time window as LSU-Alabama, relegating it to second-class status this Saturday night.

UCLA-ARIZONA: Everything that applies to Arizona State in its game at Utah also applies to UCLA in this trip to Tucson. The Pac-12 and Oregon simply cannot afford to see UCLA lose here.

FRESNO STATE-WYOMING: Remember when Wyoming looked like a threat in the Mountain West? That feels like two years ago, not two months. Nevertheless, Fresno State is playing a cold-weather game late at night in Laramie. This could get interesting, especially since Fresno State has allowed its opponents to hang around well into the fourth quarter all season long.

SAN DIEGO STATE-SAN JOSE STATE: There's one team that can still climb past Fresno State in the Mountain West's West Division. San Jose State can remain in the hunt if it can fend off Team Tenochtitlan here. When LSU-Alabama ends, you'll have three intriguing games to watch late at night. This is one of them; UCLA-Arizona and Fresno-Wyoming are the others.