LSU, Alabama know what’s ahead
Both enter season as favorites, but know anything can happen
HOOVER, Ala. – Roll Tide, Geaux Tigers.
After two days of sparring among the underdogs, the perceived heavyweights made their appearances Friday as Southeastern Conference Football Media Days came to an end.
Most observers will tell you they pick either Alabama or LSU to not only win the SEC Western Division, but then the league title and, subsequently, very likely the conference’s sixth consecutive BCS national championship.
Which is familiar territory for both, considering LSU won it all in 2003 and 2007 and Alabama did so in 2009. Florida won in 2006 and 2008 and Auburn did it last year.
“I kind of feel like we’re the national league of college football,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said simply.
LSU and Alabama are tied together in so many ways, not the least of which because Saban led LSU to the 2003 crown. He left LSU for the Miami Dolphins before going to Tuscaloosa, but Saban haters still loom large in Baton Rouge. What’s more, both schools have to consider Auburn, the defending national champion, in almost everything they do. Certainly that’s moreso the case for Alabama, where the in-state rivalry with Auburn runs to ridiculous depths, but all three recruit many of the same players and, obviously, have to beat each other every year in a division where it’s big news when they and either Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are not ranked in the polls.
“The SEC West. Tough. Tough, tough, tough,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “I don’t care who you play in the SEC West, you better buckle up both chin straps and be ready for a full, full day.”
Alabama finished 10-3 last season after winning the Capital One Bowl by crushing another school that Saban coached, Michigan State, 49-7. So it came as no surprise Friday that in the media poll to win the league, Alabama was an overwhelming favorite to win the West, followed by LSU, Arkansas, State, Auburn and Ole Miss.
Not that Saban, who enjoys gigging the media, appreciated being picked No. 1.
“Let me first say that you all are a lot smarter than we are as coaches because I could never pick who is going to win the SEC,” Saban said. “Let’s start with that.”
History supports his sarcasm, since the SEC media release pointed out that the media has correctly picked the league winner three times since 1992.
“From a logical standpoint, I know there’s a couple other teams in our division – forget about the league – that have just as many returners starting, and their quarterback. So even though I have a tremendous amount of respect for the intelligence level and your ability to prognosticate, which we really can’t do. I’m not capable of doing it. I don’t understand how you come to the decisions that you come to.”
|TIDE ARE FAVORED|
HOOVER, Ala. -- Alabama's the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference title.
The Crimson Tide was the pick of media covering SEC media days to beat South Carolina in the league championship game.
Alabama received 111 votes to win the West followed by LSU (30), Arkansas (23), Mississippi State (1) and Auburn. Ole Miss was picked to finish last but got two first-place votes.
In the East, South Carolina got 114 votes to repeat as SEC East champions. The Gamecocks were followed by Georgia (38), Florida (12), Tennessee (2), Kentucky (1) and Vanderbilt.
Alabama was the pick to win the overall SEC title on 98 ballots, compared to 29 for LSU, 18 for Arkansas and 14 for South Carolina. Georgia got four votes and Florida and Ole Miss both got two.
-- The Associated Press
To begin with, Alabama has nine returning defensive starters and five of them were on Friday’s All-SEC defense: lineman Josh Chapman, linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, and defensive backs Mark Barron and Robert Lester.
And three on offense: lineman Barrett Jones, center William Vlachos and running back Trent Richardson.
“We have question marks on our team,” Saban said. “How we respond, how we address these question marks are going to certainly determine the consistency that our team can play with throughout the season.”
Conversely, LSU has only one second-teamer listed on offense, lineman Alex Hurst, and only one first-team defensive player, defensive back Morris Claiborne. But observers of LSU nonetheless expect the Tigers to have one of the best defenses in the nation, anchored by seven returning starters from a unit that was first in pass defense, second to Alabama in scoring defense last season and third in total defense.
LSU coach Les Miles, who replaced Saban at the place they call the Old War Skule, has quietly compiled the best six-year run in the history of the school. He is 62-17, including 11-2 last year, a season capped by blasting Texas A&M 41-24 in the Cotton Bowl. And while Alabama has a quarterback battle looming between untested sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt-freshman Phillip Sims, LSU will once again pin its hopes on senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson, a player who the past two seasons has both sparkled at times and frustrated the LSU fan base beyond belief at others.
Jefferson last season rushed for 450 yards – an LSU season record – but his seven rushing touchdowns tied the number of his passing TDs. Jefferson, who at times looked supremely confident and at others bewildered, completed 118 of 209 passes for 1,411 yards in 2010, but was intercepted 10 times.
“I have a 20-7 record,” Jefferson boasted. “Not everything is about stats. I’m eight games away from being the quarterback who has won the most games at LSU. After the season I could go down in the record books. But I’m doing a lot to change the perception of people’s opinions of me this year. I’m buying into the system, trying to be more of a leader and focusing on being more consistent. I’m doing a lot of things I wasn’t prepared to do last year and make sure I have a great season.”
Versatile offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert sang Jefferson’s praises and said the quarterback is the unequivocal leader of the team. Jefferson in turn praised new LSU offensive coordinator and QB coach Steve Kragthorpe for helping him improve and gain confidence.
“I think he’s leading. I think he steps forward to do the things that he can do,” Miles said. “The things he can do have been enough. He’s been a very productive quarterback for us.”
LSU and Alabama meet Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. Interestingly, both teams will be coming off bye weeks, which might bode well for LSU. Jefferson, while having more than his share of struggles, has proven particularly effective in games that either begin a season, bowl games that follow a long break, and in games following bye weeks.
But that Alabama game is a long, long way off.
“Well, we play Oregon [in Dallas on Sept. 3] in the first game, then we play six games on the road [this season],” Miles said. “Our football team is going to be looking to execute at a very high level, really defining who they are, having a preseason that answers a lot of questions.
“It’s very easy not to look ahead,” Miles said. “I promise.”