LSU Tigers: Trent Richardson
Vidal Hazelton (No. 3 recruit) Taylor Mays (8), Antwine Perez (10)
The trio signed with a USC program that was coming off back-to-back BCS title game appearances, but their reality ended up being a pair of transfers and a final game for Mays in the Emerald Bowl. Perez played sparingly as a true freshman and then transferred to Maryland. Hazelton was the leading receiver for the Trojans in his sophomore year with 50 catches but transferred to Cincinnati after his junior year. Mays stayed all four years and earned All-American status before being drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft by the 49ers. -- Garry Paskwietz
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So, Alabama and LSU don't play this weekend. The Crimson Tide must get past No. 11 Mississippi State before the upcoming trip to Baton Rouge for a third Game of the Century in the past year. But the fact that the two rivals aren't playing hasn't stopped anyone from talking about this rivalry for the past 10 months -- Nick Saban and his squad have been one of the main topics of debate in the Pelican State for most of this year. So who cares if we get a little ahead of ourselves?
The Tigers and Tide have squared off for so many bluechip prospects in the last few years, there needs to be a series just for alums of this game. Next week, when the game is actually looming, we'll delve into the current side of the fight.
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A: If you're talking in terms of production, I think there are other, more troubling areas than the running or passing game, namely the secondary. Eddie Lacy is a load at running back and there are legitimately two or three capable backups behind him. The rotation could remind LSU fans of when Nick Saban used Joseph Addai and others to win the title in 2003.
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Like all the other positions, we're looking at overall talent, game-changing ability and experience. We also looked at past performances and projections for 2012.
Here are our top 10 SEC running backs:
2. Knile Davis, Jr., Arkansas: Like Lattimore, Davis is coming off of a devastating injury from last year. He had yet another ankle injury that cost him all of his 2011 season, but it sounds like he's more than ready to return to the playing field. He's one of the most dynamic rushers in the country, and when he was healthy in 2010 he averaged 146.9 yards in the last seven games of the season.
3. Christine Michael, Sr., Texas A&M: He's another back coming off a season-ending injury. Before he tore his ACL last fall, Michael rushed for 899 yards and is a true workhorse. His punch-you-in-the-mouth, explosive, downhill running style will fit right in in the SEC. He should be good to go this fall, and if he's 100 percent he'll certainly challenge for the rushing title.
4. Zac Stacy, Sr., Vanderbilt: He was a real surprise in the SEC last season and returns as the league's top statistical rusher, with 1,193 yards from a year ago. He isn't the fastest back, but he's strong, works hard and has excellent vision. Last season, Stacy tied for the SEC lead with runs of 40 or more yards, and averaged 5.7 yards per carry against SEC defenses.
5. Eddie Lacy, Jr., Alabama: Lacy takes over for the very talented Trent Richardson, but he's no slouch. Lacy has shown pretty good explosion and strength when he's had the ball, averaging 7.1 yards per carry last season. Nagging injuries have slowed him in the past, but if he's healthy he'll make plenty of defenders miserable -- and sore -- this fall.
6. Spencer Ware, Jr., LSU: Ware was one of the top backs in the league during the first part of last season, but was never the same after his midseason suspension. Word is that he's very determined to redeem himself this fall. He's a true bruiser who can soften defenses, and has a knack for pushing through for an extra yard or three.
7. Michael Ford, Jr., LSU: He's considered the fastest of LSU's five-headed rushing monster and ended up leading the Tigers in rushing last season (756), after starting just three games. Ford might be LSU's best big-play threat at running back, but he's also not afraid to put his head down and knock someone over.
8. Onterio McCalebb, Sr., Auburn: McCalebb might not be the every-down back the Tigers need in replacing Michael Dyer, but he's one of the best home run threats in the league. He's at his best when he takes runs to the outside, and can be deadly in the passing game, too.
9. Dennis Johnson, Sr., Arkansas: After taking over for Davis last season, Johnson led the Hogs with 670 yards on just 106 carries. He might be known more for his kick return ability, but Johnson could probably start at running back for a few teams in the SEC. He has a solid blend of power and speed, but has to get over his fumbling issues.
10. Nick Griffin, So, Mississippi State: LaDarius Perkins might be the starter to open the season and has big-time speed, but Griffin is the complete package and is probably the closest thing the Bulldogs have on their roster to the departed Vick Ballard. The coaches are especially excited about his potential, and it would be no surprise if Griffin eventually takes the bulk of the carries for the Bulldogs this fall.
1. Alabama: The defense will get hit the hardest by graduation and the NFL draft, but Alabama's offense should be better. While it's almost a forgone conclusion that junior running back Trent Richardson will declare for the NFL draft, Alabama returns a veteran offensive line, has a good set of up-and-coming receivers and has some pretty talented running backs to work with, including pounder Eddie Lacy. Oh, and that quarterback ain't too bad, either.
2. LSU: The Tigers might have come up short in the big one, but it's not like LSU is going anywhere. That defense that ranked second nationally was made up by a slew of youngsters. LSU returns double-digit starters next year, including most of its front seven. A major bright spot for this team is that former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will now get his chance, and has skill that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee lacked.
3. Georgia: The Bulldogs might return more starters next year than LSU. After surpassing expectations and challenging LSU for the SEC title, the Bulldogs should enter next fall as the favorites in the SEC East. Stud quarterback Aaron Murray returns and so do most of his weapons. With arguably the easiest schedule (again) in the SEC, Mark Richt will be expected to take his Dawgs back to Atlanta.
4. South Carolina: There won't be any sleeping on the Gamecocks in 2012. After getting 11 wins for only the second time in school history, South Carolina should compete for the SEC East for the third straight year. The Gamecocks return a slew of talent, especially on defense, and saw tremendous improvement in quarterback Connor Shaw. Also, running back Marcus Lattimore should be back and healthy after his devastating season-ending knee injury.
5. Arkansas: The Razorbacks will lose a lot of key players that have helped Arkansas get to where it is under Bobby Petrino. Defensively, five seniors will say goodbye, while the offense will lose three NFL wide receivers. However, that offensive line, which grew up as the season progressed, will be much better and star running back Knile Davis should be back and healthy. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is back, so there shouldn't be much dip in the passing game even with some new faces at receiver.
6. Auburn: Those youngsters on the Plains will be more mature and much improved in 2012. That has to be a scary thought for other SEC members. Auburn doesn't lose much from its 2011 team and gets a great addition to the defensive side of the ball in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Offensively, there are weapons everywhere, but the key will be finding the right quarterback ... again.
7. Florida: Will Muschamp's first year as the Gators' head coach didn't go as planned, but there is still a lot of talent in Gainesville, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Florida loses just one starter on defense and should have one of the fastest, most aggressive defensive units around the SEC. Getting that offense going will be key to Muschamp's second year, but with all that turnover, it should be a fresh start for this unit.
8. Missouri: This new group of Tigers enters 2012 as a factor in the SEC East. Missouri returns nearly everyone from 2011, including quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, who both put up solid numbers in 2011. The Tigers will no doubt hit some snags as they transition into their new home, but with all the talent that returns, Missouri won't be a pushover in its first year in the SEC.
9. Tennessee: Derek Dooley has the pieces in place on both sides of the ball to compete in the SEC East. That young defense won't be so young in 2012 and quarterback Tyler Bray returns with his deep-threat sidekicks at wide receiver. With a solid offensive line, the next step for Tennessee is to find a consistent running back to help take the pressure off of the passing game. There's a lot of pressure on Dooley to get things done, and he has the talent to in 2012.
10. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the pleasure of entering the SEC as a Western Division team. That's not exactly a warm welcome. It doesn't help that Texas A&M is losing a ton from its 2011 team. There could be six NFL draft picks who won't be back in College Station next season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and top safety Trent Hunter are gone, and so is receiver Jeff Fuller. Christine Michael should do well as Cyrus Gray's replacement at running back, but the core of this team will be gone.
11. Vanderbilt: Year 1 of the James Franklin era was a success and there shouldn't be a lot of drop-off for the Commodores next season. Vandy loses top defenders Chris Marve, Tim Fugger and Casey Hayward, but a lot of veterans return on that side of the ball. Jordan Rodgers is back at quarterback, Zac Stacy returns at running back and wide receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews will be back. Running back and specialist Warren Norman should be back too and the offensive line returns four starters.
12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lose a lot on both sides of the ball in 2012, but should have a top cornerback combo in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Losing Fletcher Cox up front will leave a hole on the defensive line and saying goodbye to linebacker Brandon Wilson won't be easy. Tyler Russell will probably get the first crack at quarterback for the Bulldogs, but he will be without his safety net in running back Vick Ballard. The good thing is that the receivers are back, but this team will have to grow up in a hurry.
13. Kentucky: The offensive line will have some missing pieces in 2012 and the defense loses six starters, including star linebacker Danny Trevathan. Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton will battle at quarterback, but with how 2011 ended, Smith might have the advantage. This team struggled mightily on offense and the problem was that there wasn't a lot of improvement throughout the year. The offseason should be dedicated to find ways to get this offense moving.
14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze steps into a tough situation at Ole Miss. His first order of business needs to be improving the discipline on this team. It was awful in 2011, and if Ole Miss wants to improve it has to clean that up. The defense should get a boost with leader D.T. Shackelford returning from his season-ending knee injury and offensive playmakers Jeff Scott, Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell are back. The offensive line loses some key components, and the quarterback situation is far from figured out.
NEW ORLEANS -- College football has a new national champion and its name is Alabama. The second-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1, 7-1) totally dominated the night as Alabama came away with the 21-0 win over No. 1 LSU (13-1, 8-0) in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.
We even had a touchdown in the rematch, as Alabama running back Trent Richardson put the game away with his 34-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. After kicking killed the Tide in the first go-round between these two teams, Jeremy Shelley hit five of his seven field-goal attempts.
How it was won: Alabama's defense entered the game as the nation's best and it showed exactly why Monday night. LSU's offense did absolutely nothing for four quarters. The Crimson Tide contained LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson all night and forced him to have his worst game of the year. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was outstanding as well. He was cool and collected in the huddle and never looked like the youngster that he is. He finished the game with 234 yards passing. LSU's defense wasn't bad either, allowing only the five field goals before Richardson's touchdown run with 4:36 left.
Turning point: Jefferson's interception in the third quarter stopped any chance of LSU making any sort of run in the second half. Honestly, the turning point might have been when LSU coach Les Miles sent Jefferson out to take the snaps at quarterback in the second half.
Stat of the game: LSU ran the ball so well against Alabama earlier this year, but the Crimson Tide's defense absolutely manhandled LSU's offensive line and held the Tigers to a season-low 39 yards rushing.
Player of the game: Shelley tied a bowl record with five field goals and scored the only points of the game until late in the fourth. After Alabama's kicking game was a disaster last time these teams played, he was the Tide's best offensive player.
Unsung hero: Courtney Upshaw was a monster on Monday. He recorded seven tackles, six solo and a sack. He couldn't be contained by LSU's offensive line.
Second guessing: Miles always has been very loyal to Jefferson, but it cost him Monday. He should have turned to Jarrett Lee at some point in the second half after a simply awful performance by Jefferson. Lee struggled against Alabama earlier this year, but he couldn't have been worse than Jefferson, right? Jefferson passed for 53 yards and an interception and ran for 15 yards.
What it means: Alabama now enters the offseason with Nick Saban's second national championship as the Tide's head coach. That's No. 13 in the Alabama record books. The Tide will lose some key pieces to this team, especially on defense, but the offense might be better with four of five linemen coming back and McCarron being much improved. Alabama should also have some better play at wide receiver. For LSU, this was a great season until Monday night. But the Tigers return the core of this team and will most certainly get better quarterback play from junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger. Both of these teams will be ranked right at the top of the polls to begin next season.
Record performance: Shelley's five field goals tied the record for most in a bowl game. His seven attempts set a bowl record.
That's two times now that Richardson hasn't gotten the rock when he probably should have inside LSU's 20-yard line. He grabbed just one carry inside the 20 on Alabama's first scoring drive and that resulted in a field goal. On Alabama's last scoring drive, Eddie Lacy got the carries inside the 20 and came up short on a third-and-1.
Alabama leads 6-0, but things might be different if Richardson got the ball in these key situations. He should always be Alabama's go-to guy, and he isn't right now in the biggest game of the season. These are the plays he lives for.
If Alabama should beat LSU, particularly in a close game, then the vote in the final Associated Press poll in the hours following the game could get really interesting.
Can you say split national championship?
Nobody has really wanted to talk about the possibility the last week in New Orleans, and that includes both sides.
“The only thing on our minds is this game,” LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson said. “This is the BCS championship game. It’s not about what we’ve done this season or anything that’s happened in the past. This is the game that counts.”
One by one, the Alabama players have also shrugged off the possibility that they might have to share the national championship if they win on Monday night.
The only time that has happened in the BCS era, ironically, was in 2003 when LSU beat Oklahoma in New Orleans to win the BCS national championship and USC was voted No. 1 in the Associated Press poll after beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
“All we can do is play this game,” Alabama running back Trent Richardson said. “They’re going to remember who wins this ballgame, nothing else. It’s just like a lot of people saying we didn’t deserve to be in the game. Well, we are, and we plan on proving to everybody that they got it right by putting us here.”
The winner Monday night is automatically crowned the BCS national champion, but the AP poll is no longer part of the BCS equation.
And, already, a sampling of AP voters have said they would seriously consider keeping LSU No. 1 even if the Tigers lose to the Crimson Tide in a close game.
Oklahoma State (12-1) is also sitting there and would warrant some consideration, especially if it’s a sloppy game and Alabama barely squeaks by. The Cowboys were just 18 points behind the Crimson Tide in the final AP regular-season poll.
LSU’s overall body of work is what’s so impressive, and the thinking among some AP voters is that the Tigers would be as deserving as anybody at 13-1 when you consider that they’ve already beaten eight nationally-ranked teams, including three top-5 teams, and took down Alabama the first time in Tuscaloosa.
If Alabama were to win handily on Monday night, the talk of a split national title would die down considerably.
Either way, the Crimson Tide’s Outland Trophy winner, offensive tackle Barrett Jones, said nobody on the team has spent any time worrying about having to share the championship with anybody.
“Whoever wins the national championship game is the national champion,” Jones said. “I understand how a lot of people are saying that they’ve already beaten us once, and they have.
“But this is the game for the national championship. They know that, and we know that. No matter what side you’re on, this is the game you wanted to be in when the season began.”
The LSU players didn’t even want to broach the subject of what happens if they come up short on Monday night.
Rather, their focus is on making history. They could become the first unbeaten national champion since the advent of the AP Top 25 poll in 1937 to beat four top 5 teams on their way to the title.
“We want to be remembered as the best team ever,” LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “When you mention LSU, we want people to remember this team.”
The picks are in for Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game, and we have a split decision:
Edward Aschoff: Stopping LSU has proved futile for every team that has had to face the Tigers this season. From LSU’s hard-nosed running game to its ferocious defense, LSU has truly been a force to reckon with. I picked against the Tigers when these teams first met, and for good reason. Alabama had all the tools to be victor on that day. However, I was wrong and I don’t like to make the same mistake twice. LSU has proved itself too many times for me to pick against the Tigers in what will basically be a home game. This season has been too special for LSU to fall at the very end of one of the most demanding years in NCAA history. … LSU 20, Alabama 17
Chris Low: After bouncing back and forth, I’ve made my pick. It wasn’t easy even if we are in the Big Easy. In short, as good as LSU is and has been this season, Alabama is better. The Crimson Tide will be ready for the option this time on defense. They won’t bog down inside the 30 on offense, and aided by the fact that the game is being played indoors, the kickers won’t miss four field goals again. There’s no question that LSU drew the short end of the stick in having to beat Alabama again to win the national title, especially when you’re trying to beat Nick Saban three straight times. And beating Saban twice in the same season is unheard of. It will once again come down to a handful of plays, and when Alabama needs one, Trent Richardson will deliver this time. It’s too bad that one of these teams has to lose. But as I left Bourbon Street on Sunday night, the last thing I heard was “Sweet Home Alabama” blaring from one of the clubs. Revenge will indeed be sweet for the Crimson Tide. ... Alabama 21, LSU 13
No. 1 LSU (13-0) versus No. 2 Alabama (11-1) for the second time, this time for the BCS national championship on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Here’s a preview:
WHO TO WATCH: LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. In a lot of ways, Jefferson was the difference in the first game. Jarrett Lee threw a pair of interceptions and was ineffective, and Jefferson came off the bench and gave the Tigers’ offense a lift with his ability to run the option. It’s been Jefferson’s offense ever since, although Alabama will undoubtedly be a lot more prepared to defend the option in this game. That means Jefferson will need to make some plays in the passing game if the Tigers are going to have a chance to move the ball against the Crimson Tide’s defense. He’s been erratic throwing the ball this season, but had one of the best passing games of his career last season against Alabama when he finished 10-of-13 for 141 yards and a touchdown. The Tigers would love to get that kind of performance out of him Monday night, especially if he can take care of the ball.
WHAT TO WATCH: Big plays. The two defenses are so strong that neither team is going to make a living by going on long scoring drives, which means quick strikes will be at a premium, on both offense and special teams. Rueben Randle is LSU’s best big-play threat. He caught eight touchdown passes and averaged 18.1 yards per catch, but caught only two passes for 19 yards in the first game. Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson is also a big play waiting to happen. His longest gain in the first game was a 39-yard catch. Both teams are capable of changing the scoreboard in a hurry on special teams. Alabama’s Marquis Maze returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas. He was first in the SEC in kickoff return average and third in punt return average. LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu returned two punts for touchdowns this season, while Morris Claiborne returned a kickoff for a touchdown. A long scoring play in this game will be like scoring two touchdowns.
WHY TO WATCH: It’s college football history and SEC history being made at the same time. There’s never been a rematch in the BCS National Championship Game, and two teams from the same conference have never met for the title. Until now. Moreover, the winner of this game asserts itself as the SEC’s kingpin. It would be two national titles in five years for LSU and two national titles in three years for Alabama. And if you like defense, it may be a while before we see two more talented defenses on the same field than Monday night. As many as 17 of the 22 starters on defense have a chance to be drafted. Alabama is ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense, and LSU is ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense. The Crimson Tide haven’t given up more than 14 points in a game on defense all season, while the Tigers’ defense has gone nine straight games without allowing more than 11 points. If LSU can prevail, it would have to go down as one of the greatest seasons in SEC history when you consider that the Tigers would have beaten nine nationally ranked teams, four top 5 teams and Alabama twice.
Alabama center William Vlachos said LSU’s depth up front in the defensive line was staggering, and that every time he looked up there were three or four fresh guys running into the game.
“They’re deep, but they’re also good and very well-coached,” Vlachos said. “They don’t make many mistakes.”
“That respect is mutual.
"I was like, 'Dang, he's short,' and he is short. But he's got the leverage all the time. I'm 6-6 and don't know how tall he is, 6-1 or 6-2, but he's under my pads pretty much every play. "” -- LSU's Michael Brokers on Alabama's William Vlachos
LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers said Vlachos, who’s listed at 6-1 (which is probably a stretch), is one of the best he’s gone against. The 6-6 Brockers has Vlachos by a good five or six inches, which is not always ideal for an interior defensive lineman.
“I kind of took it as funny at first because he’s so short,” Brockers said. “I was like, ‘Dang, he’s short,’ and he is short. But he’s got the leverage all the time. I’m 6-6 and don’t know how tall he is, 6-1 or 6-2, but he’s under my pads pretty much every play.
“Sometimes he’s blocking me and I’m looking over him and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m getting blocked.’ That guy uses his strength and leverage to his advantage.”
Brockers said the only thing more difficult than going up against Alabama’s offensive line is trying to tackle Trent Richardson.
“After the (first) game, my neck was hurting, shoulders, everything,” Brockers said. “It’s like hitting a brick wall constantly. He gets the ball a lot, so you have to hit him a lot. You can’t know how solid he really is.
“We’ve got to get all 11 hats to the ball. You can’t take that dude down with one guy.”
Richardson rushed for 89 hard-earned yards on 23 carries in the first game against LSU and also caught five passes for 80 yards, but the Crimson Tide were stymied any time they moved inside the 30.
This time, Richardson said Alabama needs to “step on the throat."
Four different times back on Nov. 5, Alabama had a first-and-10 at the LSU 30 (or closer) only to be bogged down by a negative play on first down. Twice they lost yardage, once on a reverse to receiver Marquis Maze. They also had 5-yard penalty on a substitution infraction, and Maze’s pass out of the Wildcat formation was intercepted by LSU’s Eric Reid at the 1.
In overtime, the Crimson Tide had another 5-yard penalty on a substitution infraction with it second-and-1o at the 25.
“Everybody wants to talk about our kickers not making their field goals,” Richardson said. “Those were long field goals. We’re the ones who need to finish drives.”
Maze suggested that Alabama might have gotten too cute with a few of the trick plays and needs to do what it does best on offense and go right after the Tigers.
Of course, that’s easier said than done against an LSU defense that simply doesn’t give up many touchdowns, period, and specializes in knocking teams out of scoring position.
“Here’s the deal. If a couple of those things had worked, we would have been geniuses,” Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said. “If we would have just run the ball inside, it would have been the other way. That’s the beauty of this sport. That’s the beauty of you guys (the media). You’ve got to have something to write about. You either make a great call or you don’t.
“Give them the credit on defense. They stopped us.”