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Alabama Versus LSU - Game Of The Year

For as close as Alabama and Louisiana are on a map, they're even closer in talent when it comes to the football programs of Division 1 SEC teams the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers. Both teams located in the Western division of the Southeastern Conference, they play an annual game that, for all intents and purposes, is every bit the rivalry that is the Iron Bowl with Alabama and Auburn. Earlier this season, only two Saturdays ago, the two teams met in perhaps their biggest meeting ever. LSU, ranked #2 at the time, and Alabama, ranked down at #8 and out of the top four playoff spots, prepared for a clash that would have league-wide and lasting implications.

For those who don't realize just how important the game was, try this on for size. LSU was undefeated in the SEC West, which meant they controlled their own destiny. Win out, face off against the East champion; win that game, be a shoo-in for the #1 seed in the four-team playoff. But Alabama also controlled their own destiny. Although they lost to Ole Miss earlier in the season, the Rebels of Ole Miss lost earlier that same game-day, so if Alabama won, they had the same road as LSU: Win out, and go to the playoff.

The implications were also reaching to the Big 12, Big 10, and even the Pac 12 all the way across the nation. Teams like Stanford, Baylor, TCU, Michigan State, Ohio State, and other top-25 teams would have their fates in the hands of this outcome, at least in small part. Because an SEC Champion will have preference over anyone else, a theoretically undefeated LSU would mean that those other non-conference teams would have to keep spotless records to even be considered for the top-10, much less the four-team playoff.

And we're just getting started on the implications of the game here. You had the Heisman race to consider. Heading into the game at Tuscaloosa, Alabama's home field, LSU running back Leonard Fournette was the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, averaging over 180 rushing yards per game, and called the best SEC back since the Georgia Bulldogs' Herschel Walker. Though Alabama also had a running back in the conversation, Derrick Henry, a powerhouse back, compared to Eric Dickerson, who's 6'3", runs like a freight train, and is almost automatic to score a touchdown in every game. This game would ultimately help decide the Heisman race and possible draft futures of two very talented backs.

How the Game Went Down

Alabama, who had played to date the toughest schedule in all of college football, was fresh off of a bye week at home, ready for LSU. However, LSU, who's schedule wasn't exactly a cakewalk, also came in fresh off a bye. Two well-rested teams, with one mission in mind: Win the football game. From the opening kickoff, it became apparent that the Crimson Tide were on a mission to roll the Tigers. Alabama's defensive front was as stifling as any front has ever been in college football. They were contacting Fournette in the backfield, and he was unable to escape the swarming pressure. When LSU went to pass the football, there was pressure and tight secondary play. Though LSU's defense wasn't exactly on vacation. They held Alabama to 0 points in the first quarter and a couple of punts. It looked like it was shaping up to be a classic 9-6 game of field goals. But then the second quarter hit.

Derrick Henry came to life, following an Alabama field goal drive, breaking off a couple of decent runs and getting the Tide closer to the goal line. He capped off the drive with a 2-year run, making the score 10-0 Alabama. LSU continued their offensive woes, as QB Brandon Harris couldn't get the passing game opened up enough, and Leonard Fournette was able to amass only negative yardage. Near the end of the second quarter, however, Harris started to click, and LSU got on the board with a 40-yard TD pass after a 6-play drive. After holding Alabama scoreless, LSU tied the game up with a field goal, 10-10. Before halftime, Tide kicker Adam Griffith lined up for a 55-yard kick, the type of kick he had been missing all year. However, it was straight and true, and Alabama entered the locker room up 13-10.

Other than Fournette unable to amass positive yardage, this was shaping up to be a classic Tide-Tigers white-knuckle game. At the start of the third quarter, however, Alabama began opening up the throttle a little more. Derrick Henry broke off a big run, followed by a 1-yard TD run. It was suddenly 20-10. After a quick LSU drive that floundered, Henry again kept rushing all over LSU's defense, and scored a 7-yard run, and the score shot up to 27-10.

After a 30-yard field goal, Alabama was up comfortably in the fourth quarter, 30-10, and LSU ended up getting a score in what was basically garbage time, as Fournette broke his best run of the night, a 16-yard scamper, and then finished it off with 1-yard TD run with just over 9 minutes left in the game. The PAT was blocked, with the score now 30-16. After Alabama went into their clock-killing run offense, and LSU failed to score again, the final was 30-16, with Alabama dominating the game. Henry finished with 210 rushing yards, while Fournette, the Heisman favorite, only had 31 total yards.

The Shock and Awe of Experts

Not only did Alabama win, but they won in dominant fashion. They beat the #2 team in the nation, an undefeated team with the best running back in the country. Media, generally speaking, seemed to be shocked that Alabama could win in such convincing fashion. It's unfair to say that media have it out for Alabama; however, it is just axiomatic that teams can only stay on top for so long before media get tired of covering them. The Patriots and Yankees have suffered this fate, each becoming the villain in their reign as dominant dynasties, and Alabama, spending nearly 7 seasons as a top-ranked team, is starting to realize that anyone or thing in power for too long is shunned. So the "awe" side of media's reaction seemed to come by way of people frustratingly laying out their cases for why Alabama wasn't deserving of the #1 spot in the nation. The criticisms were not unfair; Alabama did lose earlier in the season. But they weren't being treated like a team that just beat LSU, but more like a team they were being force to talk about.

When the CFB Playoff rankings were released that following Tuesday, Alabama had taken LSU's #2 spot, and LSU fell to #9. Although the Tide had lost early in the season and been thought dead, Nick Saban's squad, led mostly by Kirby Smart's defense, has played the toughest schedule in the nation, by far, and has beaten ranked team after ranked team, including not only LSU but Mississippi State, Texas A&M and the Georgia Bulldogs. Media may be getting a little tired of the Crimson Tide sitting atop the nation's rankings every single year, but they're not exactly being gifted any spot. They earn their placement.

How it Affects the SEC

The entire SEC picture changed following the game, at least in the West. In the East, Florida already has the top seed sewn up, and they will play the winner of the West in the SEC Championship in a few weeks, with the winner likely earning a spot in the playoff. Mississippi losing to Arkansas the same day Alabama beat LSU meant that Ole Miss is basically out of it. Alabama would have to lose again to Auburn, with Ole Miss winning out, just to have an outside shot. LSU never fully recovered their offensive line woes after the beating Alabama gave them, and Arkansas went into Louisiana and beat an SEC West team in back to back weeks, practically embarrassing the Tigers.

As it stands now, Alabama is about 80% to win out and get the SEC West title. With only Auburn standing in their way, the Crimson Tide needs only one more good game to be in yet another SEC Championship game, against the Florida Gators (sans Tim Tebow).

How it Affects the NCAA CFB Playoff Picture

So, how did this game trickle down to the rest of the college football rankings? For starters, Alabama's domination was a nightmare for Oklahoma State, Iowa, Oklahoma, and any Pac 12 team that thought they had a chance at being a top-four ranked team. Because their strength of schedule (SOS) was #1 in the nation, with room to spare, Alabama's wins are weighted a lot more heavily than any Big 10 or Pack 12 team's wins. Not to mention that even though Alabama lost, they turned the ball over five times, were victims of two of the biggest fluke plays of the college football season, and still they only lost by six points. All of these things weight when determining the rankings of a team. Game control, SOS, W-L strength, etc. Alabama beating the nation's #2 undefeated team means a handful of other teams have to step back and wait, hoping 'Bama loses.

However, what begins to look better for an Iowa and Oklahoma State is that LSU lost in back-to-back weeks. Theoretically, if LSU were to lose again, they suddenly look like a team that was overrated as a #2, and suddenly Alabama's win doesn't look that impressive to the committee. This could cause a real shake-up, even if Alabama wins, and it could push the Tide down to #4, knocking a one-loss Notre Dame out, moving Ohio State up, and moving an Iowa or Oklahoma in. It all begins to get really complex around this time of year; though suffice to say that if Alabama wins the SEC Championship as a one-loss team, they will have one of the final top-four spots. Which one is meaningless, really. Any of the four playoff teams, as Ohio State proved last year, is a threat to win.

The Heisman Implications

Lastly, let's touch on the personal accolades. The Heisman Trophy is the biggest recognition of individual play in college football. While many Heisman winners end up never amounting to anything in the league (RGIII, Tim Tebow, Troy Smith, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Jason White, etc), others go on to have long and successful careers (Charles Woodson, Carson Palmer, Eddie George, Barry Sanders, Tim Brown, Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Marcus Allen). It really is a toss-up, but every college player is hopeful that he can bring home the Heisman. It is a recognition of excellence that puts one in very elite company. Prior to the Tide-Tigers game, Leonard Fournette was the front-runner with room to spare. And while Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio State) and Dalvin Cook (Florida State) are some names you hear floated by, the name that jumped Fournette was Alabama's Derrick Henry.

Henry has a touchdown scored in 16 of his last 17 games, three separate 200-yard rushing games (two of which came against top-ranked defenses), and the young man seems an unstoppable force. What's even more impressive about Henry is, unlike many of today's collegiate backs who also go out to catch passes, Derrick is a downhill runner who only takes hand-offs. He doesn't sneak out of the backfield. This is important because the traditional power running back is something thought to have died in football over a decade ago. Saban's no-frills offense has revived this style of play, and Henry may be his best running back yet in this system, even better than Mark Ingram (Heisman winner, first-round pick), TJ Yeldon (NFL pick), Eddie Lacy (First-round pick), and Trent Richardson (#3 NFL pick).

Time will tell how the entire college football playoff shapes up, but the results of this game will have a lasting impact on the rankings. You might not be a fan of either team, but this was far and away the game of the year. If you live in AL and want to bet on sports, check out our list of reputable online sportsbooks that accept Alabama residents.