Bama, LSU Face Similar Challenges

A staple of football is the "keys to victory" analysis. It can be pre-game or it can be pre-season. Randy Rosetta of, the fine LSU site, has listed his pre-season top five storylines for the Tigers and they almost parallel a reasonable set of keys for Alabama. Almost.

Almost all pre-season Southeastern Conference predictions have Alabama behind LSU for the SEC Western Division title and national picks also rank Bama in the neighborhood with pre-season national championship favorites LSU and USC.

Rosetta's pre-season keys for LSU in descending order:

5. Get over it.

By that he means that the Tigers should be finished licking the wounds of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game (a 21-0 loss to Alabama at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans) and have eyes straight ahead.

The same could be said for Alabama. Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban has sent a clear message of not looking back, beginning with his meeting with players two days after the BCS title game. He told returning players they are a new team, not the national champions.

4. Simon & Collins.

Rosetta references the loss of outstanding cornerback Morris Claiborne to the NFL and the importance of Tharold Simon and Jalen Collins to fill the void in the secondary.

It's the nature of college football that players move on. At SEC Media Days Saban noted that a college team typically loses 25 per cent of its players per season (and that this year's Crimson Tide lost something more than that, some 13 starters gone from last year). Saban's "look ahead" philosophy extends to recruiting, and he has been adding players to replace the likes of Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick in the Tide secondary. Vinnie Sunseri looks like an upcoming superstar at safety and the likes of returning cornerbacks like John Fulton and junior college transfers Deion Belue and Travell Dixon looks solid. Coaching on the back end is also pretty good.

3. Who makes the big WR plays?

LSU lost the outstanding Rueben Randle.

Alabama lost its top two wide receivers, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. Maze was lost early in the BCS game with a pulled hamstring, and Kevin Norwood took advantage of the situation to show that he can be a go-to wide receiver. Kenny Bell had occasional big plays (nice touchdown catches vs. top rivals Tennessee and Auburn). There are others, including two newcomers who arrived in the spring, Amari Cooper and Chris Black.

2. Staying focused.

Rosetta points out that THE GAME in 2012 is on Nov. 3 when Alabama goes to Baton Rouge. But LSU must play other games before that one, and the Tigers have to avoid an unexpected tumble.

This would appear to be a more salient key for Alabama than for LSU. The Tigers don't have a cakewalk – road games at Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M and home games against South Carolina and a non-conference contest against Washington – but LSU should be a solid favorite in all those games.

Alabama has a tougher schedule, starting with a non-conference game against Michigan in Dallas, and including road games at Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee before the meeting with LSU. Bama plays Mississippi State the week before going to Baton Rouge, while the Tigers enjoy an open date.

1. The rise of Mettenberger.

LSU has a new quarterback, and almost everyone in Baton Rouge believes Zach Mettenberger will be an improvement over Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, who led the Tigers to 13 wins last year.

Quarterback performance is not really a key for Alabama. Although there is much more support for other SEC quarterbacks as best in the league, the Crimson Tide's A.J. McCarron is the only current QB in the conference who has the BCS National Championship Game Offensive MVP Trophy on his mantle.

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