Devil's Advocate

After Charles Woodson's Heisman Trophy campaign in 1997, the belief Tiger Stadium is Death Valley to visitors is the biggest media manufactured myth in college football.

The Tigers have a losing record all-time in Baton Rouge when playing top 10 opponents and are 3-6-2 vs. Tennessee at Tiger Stadium. They are 5-19-3 overall against the Vols and 18-43 overall against Alabama — the SEC's two winningest programs. LSU has been outscored in Baton Rouge by the Vols 201 to 131. They were shutout three times and held to 3 points in two other games. LSU's last win over UT in Baton Rouge was a 38-31overtime victory.

In truth, LSU is no tougher to play at home than Florida, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee or Alabama. The Tigers recent home success under Nick Saban had a lot more to do with the in-state talent they kept at home than it did the home crowd.

Unfortunately, for Tennessee, Saban left a lot of talent behind when he took off for Miami and that will be the Vols real test. Much of that talent is on the offensive side of the ball, as LSU's secondary was depleted by the NFL Draft.

However the front seven remains very strong while the DBs have more ability than experience. In order to exploit the third wave of the defense, Tennessee has to find a way to control the Tigers' seven both in terms of pass protection and run blocking.

UT's offense as it's presently configured has to establish the run to be productive through th air. It needs to control the ball, the clock and field position. In essence, the Vols need a game like they had against Georgia last year in Athens.

To reset that scene recall that the Vols had been trounced by Auburn to the tune of 34-10 in Knoxville a week before venturing to Athens. On the same day Georgia demolished LSU 45-16. Auburn had defeated LSU 10-9 a week before routing UT. Add it up and it didn't appear likely the Vols could keep it close against Georgia between the hedges much less win. That persception was reflected in the 12-point line Vegas had set on the contest. However, the Vols pulled out a 19-14 victory to take charge in the SEC East.

Such road surprises have become the norm at UT in recent years. The Vols were 17-point underdogs when they defeated Florida in Gainesville in 2001. They were 12-point dogs when they scored a 10-6 triumph over the Canes in Miami in 2003, and four-point underdogs when they beat the Gators in Gainesville that same season. They were four-point dogs when they beat Texas A&M, 38-7, in last season's Cotton Bowl.

Most intriguing is the fact Tennessee is 8-3-1 straight up as a road underdog since 1998, while the Volunteers are 1-3 as a home dog over that same span of years. By comparison, LSU is 18-20 against the spread as home favorites the last seven years. That's hardly a dominating record regardless of how excited or inebriated the crowd might be.

There are plenty of good reasons to pick LSU at home, including their talent level, vociferious crowd and potent offense, but if history is any judge I wouldn't bet on it.


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