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REBIRTH OF ALEX SMITH
A SLOW START UNDER KLINSMANN
As LSU's coaches and players walked off the field at Neyland Stadium following their 38--7 win over Tennessee last Saturday, the Tigers fans who made the trip to Knoxville hailed them with a chant: "We want 'Bama!" Days earlier, someone (presumably an LSU fan) accessorized the Nick Saban statue outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with a purple cape. Clamoring for a college football playoff? You just may be treated to an unofficial final four this season, with the first semifinal—call it the SEC bracket—taking place Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa.
By the time No. 1 LSU (7--0) and No. 2 Alabama (7--0) meet, it will likely be the most highly anticipated regular-season game since No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18, 2006. A fast, deep front four and a stacked secondary led by ball-hawking cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu (four forced fumbles and two interceptions) and Morris Claiborne (three interceptions) give LSU coach Les Miles his strongest defense since the '07 BCS championship team, while the quarterback tandem of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson (suspended for the first four games for his alleged role in a bar fight) have been surprisingly efficient.
While LSU looks like the complete package, so too does Alabama, only with an even scarier defense. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick lead a group that held top 20 opponents Arkansas and Florida to a combined 32 rushing yards on consecutive weeks. The winner of the LSU-Alabama showdown will be well-positioned to earn a sixth straight national championship for the SEC.
The Sooner State, of course, has something to say about that. The other likely final four matchup—henceforth known as the Bedlam bracket—could come on Dec. 3 when No. 3 Oklahoma (6--0) visits No. 6 Oklahoma State (6--0). If aggressive D is the hallmark of Alabama and LSU, the Sooners' and Cowboys' signatures are their explosive offenses.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones (362.7 yards per game, 16 touchdowns) and his trio of game-breaking receivers, Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, have a terrific chemistry, and they operate at a breakneck pace and with a dazzling precision matched only, perhaps, by Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden (349.7 yards per game, 16 TDs) and receiver Justin Blackmon (101.3 ypg, 7 TDs).
Of the two programs, the Sooners have the superior defense, a game-breaking unit that scored three touchdowns in a 55--17 rout of rival Texas two weekends ago. With such playmakers as defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis, linebacker Travis Lewis and cornerback Jamell Fleming, Bob Stoops has his best D since the early 2000s, but they will be challenged by Weeden & Co.