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LSU, Alabama take last steps before mega-matchup

LSU running back Spencer Ware (11) gets past Tennessee defensive lineman Curt Maggitt (56) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011 in Knoxville, Tenn. Ware led LSU with 80 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns in their 38-7 win. LSU running back Spencer Ware (11) gets past Tennessee defensive lineman Curt Maggitt (56) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011 in Knoxville, Tenn. Ware led LSU with 80 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns in their 38-7 win. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer / October 19, 2011

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The only thing standing in the way of the most anticipated SEC game of the year is a couple of huge underdogs with quarterback issues.

Before No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama square off on Nov. 5 in a game that could decide one of the BCS championship game participants, the Tigers and Crimson Tide have business to take care of Saturday.

LSU is a 22-point favorite against No. 19 Auburn at Tiger Stadium. Alabama, favored by four touchdowns, plays Tennessee at Bryant-Denny.

After that the Tide and Tigers each have a week off to prepare for that monster matchup in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

No need to worry about either team looking past Saturday, though. Not with big rivals coming to town.

The Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is no longer an annual Third Saturday in October ritual. That tradition is a casualty of the Southeastern Conference's last expansion in 1992.

The programs have been passing ships for much of the last 15 years. Usually when one has been up, the other has been down.

This will be the fourth year in a row that Alabama has been ranked coming into the game and Tennessee has not. The two previous years, the Volunteers were ranked and the Tide wasn't.

Three times since 1997 (99, 2002 and '05) both have been ranked for the game.

The two storied programs have also never met in the SEC title game.

The rivalry does have a history of one side dominating the other. The Tide won 11 straight from 1971-81 and went nine games without losing from 1986-94.

The Vols snapped that streak in 1995 and went on to win seven in a row.

Alabama comes in having won four straight, outscoring the Vols 123-46.

Another blowout will be hard for the Volunteers to avoid, especially with quarterback Tyler Bray on the shelf with a broken thumb.

Last week against LSU, new starter Matt Simms was 6 of 20 for 128 yards and two interceptions -- and that was at home.

As for the Tiger tussle in Baton Rouge, for much of the past decade LSU-Auburn has been about as good as it gets in the SEC.

Since 2000, LSU has won four West titles, tops in the division, and Auburn three. This will be the ninth meeting since then in which both sets of Tigers have been ranked and the games always seem to be close. Six of the last seven have been decided by a touchdown or less.

It might be difficult for Auburn to stay in this one, though, even with LSU taking the field without three suspended players, including star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and leading rusher Spencer Ware.

Coach Gene Chizik's defense has played better of late, but now the offense is sputtering and the quarterback spot is unsettled.

Barrett Trotter started the first six games for, but Clint Moseley took over in the second half of a 17-6 victory against Florida.

"We always anticipate the change opponents make is for the best," LSU coach Les Miles said.

No spoilers here.

The picks:


No. 11 West Virginia (minus 14) at Syracuse

Mountaineers have won four straight at Carrier Dome ... WEST VIRGINIA 38-17.


No. 19 Auburn (plus 22 1/2) at No. 1 LSU

Auburn will put up a better fight ... LSU 31-14.

Tennessee (plus 28) at No. 2 Alabama

... than Volunteers ... ALABAMA 35-6.

Texas Tech (plus 28) at No. 3 Oklahoma

Sooners second in nation in sacks with 24 ... OKLAHOMA 48-21.

No. 4 Wisconsin (minus 7 1/2) at No. 15 Michigan State

Spartans handed Badgers last regular-season loss ... WISCONSIN 35-20.

Air Force (plus 31) at No. 5 Boise State

Current Mountain West game; future Big East game? ... BOISE STATE 58-21.


No. 6 Oklahoma State (minus 7) at Missouri

Cowboys' 100th-ranked defense will be a problem eventually ... MISSOURI 38-28.

No. 22 Washington (plus 20) at No. 7 Stanford

Anybody outside Pac-12 noticing how well Huskies QB Keith Price is playing? ... STANFORD 35-24.

North Carolina (plus 10 1/2) at No. 8 Clemson

Tigers feeling strong after surviving scare at Maryland ... CLEMSON 31-14.

No. 9 Oregon (minus 32 1/2) at Colorado

Good timing for banged-up Ducks ... OREGON 48-14.

No. 10 Arkansas (minus 17) at Mississippi

Rebels are falling apart ... ARKANSAS 42-17.


No. 12 Kansas State (minus 12) at Kansas

K-State's Bill Snyder, coach of the year so far ... KANSAS STATE 38-16.

No. 13 Nebraska (minus 24 1/2) at Minnesota

Huskers DT Jared Crick (chest) lost for season ... NEBRASKA 45-17.

Boston College (plus 21) at No. 16 Virginia Tech

Eagles headed toward winless ACC season ... VIRGINIA TECH 31-3.

No. 17 Texas A&M (minus 20 1/2) at Iowa State

Homecoming for Cyclones ... TEXAS A&M 39-21.

No. 20 Georgia Tech (plus 2 1/2) at Miami

Jackets have lost last two to 'Canes by combined 68-27 ... MIAMI 28-24.

Marshall (plus 20 1/2) at No. 21 Houston

Case Keenum needs 130 total yards to break NCAA record ... HOUSTON 48-31.

No. 23 Illinois (minus 5 1/2) at Purdue

Illini get right back on track after first loss ... ILLINOIS 27-17.


USC (plus 8 1/2) at Notre Dame

Yes, another measuring-stick game for Irish; this time for Trojans, too ... NOTRE DAME 27-21.


Last week's record: 13-4 (straight); 10-7 (vs. spread).

Season record: 119-21 (straight); 69-47-1 (vs. spread).

Best bets: 5-2.

Upset specials (vs. spread): 4-3.


Ralph D. Russo can be followed at