September 9, 2005

Panelists miss the boat on LSU-ASU game

Shocked. Floored. Flabbergasted.

Any of those words would make for a good description of me upon seeing that our panel of college football experts had all picked Arizona State to knock off LSU this weekend.

Maybe it makes sense at first glance. After all, the Sun Devils hung 63 points on Temple last week, while the Tigers have been dealing with the extensive damage done in Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina, with football taking a back seat to the relief efforts.

But fellas, has anyone told you that LSU has 18 starters back from one of the most talented teams in the country? The Tigers are loaded.

And I could get 11 guys from the office here and probably put up 40 on the Owls. We wouldn't have any speed, but our offensive line would be something to behold.

With all due respect to Arizona State, (I admire what Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter has done in his four years in Tempe) the Tigers probably have more high school All-Americans on their 2005 roster than ASU has landed in the last decade.

New coach Les Miles' team, which will be extremely stingy on defense, will enjoy a speed advantage at nearly every position and the likelihood of Arizona State being able to move the ball on the ground in this game is about the same as Roseanne Barr being asked to sing the National Anthem again.

No running game for ASU means the Tigers will be able to pin their ears back and put the heat on quarterback Sam Keller, who will be making just his third career start. Keller is a good player, but he's never seen anything like he'll see Saturday night, especially in practice.

LSU, meanwhile, has one of the best offensive lines in the country, and this game could be the coming-out party for senior running back Joseph Addai, as the Tigers will be facing an ASU defensive front that averages just 275 pounds per man.

What about LSU being forced to hit the road to play the game instead of getting to play in front of a raucous home crowd at Death Valley? What about Hurricane Katrina and its effects you ask?

The Louisiana tragedy was a major factor in Rivals.com Editor Bobby Burton's pick, as he said, "How can you overcome that?"

A disaster like Hurricane Katrina will be a life-changing event for LSU's players, but the change of scenery will be the best thing that could happen to these guys right now.

Football can and will become their focus, an impossibility at home, and they'll adopt an us-against-the-world mentality. This will serve as an escape from the harshest of harsh realities for the Tigers, and folks, that ain't good news for the Sun Devils.

And last but not least, while the jury might still be out on Miles as an X's and O's guy, no one questions his ability to motivate. The Tigers will be ready to play, and there's a good bet they'll be a little bit angry, as we all get when our lives are turned upside down by factors we can't control.

In fairness to our panelists, it should be mentioned that they aren't alone in their thinking. The odds makers in Vegas now have ASU listed as a slight favorite in the game, which means the betting public is putting its money down on the Sun Devils.

Sorry guys, I'm just not getting it. In fact, if LSU gets good play from inconsistent but talented sophomore quarterback JaMarcus Russell, I don't think this one will be close.

I'm going with the Tigers, 34-21. And for our panelists, I'll be available as a consultant, for a small fee, before you make your picks next week.

Chris Wallace can be reached via email at cwallace@rivals.com.

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