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August 12, 2012The University of Alabama's closed scrimmage Saturday was apparently solid but not extraordinary, par for the first-scrimmage course.
It wasn't a performance that would necessarily propel Alabama into the favorite's role in the Southeastern Conference race - but the Crimson Tide may be in that spot after the weekend.
At least two gaming sites that take sporting wagers on such things modified the preseason odds in the wake of Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal from the squad at LSU, raising the post Honey Badger odds on the Tigers and lowering them on Alabama.
That is quite a tribute to Mathieu, perhaps more than is warranted, and a reflection of his prominent place in the public consciousness. His absence could certainly make a difference in LSU's ability to make explosive special teams plays, but whether it is a season-changer is a different question.
As fun as he was to watch, I don't think he was as essential to a team as David Palmer was to Alabama in 1992, to cite one example. In the two games against Alabama last season, Mathieu was not a big factor either time.
The real odds-changers in football aren't hybrid defensive back/kick returners anyway.
The odds-changers are quarterbacks. From that standpoint, picking LSU - and I am squarely in that canoe, having voted the Tigers at No. 1 in the preseason AP poll in a pre-Badger ballot - is a gamble based largely on guessing how Zach Mettenberger will perform at that position.
He doesn't have to be great. We aren't talking about Eli Manning catapulting Ole Miss into SEC contender status here, or Cam Newton leading Auburn to a BCS title.
Mettenberger doesn't have to be a whole lot better than Jordan Jefferson was last year in leading LSU, although Les Miles certainly hopes he brings more of a downfield passing threat to make the Tiger running game more effective.
At this point, though, the single most important players in terms of SEC title contention are Tyler Wilson at Arkansas (the Razorbacks have a chance with him and would not have one without him) and AJ McCarron.
Like Mettenberger, McCarron has a very good supporting cast but Saturday's 19-for-29 scrimmage statistics hint, he is going to be a bigger part of Alabama's offense this year. Also, the backup situation behind McCarron is problematic.
To forestall the inevitable Nick Saban rejoinder, none of this preseason speculation is worth much.
Mathieu's absence may have no effect at all on LSU, or it may cost the Tigers a game somewhere along the way, although there won't be any way to quantify that.
LSU might overcome in the way Alabama overcame Dont'a Hightower's injury in 2009. But even if Mathieu were on the field all year long, it is still a quarterback's game.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.