Senior Writer

First half a wild ride on the 'Mad Hatter'


If Bobby Joseph Hebert III isn't college football's most valuable player halfway through the 2010 season, then he certainly is its mascot.

Better known as T-Bob, Hebert has played organized football since age 9. He is the son of an NFL quarterback, a product of Greater Atlanta Christian High School. The brawny center for LSU made academic honor roll in 2008. This spring he was arrested for DWI in May and indefinitely suspended from the team.

That about covers all the usual story lines in this modern jockocracy? Athletic pedigree. Religion. Academics. Fall from grace.

Oh, and one more thing -- he saved the whole dang season.

Yes, Hebert has helped get us to this halfway point -- seven weeks down, seven weeks to go -- with a simple act of football common sense.

He snapped the ball.

By now LSU's 16-14 win over Tennessee on Oct. 2 has graduated to lore status. The last-second, ill-advised, fire-drill substitutions by both teams fell LSU's way because Hebert snapped the ball from the Tennessee 2 with four seconds left without knowing the play. The ball skittered past quarterback Jordan Jefferson, seemingly ending the game. But because a play was run, it allowed officials to detect that Tennessee had 13 players on the field. Flag. New play. LSU wins.

T-Bob snapped the ball. Brilliance in a sea of confusion. It's the reason Les Miles is about to get a ride named after him at Disneyworld, "The Mad Hatter." For the price of a Tiger Stadium day pass you too can ride the ride where sometimes you get thrown off, sometimes you throw up, but you will always throw up your hands in disbelief. It is why LSU is one of 10 undefeated major-college teams left in the country. It doesn't matter how the Tigers got there. When the pressure was on, T-Bob executed.

"I didn't want the clock to run out before I snapped," Hebert said simply, "so I snapped it."

Elsewhere, the clock ticks on toward the second half a season that is the 13th of the BCS era, the 74th of the wire service era and the 141st since Princeton and Rutgers played that little pick-up game in New Brunswick, N.J. At the halfway point, Oregon is No. 1 for the first time. It only took the Ducks 115 years. In college football's parallel universe, Oklahoma is No. 1 for the 20th time -- in the BCS.

Les 'the Mad Hatter' Miles always makes things interesting. (AP)  
Les 'the Mad Hatter' Miles always makes things interesting. (AP)  
There is a bold, new world out there. At least room for some newness. Seemingly a crack has developed in that wall the SEC has erected between the rest of the country and its football kingdom in the South. Alabama has lost. Florida is out of the polls for the first time since Urban Meyer arrived. Another unbeaten is sure to go down Saturday when LSU visits Auburn.

Meanwhile, the unwashed have delivered. Again. TCU, Boise State and Utah are all undefeated and ranked in the top 10. That leads to an interesting question: What's more likely to happen -- a third consecutive de facto national semifinal in Atlanta or one (or some) of the non-BCS triplets playing in Glendale?

Wait, both could happen. That's what has made this season live up to the standard set in the previous 12 in the BCS. That is, more drama than Jersey Shore and more crazy from Les.

Who knew at this point that the best team in Alabama would be Alabama's little brother? Or that the best player for Little Brother, Cam Newton, has Auburn thinking more than just the state title?

Who knew these would be dark days for the Sunshine State? Miami got embarrassed at home by Florida State, which is not quite Florida State yet under Jimbo Fisher. Florida knows its personal wide-right agony, having lost three in a row for the first time since 1988. That's so long ago it was pre-Spurrier.

The standings in the SEC East are beginning to look like the Sun Belt. Actually that's an insult to the Sun Belt, which has three teams above .500 in conference play. The SEC Least has none. As you've probably figured out by now, in Gainesville the punishment almost never fits the crime. At least Urban Meyer's off-field problems are counter-balanced by a couple of national championships. The only thing outstanding these days in Athens, Ga. are the warrants.

This is why we love this game: Texas gave up 264 yards rushing to UCLA, which was then held to 26 rushing yards by Cal, which was then blown out by USC, which lost by walk-off field goals in consecutive games. Oh, and then Texas still beat Nebraska to extend an ongoing streak into perpetuity, considering the Huskers move to the Big Ten. Nebraska has not beaten Texas in a regular-season game in 50 years.

It isn't all craziness for the nation's coaching nouveau. Boise State's Chris Petersen refuses to engage in the BCS debate. His team debuted in the top five in the preseason polls, No 3 in the BCS and now seemingly faces a long, slow decline in the rankings. The nation's pundits, voters, and supposedly, computers have deemed Boise's remaining schedule not worthy (again), even if it continues winning.

Best players of the first half: Newton, Denard Robinson, Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, Taylor Martinez, Justin Blackmon and Kellen Moore. Just don't ask which ones will make it to New York. Robinson didn't know he was starting until the opener. James didn't play in Oregon's first game because he was suspended. In between benchings for inconsistent play, Martinez set the Nebraska single-game rushing record for a quarterback against Kansas State.

Is that a season or a ride on "The Mad Hatter?"

State of depression: It has to be New Mexico. It might be the Land of Enchantment, but it has been a wasteland for football. Old State U. (University of New Mexico) is one of only four winless teams. In fact, the Mike Locksley era has been an error, with the Lobos losing 16 of 17 games since he arrived. New Mexico State isn't much better at 1-5. The Aggies have won four times in the last two calendar years, and two of those have been over the Lobos.

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There's a different state of depression in North Carolina. Butch Davis started the season with an ACC dark horse. He may have traded that label for a dark future. His program has been ripped apart by an agent scandal and his associate head coach may have been responsible, not to mention an NCAA probe into possible academic fraud.

The spunky Heels seemingly haven't read the script yet. They are 4-2 halfway through the season and a game out of first in the ACC Coastal.

The Cinderella: In a sport that seldom produces one, Michigan State is it. Hours after "Little Giants" beat Notre Dame on Sept. 18, coach Mark Dantonio had a big scare. Somehow, offensive coordinator Don Treadwell has nursed the program through Dantonio's recovery as the head man coaches from the press box.

Best book: Well, the only book to define this season is Death To The BCS, a well-reported, at-times shrill rant against the alleged criminal enterprise that is the Bowl Championship Series. If Boise and/or TCU make it to Glendale, though, there will have to new best-seller, Death To Death To The BCS."

Best trends: Teach Me How to Bucky ... The Pistol ... Oklahoma under the radar ... Oklahoma State even further under the radar ... Mike Leach over the top (as a radio and TV analyst) ... Paul Finebaum going national ... Agent runners being outed ... The WAC fighting on and on.

Where have you gone? Pittsburgh (No. 15 preseason), Michigan's D, Florida State's attendance, Urban Meyer's magic.

The future: With Tim Brewster on the street, watch the coaching situations closely at Colorado and Georgia ... There are 10 remaining undefeated teams. There will be head-to-head games involving eight of them. The only teams that could win out without facing another undefeated opponent are Boise State, Michigan State and Oregon... The SEC race is going to be fascinating. Could be an Auburn-South Carolina rematch. Could be an Alabama-Florida rematch. Could be meaningless in the national picture ... Newton could be the first quarterback to lead the SEC in rushing since 1963.

"That's not something I look forward to thinking about," said Newton of the Heisman hype that has been building around him. "That's a selfish award. That could flush the whole season down the drain."

Maybe T-Bob should be snapping him the ball.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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