Senior College Football Columnist

Midseason Report: First half reveals divide between offensive, defensive contenders

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A cultural divide. That's what stands out halfway through the 2012 season -- stands out more than the average Oregon uniform combo, actually.

The biggest surprise of the first half is that there hasn't been a brawl in the streets by now over the biggest talking point of 2012: Offense vs. defense. Which is the best way to win? And by win, the clinical definition is championships. Those championships lately have been controlled by a certain warm-weather conference with some strong ideas on how the game should be played.

It's a clash of wills and playbooks. Not just BCS vs. non-BCS. Not the haves vs. the have-nots. Not East Coast Bias or West Coast philosophy. Maybe we just should admit it: It's the SEC against the world. Consider these considerable numbers from the first half:

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 LSU went 149 snaps and more than 100 minutes of play against FBS competition without scoring a touchdown.

 Meanwhile, Oregon is averaging a touchdown every 11.6 snaps, scoring 2.06 points per minute.

 Alabama leads the country in seven defensive categories.

 Oregon has scored seven points (or thereabouts for a touchdown) 43 times.

 South Carolina -- with its twin terror defensive ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney -- has 26 sacks, fourth nationally.

 The nation's No. 3 passing attack, West Virginia, has allowed eight.

 Texas A&M has rolled up 1,875 yards in the last three games.

 Alabama has allowed 1,087 all season.

 Texas A&M's Johnny "Football" Manziel has twice set the SEC single-game total offense record.

 Notre Dame has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.

You can see where this is headed. The schools mentioned above are in contention for at least a conference title. Most are national championship hopefuls. What's that old saw about it's how you play the game? Winning still counts the most, but the styles are what define you as a player, coach and program these days.

The SEC has two quarterbacks in the top 17 of passing efficiency at the halfway point. The Big 12 has five of the top seven. The SEC has four of the top 13 teams in total defense, including 1-2 Alabama and LSU. The Pac-12 has one in the top 24.

And so it goes. Alabama would rather strangle than strut. A&M still has a lot of Big 12 in it during its first SEC season. The Aggies needed to score 59 to beat Louisiana Tech by two. LSU's best argument for a BCS title berth may be its Oct. 6 game at Florida. The Tigers lost by eight on the road (in the stifling Swamp) in a game that featured 20 combined points. How's that for a quality loss that could be the difference for the Tigers in playing in a second straight BCS championship game?

Notre Dame hasn't lost yet, waking up the echoes with defense -- and probably putting Dana Holgorsen to sleep. In an odd twist, it can be argued that the Irish D has made more plays than its offensive-minded coach has developed quarterbacks.

Halfway through this season, you can see how this is going to end up -- or how it should end up. Please, please, please give us one of these defensive giants going against an offensive dynamo. Give us what we missed last season.

West Virginia 70, Baylor 63 woke up the nation to the national conversation. Nick Saban became an oracle for the game when he uttered famously, "Is this what we want football to be?"

Without saying it, Saban was saying it: Is it really a football season without an SEC champion?

We've got the whole second half to find out.

These teams, players and topics also stood out during the first half ...

Surprises

Notre Dame, the Sun Belt (starting with Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky), Kansas State, Mississippi State, Oregon State, the Big East (Cincinnati, Rutgers, Louisville unbeaten).

Disappointments

Arkansas (duh), Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, the Big Ten.

The unbeaten

Alabama, Florida, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati, Ohio, Ohio State, Mississippi State, Oregon, Oregon State.

The winless

Eastern Michigan, Massachusetts, Southern Mississippi have yet to get a W.

Best player

Despite Saturday's loss, West Virginia's Geno Smith has been the season's most consistent player in the nation. Only one other FBS starting quarterback has yet to throw an interception -- Alabama's A.J. McCarron. Yeah, we'd pay to see that matchup.

Best defensive player

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o has been the athletic and spiritual leader of this Irish resurgence. Sure, everyone expected a Mormon from Hawaii to turn down USC for South Bend.

Best state

Ohio. Ohio and Ohio State share the best FBS record. Each is 7-0. And Cincinnati is 5-0. FBS schools from the state are 38-15.

Best BCS buster

For the second successive, season there might not be one. Louisiana Tech's loss to A&M on Saturday basically ended the Bulldogs' chances. It's going to take a stretch to consider Boise State, 22nd in the first BCS standings. The Broncos schedule is weak the rest of the way. Besides, with their BCS bowl experience and migration to the Big East they're part of the establishment by now.

Worst trend

Thin-skinned coaches. Something snapped in the synapses of Lane Kiffin, Jim Mora Jr., Charlie Weis and others lately. The media snits these coaches got into not only embarrassed themselves and their programs, and in some way it had to take away from game preparation.

That was especially important for Kiffin who had to stop in the middle of Stanford week to deal with his "suspension" of Los Angeles Daily News beat writer Scott Wolf. The reporter's "violation" was reporting an injury, something that Kiffin forbids if it happens in practice. Except that Wolf didn't report the injury from practice. Mora flipped out during a practice kicking not only camera crews out but the school's own sports information staff. Weis got into a weird, convoluted tiff with Kansas' student newspaper.

Guys, you can never win these kinds of battles. Kiffin, Weis and Mora look petty. The Daily News and L.A. Times no longer cover practice so they can freely report the news -- which includes injuries to players. It's strange that a freshman in Chem 101 could see Matt Barkley on crutches and know more about his injury situation than the professionals who cover the team.

Well-worn coaches

Frank Solich (Ohio), Dennis Franchione (Texas State), Terry Bowden (Akron), Bob Davie (New Mexico) have remade themselves after guiding powerful BCS programs at Nebraska (Solich), Alabama/Texas A&M (Fran), Auburn (Bowden) and Notre Dame (Davie). Their combined record halfway through of 15-12 (.555) is not better than their combined records 189-97-1 (.660) at those BCS schools. But Ohio remains unbeaten. Davie is pulling off a minor miracle in Albuquerque. Halfway through, the Lobos have won more games (four) than the last three seasons combined.

BCS bowl predictions

BCS title game (South Florida): Alabama vs. Oregon
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Southern California
Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Louisville
Fiesta Bowl: West Virginia vs. Notre Dame
Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Florida


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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