Senior College Football Columnist

Midway message: Stop talking realignment, start talking football


Denard Robinson's late magic in a win over Notre Dame is the first half's best performance. (US Presswire)  
Denard Robinson's late magic in a win over Notre Dame is the first half's best performance. (US Presswire)  

Our best hope is that the 2011 college football season is best remembered for ... college football.

Sounds far-fetched, I know. Our games, attention and notebooks have been hijacked by conference alignment as the season reaches its halfway point. When Boise State deciding between the Mountain West and the Big East is the news of the day, well, you know where this headed.

Get your stinking paws off my game, you damn dirty applicant.

That's a shot at every president/school/board of regents that has thought about changing conferences lately. That's why it's called the offseason. There's more time then to decide the awesome implications of such issues as televised high school highlights.

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We should be worrying about wideouts, not buyouts. The national rushing leader's best move, not the World Wide Leader's next network.

Baylor's legal team shouldn't be considered in the conversation about the nation's best defense.

But you know too much about all that. Here is what you missed during the season's first half.

The best reason to keep a marriage together: The Big 12. During the conference's troubled times, the 10 teams in the Large Dozen have become the most entertaining league in the country.

Oklahoma is No. 1 in the coaches' poll. Four Big 12 teams are in the top 17. OU and Oklahoma State are No. 3 and No. 4 in the BCS, on track to play for a national championship berth on Dec. 3 in Stillwater.

The conference has four of the top seven passers -- Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Texas Tech's Seth Doege, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Baylor's Robert Griffin III. It leads the country in scoring (37.5 ppg, almost six points better than the Pac-12) and total offense (423.1 yards per game, 50 yards better than the Pac-12).

The nation's No. 2 scoring offense (Oklahoma State) and worst scoring defense (Kansas) reside here.

Saturday was typical. The 10 league teams combined for 349 points. Texas A&M, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas State and Oklahoma each scored at least 34 points.

LSU, Alabama and Michigan State are an anomaly. Aside from those powerhouses, there really isn't much defense being played nationwide. Halfway through the season the sport is on pace to set records for all-time highs in scoring (28.9 points per team), total offense (395.1 yards), completion percentage (60.6) and yards per play (5.65).

Snyder 2.0: No one really understands how Kansas State is doing it, but in the second reincarnation of Bill Snyder as coach, the Wildcats are off to their best start since 2000 (6-0). Kansas State has won four consecutive games as an underdog. North Carolina State last did that in 2008.

One explanation is the Wildcats must lead the country in hidden yardage. Against Texas Tech, K-State was outgained 580-339 but blocked two field goals, returned a kickoff and caused four turnovers. It also won 41-34.

Digital cutback: Illinois' Whitney Mercilus has more sacks (10, to lead the country) than fingers (9 1/2). He lost the tip of his left index finger during a weight-lifting accident. Teammates have nicknamed him "Nubs."

Pitch: Stanford's quarterback thinks that "Suck for Luck" sucks.

And catch: While Luck chases a Heisman, you probably don't know that the most prolific pass catcher in history has flashed before our eyes. Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles has 326 career catches, having passed Purdue's Taylor Stubblefield's previous mark late Saturday night against Kansas.

After catching 13 for 217 yards against the Jayhawks, there is a reasonable chance Broyles could get to 400 catches this season. OU has seven games left, if you assume a bowl. Broyles would have to average 10.57 catches the rest of the way to get to 400. He has averaged 10 per game so far this season.

Amazing feats of skill ... and age: Eighty-four-year-old Joe Paterno woke up Sunday with the best conference record in the Big Ten (3-0) and a top-10 defense. Penn State is bowl-eligible for the 38th time in 46 years. And while we're raving about the defenses at LSU, Alabama and Michigan State, Penn State is quietly allowing only 11.6 points per game, sixth-best in the country. Only Alabama has scored more than 20 against the Nittany Lions this season.

Snyder and Paterno, with a combined age of 156, are a combined 12-1 with no discernible All-Americans on their rosters.

Didn't you used to be: ... Washington? The Huskies are 5-1 for the first time in 10 years. They have scored at least 30 points in six consecutive games, a school record.

... Clemson? Squarely on the hot seat to start the season, Dabo Swinney has had everything -- and I mean everything -- click.

The Tigers have won by a little (over Florida State), by a lot (over Auburn) and impressed the hell out of everyone. Going back to high school, breakout quarterback Tajh Boyd is now 50-2 as a starter. Receiver Sammy ("Sam Wow") Watkins is the first-half freshman of the year. His 345 all-purpose yards last week were fourth-most in ACC history. Watkins has won some sort of ACC honor each week this season.

... Temple? Ridiculed at Florida, Steve Addazio took over the Owls and currently has the best overall record in the MAC (5-2). More astonishing is Chuck Heater's defense, which has pitched two shutouts. Only Alabama has given up fewer points per game.

Other surprises: Illinois, Louisiana-Lafayette, San Jose State, Rutgers and North Carolina.

How did you become: ... like this, Florida and Texas? Both are trending toward 2010, when they were among the biggest disappointments. Florida's offense has fizzled. Texas suddenly looks outmatched, having won one game against a team with a winning record (BYU, by a point). Other disappointments: Ohio State, Mississippi State, Arizona.

Worst idea: Steve Spurrier allowing Stephen Garcia a second chance, much less a fifth.

Second-worst idea: The new uniform revolution. When did laundry merit a press conference?

Hey, we're all guilty. We tweeted, wrote and talked about the hideous uniform combinations that have appeared this season. In that sense the apparel makers won. They got attention and moved merchandise.

Is there some sort of Craig Sager-inspired fashion rule that says nothing you're wearing has to match?

Halfway Heisman: Alabama's Trent Richardson is ahead of Mark Ingram's Heisman-winning pace in 2009. Not by much, but it's worth noting but Alabama's tailback has seven more yards (912-905) and seven more rushing touchdowns (15-8) than Ingram did through seven games two years ago.

We are watching a spectacular talent fulfill his potential.

Others (in order): Baylor's Robert Griffin III; Broyles; Wisconsin's Russell Wilson; Luck.

Halfway coach of the year: Tie, Dabo Swinney and Bill Snyder for the reasons listed above.

Halfway game of the season: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31. Back when Denard Robinson was still the magical Shoelace, Michigan's quarterback led a fourth-quarter comeback for the ages. Two touchdowns in the final 72 seconds. The winner with two seconds left.

Thousands stayed in the Michigan Stadium stands just to drink in the joy and atmosphere after Michigan's first night game.

Runner up: Air Force 35, Navy 34. Can't believe Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo intimated the officials should have overlooked the trash talking by his quarterback Kriss Proctor that essentially decided the game.

These guys are all about detail and discipline. This was a monumental, however momentary blunder. Navy still has committed the fewest penalties in the country (14). So when Proctor flapped his gums after a touchdown in overtime, there was no excuse. The penalty pushed back the extra-point try, which was no good. Air Force, after blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, took a giant step in taking the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy.

Second-half reason to keep on living: You kidding? This season's college Super Bowl -- LSU at Alabama on Nov. 5.

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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