Tag:Auburn
Posted on: November 7, 2011 12:02 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 10




Posted by Bryan Fischer


Well then.

A little over halfway through Saturday's showdown in Tuscaloosa it became clear, this wasn't the game of the century it had been built up to be. While that superlatives will be saved for another big game down the road, what transpired at Bryant-Denny Stadium was something else: the slugfest of the century.

For some, the defense being played was marvelous. Morris Claiborne solidified himself as one of the top corners in the country with an interception and Eric Reid showed what it takes to win a game of this magnitude by wrestling for, and eventually coming down with, a pick near the goal line after the Tide tried a trick play to tight end Michael Williams.

The defense was so good on both sides that the MVP in a losing effort for Alabama had to be the offensive line, which was great at handling the pressure from LSU's front for four quarters - they seemed to fall apart a little in overtime.

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, a longtime assistant in the SEC, said after the game that this was "the most physical, hard-fought game he's ever been involved with."

With a fifth of the televisions in use on Saturday tuned to CBS for the game, I was quite surprised at how many lambasted the game afterward. Sure, there was a lack of crossing the goal line and way too many field goals for most people but that was the result of the defenses being so good. Both teams were able to move the ball, the defenses just tightened once they moved closer to the red zone.

As my colleague Tom Fornelli said to me, this game was all about deciding what fans liked college football and what fans just like touchdowns. Some compared it to a great pitchers duel in baseball but that would be unfair. The beauty of playing defense might have been lost by some but the battles in the trenches and in the secondary said Saturday was a masterpiece.

The Crimson Tide finished with 295 yards, the Tigers ended up winning with just 239. Alabama came into the game 23rd in the country in offense at 457 yards/game and had the best running back in the country in Trent Richardson. Despite not moving the ball well on offense, LSU came in 15th in scoring offense. That's just how good both teams were on the side of the ball - defense - that ultimately decided the game.

It would be interesting to see how much Miles' strategy would have changed had Alabama hit just one of their three missed field goals. Would we have seen one of his famous trick plays? I wouldn't exactly say 'The Hat' Les Miles out-coached Nick Saban since both adjusted conservatively but there's no question that Miles made decisions more inline with how the game was going, such as running Jordan Jefferson more than what the game plan likely called for.

Despite all the 'what ifs' that will be dissected over the coming days (and weeks and months and years), we're left with just one fact: LSU was better than Alabama Saturday night. If they were to play again for the BCS championship, what happened between the two teams would invalidate the very crutch - every week is a playoff - BCS supporters use to support their cartel of a system. If we just saw a playoff game, the Tide need to be thinking about a trip to a bowl game and not the title game.

In post game interviews, Miles was inviting of a rematch - perhaps knowing that knocking off Saban and the Tide another time on their way to picking of the crystal football would mean this LSU team could be considered among the greatest to play the game. The players too, were living in the moment and inviting LSU-Alabama II in New Orleans.

"That game should've been on pay-per-view," Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery said. "I think the world wants a rematch, honestly. It would be lovely to play such a great team out there again."

My colleague Bruce Feldman, who was in Tuscaloosa, discussed the rematch issue in The Big Picture, as did BCS guru Jerry Palm.

As we sit here on week 10 trying to digest what happened on Saturday, it good to lay down what we do know in the race for the national title.

1. There is A LOT of football remaining. LSU plays a top 10 team in Arkansas to end the season as well as the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Alabama has the Iron Bowl against Auburn. Oklahoma State ends with Bedlam against Oklahoma. Stanford plays Oregon and Boise State takes on TCU this week. We don't have a great system in the BCS but it was it is so "the race" is going to chance course several times between now and mid-December.

2. If Stanford beats Oregon, they'll move past Alabama in the BCS standings. If Oklahoma State wins out, they'll play in the championship game. Boise State needs help in droves.

3. Though Houston has moved as high as 11th in the rankings but are still a long shot at playing in a BCS bowl because Boise State is the highest ranked non-AQ school. It's doubtful the Bowls would pick the Cougars as an at-large team with fan bases such as Oklahoma likely qualifying.

4. The bowl tie-ins are ACC-Orange Bowl, Big Ten/Pac-12-Rose Bowl, Big 12-Fiesta Bowl, SEC-Sugar Bowl. The Bowl that loses the #1 team will have first pick of the replacements, followed by the bowl that loses the #2 team. The order after that is Fiesta, Sugar, Orange. There's a chance we could see some juicy match ups as a result (Oklahoma-Boise State rematch anyone?).

5. Want pure chaos? Arkansas beats LSU and Georgia pulls off an upset in Atlanta, forcing Alabama or LSU to miss a BCS game. Oregon beats Stanford, only to lose to USC and Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State to leave just Boise State and Houston as the lone undefeated teams. It's all unlikely but stranger things have happened. It also might be the only chance the men from the blue turf have to play for a title in New Orleans.

6. The game of the century did not occur last Saturday in Tuscaloosa but it was still a fantastic regular season game. A rematch would devalue the game, forcing LSU to beat Alabama twice for a national title while the Tide only needs to win once (in New Orleans). If we could have best two out of three, that'd be great but we're stuck with our current predicament.  

Buckle up and get ready, it's going to a fun and bumpy road to New Orleans.

Stat of the week

To say the Big 12, and the state of Kansas in particular, is not very good at defense might be an understatement. To say they like offense in the state of Oklahoma, likewise, might be an understatement. Consider this: of the 10 best games rushing this season (net yards gained), three have come against a Big 12 team. Strip out non-BCS opponents and it becomes three of the top five, including Kansas giving up the most a game this season on the ground when Georgia Tech rushed for 604 yards. Of the top 10 passing games (net yards gained), four of the top 10 have come against a Big 12 defense, including four of the top five. Kansas and Kansas State find themselves on the two lists a grand total of five times, one reason why the Jayhawks are dead last in defense.

Thanks to playing the Oklahoma schools in back-to-back weeks, Kansas State has dropped from 29th in total defense to 78th. Half of the Big 12 is in the top 10 in the country in total offense and Texas Tech is 11th. Needless to say, it's not fun being a defensive coordinator in the conference.

Stats of the week

- Stanford remains perfect in the red zone this season, getting points out of all 52 trips. They've scored a touchdown all but 11 times and there's only one team that has been inside the 20 more often (Oklahoma State). LSU is second in red zone efficiency, scoring on 41 of 42 trips. The Cardinal are also third in the country in red zone defense, allowing a score 16 times out of 24 attempts.

- Oklahoma is tied with Stanford for fewest sacks given up with just four all year. Of course, the Sooners have dropped back 128 more times.

- The top three active career leaders for rushing touchdowns are all juniors.  Temple's Bernard Pierce has 45, Oregon's LaMichael James has 44 and Wisconsin's Montee Ball has 43. The NCAA FBS record is 73.

- Both Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis and Idaho kicker Trey Farquhar hit 55-yard field goals right before halftime this week, which tie for the second longest of the season.

- Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning's pass to Torieal Gibson resulted in a 94 yard touchdown against Eastern Michigan, the longest pass play of the year. There have been four runs longer than that this season.

- Matt Barkley passed for a school-record six touchdowns in his game against Colorado on Friday. He also moved into 10th on the FBS active career list for touchdowns thrown with 69.

- Alabama still has yet to trail this season in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th quarter. LSU has trailed at the end of just two quarters all year.

- Since building a 31-7 lead on Oklahoma in the 3rd quarter, Texas Tech has been outscored 124-37.

- This was the first time Texas has rushed for five touchdowns in back-to-back games since 2005.

- Weird quirk from Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, Washington's tight ends had three catches for -5 yards and a touchdown against Oregon.

Yard-by-yard

- It didn't have the hype but the most thrilling game Saturday night was in Stillwater. Brandon Weeden threw a school-record 502 yards and had an answer for every late Kansas State score to escape with a 52-45 win. The defense, who seems to take shots from just about everybody in the game and outside it, held on with a goal line stand to prevent the tying score. Kansas State has taken some lumps in back-to-back weeks by stopping three straight passes with seconds left on the clock. It will get overshadowed given the loss but you have to be impressed with the play of KSU quarterback Collin Klein this season. He's been solid in the passing game and is as tough of a runner as you'll find at the position.  

- Hats off to Rick Neuheisel and UCLA for fighting and clawing their way (as some Bruins said) to an upset of Arizona State at the Rose Bowl to, gasp, control their own fate in the Pac-12 South. Thanks to a "here's what we're made of" five minute drive to score a go ahead touchdown, it almost looked like the Bruins defense were going to allow the Sun Devils to get a decent field goal shot off. Alex Garoutte's 46-yarder fell short though and an exuberant sideline of powder blues jumped for joy. A lot of people have counted Neuheisel out, especially after the debacle at Arizona, but he still put his team in a position to win and they finally seized it. The loss was the latest in a line of head scratchers for Dennis Erickson, who seems to lose this type of game every year at ASU. Without a decent South team this year, it's looking very much like a two team league.

- There was another top 10 match up in the SEC that seemed to be the third wheel Saturday night as Arkansas beat South Carolina 44-28. It was surprising to see the Razorbacks put together a solid first half, something they really hadn't done against a decent opponent this season, before pulling away late thanks in part to special teams and  defense. South Carolina had just 49 yards heading into the locker room but Connor Shaw led a late comeback in the third quarter until being knocked out with a concussion. The Gamecocks have a good defense and for Bobby Petrino's squad to hang 44 on them is certainly a statement that you can't forget about the Hogs at the end of the season when they play LSU.

- After dropping a game to lowly Minnesota, hardly anybody but the most hopeful Hawkeye faithful gave Iowa a chance against Michigan. Yet the defense was vintage, bottling up Denard Robinson all day, and Marcus Coker looked like a man on a mission while rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolverines had a chance to force overtime from the 3-yard line but four straight passes couldn't be snagged and Iowa ran off the field in celebration. "They showed a lot of heart," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Given who they lost to the previous week, it's difficult to tell what Iowa football is this season outside of being a big of Jekyll and Hyde. For Brady Hoke and Michigan, it appears the tougher schedule and move to a pro-style offense is finally catching up. The difference between passing in Rich Rodriguez' system and passing in Al Borges' cannot be understated. Robinson has been conditioned with certain timing for years and now is being asked to change it to match the current system. If you're looking for the reason why the junior is having problems (53% passing, 13-12 TD-INT ratio this season), look no further than a round (quarterback) being in a square hole (system).

- Bryan Harsin came into Austin with designs of transforming Texas' offense and it appears he is doing so, surprisingly, on the ground. In the past two seasons the Longhorns had just five games where they rushed for more than 200 yards; Saturday's win over Texas Tech was the fifth time they topped the mark this season. In a 52-20 win, Texas' 439 yards rushing against Texas Tech were the 4th-most against a BCS opponent this season. They've racked up 880 yards on the ground the past two games against sub-par defenses but it will be interesting to see if they can keep running the ball consistently the rest of the season. Given their youth on both sides of the ball - they've play 18 true freshmen - it's a good bet that they'll try and keep it up. Either way, there's a new coordinator and a new way of doing business on the 40 acres.

- Charlie Strong has one of the youngest teams in the Big East but they're rounding into form and it paid off with a huge upset of West Virginia that was extra personal given that the school was largely seen to be invited by the Big 12 over Louisville. Frosh QB Teddy Bridgewater threw a touchdown and special teams came up huge with a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. It was a complete and satisfying victory for the Cardinals. "I was not surprised at all to come into this venue and for us to go and play well," said Strong. "We knew we had to play well. We didn't come here to lose or to play it tight. We came in here to win." After the win, Strong ended up crowd surfing among his players in the locker room and the team, taking an added jab at the loser, sang John Denver's "Country Roads."

- The upset of the week comes courtesy of an NU on NU crime. With designs of making it to Indianapolis for the title game, Nebraska was upset by Northwestern despite Dan Persa standing on the sidelines. The Wildcats have not been great this season but they just kept coming through on defense, hanging on 28-25 for their first top 10 win in some time. "A great program win for us," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "To come on the road and put together our most complete game of the year. ... Not perfect. Not a work of art. There are some things we can correct."

- Not sure anybody has raised his NFL stock more than USC quarterback Matt Barkley? He played well in his showdown against Andrew Luck and then followed it up with a school-record six touchdown passes against Colorado despite a few drops from his wide outs. No, the Buffs aren't that good but thanks in large part to the through and through California kid Barkley, USC is a solid top 20 team. The defense is still the link week but outside of a trip to Eugene, it's likely they'll win out - especially if they can get healthier. Colorado, meanwhile, is so bad they're a double-digit favorite at home to a 2-7 team that lost their head coach.

- Small story that went way under the radar Saturday but kudos for Paul Pasqualoni for knocking off Syracuse to give UConn their fifth straight victory in the series. It meant a little more for Pasqualoni than others, who was head coach of the Orange for 14 years before being fired after winning four Big East titles and nine bowl trips. The Huskies defense played a big part, forcing several turnovers and holding despite the offense's own issues. Despite much talent at all, Pasqualoni has kept hopes alive for another winning season in Storrs.

- Kellen Moore is now 46-2 as a starter, more wins than any other FBS quarterback and an amazing accomplishment for a guy that no one outside of Idaho would even think is a major college quarterback if he was walking down the street. The Broncos saw a few different looks they weren't expecting from UNLV and led by just seven at halftime before pulling away late in the 4th quarter. As it stands now, Moore has an impressive 128 touchdowns against just 24 interceptions.

- As good of a slate as this week was, it was definitely a week filled with MACtion. Tuesday's Toledo-Northern Illinois game was 7-on-7 in pads it seemed like, with NIU prevailing in an entertaining 63-60 win that included 1,121 total yards (and back-to-back kick returns by the Huskies' Tommylee Lewis (great name) to open the game). One of the most underrated players in the country, Toledo's Eric Page also caught five touchdowns and had to be screaming when coach Tim Beckham didn't call any of his timeouts as NIU drove for the game winning touchdown pass. Then there was Ohio's 35-31 win over Temple to take control of the MAC East after a touchdown to win with less than two minutes on the clock. Thursday's Miami of Ohio romp over Akron wasn't anything to write home about but Central Michigan missed a final play field goal from 28 yards out to allow Kent State to win on Friday. Finally, on Saturday, Steven Schott hit a 44-yard field goal to put Ball State ahead of Eastern Michigan 33-31 with seconds left on the clock. MACtion indeed.

- Remarkable stat from Bruce Feldman, Lamar Miller became Miami's first 1,000-yard back since 2002 (Willis McGahee), a stretch of five different offensive coordinators. Although the 5-4 Hurricanes has dealt with a lot on and off the field, you have to give credit to OC Jedd Fisch and Al Golden. Much maligned quarterback Jacory Harris has been playing as well as he has at any point in his career and probably better than that. The senior is remarkably sixth in the country in passing efficiency, right behind Andrew Luck, with an impressive 18-4 touchdown-interception ratio. Miami has been in every game they've played with the four losses coming by 22 points. Saturday's 49-14 thrashing of Duke put them one win away from bowl eligibility ahead of this week's rivalry game at Florida State.

- It's always fun to catch the late night WAC games involving Hawaii, after a long day of watching college football it always seems to be an interesting way to cap it off. Utah State managed to beat the Warriors 35-31 thanks to a last minute drive. Hilariously, one of the keys to the game that the third-rate announcers brought up at the end was the late Andy Rooney (to play, they said, 60 minutes). Can't make that up.

Tweet of the week

"So Fox Sports MW is electing to show California HS football instead of Kansas-Iowa State."

- Bill Connelly, writer for SB Nation and Football Outsiders.

Fisch's Finest

Note: Last week was the fourth in a row that my 10th ranked team lost (sorry Nebraska fans), perhaps that will give Georgia Tech some hope on Thursday at home.

1. LSU

2. Oklahoma State

3. Stanford

4. Alabama

5. Boise State

6. Oklahoma

7. Oregon

8. Arkansas

9. Clemson

10. Virginia Tech

Where we'll be this week

Senior writer Dennis Dodd and I will be in Palo Alto to catch the Pac-12 showdown between Oregon and Stanford. Mr. College Football Tony Barnhart will be between the hedges to catch Auburn at Georgia. Brett McMurphy will head to State College to see Nebraska at Penn State.

Leaning this way

TCU at Boise State

Before the season, people were circling this game as perhaps the Broncos toughest test. There was the added issue of the game being moved by the Mountain West from Ft. Worth to Boise as a parting gift for the Horned Frogs. At 7-2 with issues on both sides of the ball, TCU is solid this season but it's not the team we've seen the past couple of years. Boise State, meanwhile, has gotten off to some slow starts and will still need to take care of business. This could be closer than most people think but expect the home team to come out victoriously.

Auburn at Georgia

The Bulldogs put up an impressive 42 points in one quarter against the lowly New Mexico State Aggies but the competition will pick up a bit this week with Auburn rolling into town. Aaron Murray continues to come along at quarterback and Georgia should be at full strength after dealing with a few suspensions. It will be tough for Auburn to pull of the upset in this one as Georgia continues their march for Atlanta.

Oregon at Stanford

The Game of the Century, West of the Rockies Edition can be found in Palo Alto, with two top-six ranked teams squaring off. Stanford gave Oregon a scare last year before faltering in the second half and, given the injuries on both sides of the ball, it wouldn't be shocking to see the same thing happen again this year. The Ducks aren't quite as sharp as they were last season but they're capable of knocking off Andrew Luck and company.

Category: NCAAF
Tags: Aaron Murray, ACC, Akron, Al Borges, Al Golden, Alabama, Alex Garoutte, Andrew Luck, Andy Rooney, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Auburn, Ball State, Ball State, BCS, Bedlam, Bernard Pierce, Big 12, Big Ten, bill Connelly, Bob Condotta, Bobby Petrino, Boise State, Brady Hoke, Brandon Weeden, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Bryan Harsin, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Caleb Sturgis, Central Michigan, Charlie Strong, Clemson, Collin Klein, Colorado, Connor Shaw, Dan Persa, Denard Robinson, Dennis Dodd, Dennis Erickson, Duke, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Eric Page, Eric Reid, Fiesta Bowl, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Houston, Idaho, Iowa, Iron Bowl, Jacory Harris, Jedd Fisch, Jerry Palm, John Chavis, John Denver, Kansas, Kansas State, Keith Wenning, Kellen Moore, Kent State, Kirk Ferentz, Lamar Miller, LaMichael James, Les Miles, Louisville, LSU, Marcus Coker, Matt Barkley, Miami, Miami of Ohio, Michael Williams, Michigan, Minnesota, Montee Ball, Morris Claiborne, Mountain West, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Orange Bowl, Oregon, Pac-12, Pat Fitzgerald, Paul Pasqualoni, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Neuheisel, Rose Bowl, Sam Montgomery, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Steven Schott, Sugar Bowl, Surveying the Field, Syracuse, TCU, Teddy Bridgewater, Temple, Texas, Texas Tech, Tim Beckham, Toledo, Tom Fornelli, Tommylee Lewis, Tony Barnhart, Torieal Gibson, Trent Richardson, Trey Farquhar, UCLA, UConn, UNLV, USC, Utah State, Virginia Tech, WAC, Washington, West Virginia, Willis McGahee, Wisconsin
 
Posted on: November 7, 2011 12:02 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 10




Posted by Bryan Fischer


Well then.

A little over halfway through Saturday's showdown in Tuscaloosa it became clear, this wasn't the game of the century it had been built up to be. While that superlatives will be saved for another big game down the road, what transpired at Bryant-Denny Stadium was something else: the slugfest of the century.

For some, the defense being played was marvelous. Morris Claiborne solidified himself as one of the top corners in the country with an interception and Eric Reid showed what it takes to win a game of this magnitude by wrestling for, and eventually coming down with, a pick near the goal line after the Tide tried a trick play to tight end Michael Williams.

The defense was so good on both sides that the MVP in a losing effort for Alabama had to be the offensive line, which was great at handling the pressure from LSU's front for four quarters - they seemed to fall apart a little in overtime.

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, a longtime assistant in the SEC, said after the game that this was "the most physical, hard-fought game he's ever been involved with."

With a fifth of the televisions in use on Saturday tuned to CBS for the game, I was quite surprised at how many lambasted the game afterward. Sure, there was a lack of crossing the goal line and way too many field goals for most people but that was the result of the defenses being so good. Both teams were able to move the ball, the defenses just tightened once they moved closer to the red zone.

As my colleague Tom Fornelli said to me, this game was all about deciding what fans liked college football and what fans just like touchdowns. Some compared it to a great pitchers duel in baseball but that would be unfair. The beauty of playing defense might have been lost by some but the battles in the trenches and in the secondary said Saturday was a masterpiece.

The Crimson Tide finished with 295 yards, the Tigers ended up winning with just 239. Alabama came into the game 23rd in the country in offense at 457 yards/game and had the best running back in the country in Trent Richardson. Despite not moving the ball well on offense, LSU came in 15th in scoring offense. That's just how good both teams were on the side of the ball - defense - that ultimately decided the game.

It would be interesting to see how much Miles' strategy would have changed had Alabama hit just one of their three missed field goals. Would we have seen one of his famous trick plays? I wouldn't exactly say 'The Hat' Les Miles out-coached Nick Saban since both adjusted conservatively but there's no question that Miles made decisions more inline with how the game was going, such as running Jordan Jefferson more than what the game plan likely called for.

Despite all the 'what ifs' that will be dissected over the coming days (and weeks and months and years), we're left with just one fact: LSU was better than Alabama Saturday night. If they were to play again for the BCS championship, what happened between the two teams would invalidate the very crutch - every week is a playoff - BCS supporters use to support their cartel of a system. If we just saw a playoff game, the Tide need to be thinking about a trip to a bowl game and not the title game.

In post game interviews, Miles was inviting of a rematch - perhaps knowing that knocking off Saban and the Tide another time on their way to picking of the crystal football would mean this LSU team could be considered among the greatest to play the game. The players too, were living in the moment and inviting LSU-Alabama II in New Orleans.

"That game should've been on pay-per-view," Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery said. "I think the world wants a rematch, honestly. It would be lovely to play such a great team out there again."

My colleague Bruce Feldman, who was in Tuscaloosa, discussed the rematch issue in The Big Picture, as did BCS guru Jerry Palm.

As we sit here on week 10 trying to digest what happened on Saturday, it good to lay down what we do know in the race for the national title.

1. There is A LOT of football remaining. LSU plays a top 10 team in Arkansas to end the season as well as the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Alabama has the Iron Bowl against Auburn. Oklahoma State ends with Bedlam against Oklahoma. Stanford plays Oregon and Boise State takes on TCU this week. We don't have a great system in the BCS but it was it is so "the race" is going to chance course several times between now and mid-December.

2. If Stanford beats Oregon, they'll move past Alabama in the BCS standings. If Oklahoma State wins out, they'll play in the championship game. Boise State needs help in droves.

3. Though Houston has moved as high as 11th in the rankings but are still a long shot at playing in a BCS bowl because Boise State is the highest ranked non-AQ school. It's doubtful the Bowls would pick the Cougars as an at-large team with fan bases such as Oklahoma likely qualifying.

4. The bowl tie-ins are ACC-Orange Bowl, Big Ten/Pac-12-Rose Bowl, Big 12-Fiesta Bowl, SEC-Sugar Bowl. The Bowl that loses the #1 team will have first pick of the replacements, followed by the bowl that loses the #2 team. The order after that is Fiesta, Sugar, Orange. There's a chance we could see some juicy match ups as a result (Oklahoma-Boise State rematch anyone?).

5. Want pure chaos? Arkansas beats LSU and Georgia pulls off an upset in Atlanta, forcing Alabama or LSU to miss a BCS game. Oregon beats Stanford, only to lose to USC and Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State to leave just Boise State and Houston as the lone undefeated teams. It's all unlikely but stranger things have happened. It also might be the only chance the men from the blue turf have to play for a title in New Orleans.

6. The game of the century did not occur last Saturday in Tuscaloosa but it was still a fantastic regular season game. A rematch would devalue the game, forcing LSU to beat Alabama twice for a national title while the Tide only needs to win once (in New Orleans). If we could have best two out of three, that'd be great but we're stuck with our current predicament.  

Buckle up and get ready, it's going to a fun and bumpy road to New Orleans.

Stat of the week

To say the Big 12, and the state of Kansas in particular, is not very good at defense might be an understatement. To say they like offense in the state of Oklahoma, likewise, might be an understatement. Consider this: of the 10 best games rushing this season (net yards gained), three have come against a Big 12 team. Strip out non-BCS opponents and it becomes three of the top five, including Kansas giving up the most a game this season on the ground when Georgia Tech rushed for 604 yards. Of the top 10 passing games (net yards gained), four of the top 10 have come against a Big 12 defense, including four of the top five. Kansas and Kansas State find themselves on the two lists a grand total of five times, one reason why the Jayhawks are dead last in defense.

Thanks to playing the Oklahoma schools in back-to-back weeks, Kansas State has dropped from 29th in total defense to 78th. Half of the Big 12 is in the top 10 in the country in total offense and Texas Tech is 11th. Needless to say, it's not fun being a defensive coordinator in the conference.

Stats of the week

- Stanford remains perfect in the red zone this season, getting points out of all 52 trips. They've scored a touchdown all but 11 times and there's only one team that has been inside the 20 more often (Oklahoma State). LSU is second in red zone efficiency, scoring on 41 of 42 trips. The Cardinal are also third in the country in red zone defense, allowing a score 16 times out of 24 attempts.

- Oklahoma is tied with Stanford for fewest sacks given up with just four all year. Of course, the Sooners have dropped back 128 more times.

- The top three active career leaders for rushing touchdowns are all juniors.  Temple's Bernard Pierce has 45, Oregon's LaMichael James has 44 and Wisconsin's Montee Ball has 43. The NCAA FBS record is 73.

- Both Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis and Idaho kicker Trey Farquhar hit 55-yard field goals right before halftime this week, which tie for the second longest of the season.

- Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning's pass to Torieal Gibson resulted in a 94 yard touchdown against Eastern Michigan, the longest pass play of the year. There have been four runs longer than that this season.

- Matt Barkley passed for a school-record six touchdowns in his game against Colorado on Friday. He also moved into 10th on the FBS active career list for touchdowns thrown with 69.

- Alabama still has yet to trail this season in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th quarter. LSU has trailed at the end of just two quarters all year.

- Since building a 31-7 lead on Oklahoma in the 3rd quarter, Texas Tech has been outscored 124-37.

- This was the first time Texas has rushed for five touchdowns in back-to-back games since 2005.

- Weird quirk from Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, Washington's tight ends had three catches for -5 yards and a touchdown against Oregon.

Yard-by-yard

- It didn't have the hype but the most thrilling game Saturday night was in Stillwater. Brandon Weeden threw a school-record 502 yards and had an answer for every late Kansas State score to escape with a 52-45 win. The defense, who seems to take shots from just about everybody in the game and outside it, held on with a goal line stand to prevent the tying score. Kansas State has taken some lumps in back-to-back weeks by stopping three straight passes with seconds left on the clock. It will get overshadowed given the loss but you have to be impressed with the play of KSU quarterback Collin Klein this season. He's been solid in the passing game and is as tough of a runner as you'll find at the position.  

- Hats off to Rick Neuheisel and UCLA for fighting and clawing their way (as some Bruins said) to an upset of Arizona State at the Rose Bowl to, gasp, control their own fate in the Pac-12 South. Thanks to a "here's what we're made of" five minute drive to score a go ahead touchdown, it almost looked like the Bruins defense were going to allow the Sun Devils to get a decent field goal shot off. Alex Garoutte's 46-yarder fell short though and an exuberant sideline of powder blues jumped for joy. A lot of people have counted Neuheisel out, especially after the debacle at Arizona, but he still put his team in a position to win and they finally seized it. The loss was the latest in a line of head scratchers for Dennis Erickson, who seems to lose this type of game every year at ASU. Without a decent South team this year, it's looking very much like a two team league.

- There was another top 10 match up in the SEC that seemed to be the third wheel Saturday night as Arkansas beat South Carolina 44-28. It was surprising to see the Razorbacks put together a solid first half, something they really hadn't done against a decent opponent this season, before pulling away late thanks in part to special teams and  defense. South Carolina had just 49 yards heading into the locker room but Connor Shaw led a late comeback in the third quarter until being knocked out with a concussion. The Gamecocks have a good defense and for Bobby Petrino's squad to hang 44 on them is certainly a statement that you can't forget about the Hogs at the end of the season when they play LSU.

- After dropping a game to lowly Minnesota, hardly anybody but the most hopeful Hawkeye faithful gave Iowa a chance against Michigan. Yet the defense was vintage, bottling up Denard Robinson all day, and Marcus Coker looked like a man on a mission while rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolverines had a chance to force overtime from the 3-yard line but four straight passes couldn't be snagged and Iowa ran off the field in celebration. "They showed a lot of heart," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Given who they lost to the previous week, it's difficult to tell what Iowa football is this season outside of being a big of Jekyll and Hyde. For Brady Hoke and Michigan, it appears the tougher schedule and move to a pro-style offense is finally catching up. The difference between passing in Rich Rodriguez' system and passing in Al Borges' cannot be understated. Robinson has been conditioned with certain timing for years and now is being asked to change it to match the current system. If you're looking for the reason why the junior is having problems (53% passing, 13-12 TD-INT ratio this season), look no further than a round (quarterback) being in a square hole (system).

- Bryan Harsin came into Austin with designs of transforming Texas' offense and it appears he is doing so, surprisingly, on the ground. In the past two seasons the Longhorns had just five games where they rushed for more than 200 yards; Saturday's win over Texas Tech was the fifth time they topped the mark this season. In a 52-20 win, Texas' 439 yards rushing against Texas Tech were the 4th-most against a BCS opponent this season. They've racked up 880 yards on the ground the past two games against sub-par defenses but it will be interesting to see if they can keep running the ball consistently the rest of the season. Given their youth on both sides of the ball - they've play 18 true freshmen - it's a good bet that they'll try and keep it up. Either way, there's a new coordinator and a new way of doing business on the 40 acres.

- Charlie Strong has one of the youngest teams in the Big East but they're rounding into form and it paid off with a huge upset of West Virginia that was extra personal given that the school was largely seen to be invited by the Big 12 over Louisville. Frosh QB Teddy Bridgewater threw a touchdown and special teams came up huge with a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. It was a complete and satisfying victory for the Cardinals. "I was not surprised at all to come into this venue and for us to go and play well," said Strong. "We knew we had to play well. We didn't come here to lose or to play it tight. We came in here to win." After the win, Strong ended up crowd surfing among his players in the locker room and the team, taking an added jab at the loser, sang John Denver's "Country Roads."

- The upset of the week comes courtesy of an NU on NU crime. With designs of making it to Indianapolis for the title game, Nebraska was upset by Northwestern despite Dan Persa standing on the sidelines. The Wildcats have not been great this season but they just kept coming through on defense, hanging on 28-25 for their first top 10 win in some time. "A great program win for us," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "To come on the road and put together our most complete game of the year. ... Not perfect. Not a work of art. There are some things we can correct."

- Not sure anybody has raised his NFL stock more than USC quarterback Matt Barkley? He played well in his showdown against Andrew Luck and then followed it up with a school-record six touchdown passes against Colorado despite a few drops from his wide outs. No, the Buffs aren't that good but thanks in large part to the through and through California kid Barkley, USC is a solid top 20 team. The defense is still the link week but outside of a trip to Eugene, it's likely they'll win out - especially if they can get healthier. Colorado, meanwhile, is so bad they're a double-digit favorite at home to a 2-7 team that lost their head coach.

- Small story that went way under the radar Saturday but kudos for Paul Pasqualoni for knocking off Syracuse to give UConn their fifth straight victory in the series. It meant a little more for Pasqualoni than others, who was head coach of the Orange for 14 years before being fired after winning four Big East titles and nine bowl trips. The Huskies defense played a big part, forcing several turnovers and holding despite the offense's own issues. Despite much talent at all, Pasqualoni has kept hopes alive for another winning season in Storrs.

- Kellen Moore is now 46-2 as a starter, more wins than any other FBS quarterback and an amazing accomplishment for a guy that no one outside of Idaho would even think is a major college quarterback if he was walking down the street. The Broncos saw a few different looks they weren't expecting from UNLV and led by just seven at halftime before pulling away late in the 4th quarter. As it stands now, Moore has an impressive 128 touchdowns against just 24 interceptions.

- As good of a slate as this week was, it was definitely a week filled with MACtion. Tuesday's Toledo-Northern Illinois game was 7-on-7 in pads it seemed like, with NIU prevailing in an entertaining 63-60 win that included 1,121 total yards (and back-to-back kick returns by the Huskies' Tommylee Lewis (great name) to open the game). One of the most underrated players in the country, Toledo's Eric Page also caught five touchdowns and had to be screaming when coach Tim Beckham didn't call any of his timeouts as NIU drove for the game winning touchdown pass. Then there was Ohio's 35-31 win over Temple to take control of the MAC East after a touchdown to win with less than two minutes on the clock. Thursday's Miami of Ohio romp over Akron wasn't anything to write home about but Central Michigan missed a final play field goal from 28 yards out to allow Kent State to win on Friday. Finally, on Saturday, Steven Schott hit a 44-yard field goal to put Ball State ahead of Eastern Michigan 33-31 with seconds left on the clock. MACtion indeed.

- Remarkable stat from Bruce Feldman, Lamar Miller became Miami's first 1,000-yard back since 2002 (Willis McGahee), a stretch of five different offensive coordinators. Although the 5-4 Hurricanes has dealt with a lot on and off the field, you have to give credit to OC Jedd Fisch and Al Golden. Much maligned quarterback Jacory Harris has been playing as well as he has at any point in his career and probably better than that. The senior is remarkably sixth in the country in passing efficiency, right behind Andrew Luck, with an impressive 18-4 touchdown-interception ratio. Miami has been in every game they've played with the four losses coming by 22 points. Saturday's 49-14 thrashing of Duke put them one win away from bowl eligibility ahead of this week's rivalry game at Florida State.

- It's always fun to catch the late night WAC games involving Hawaii, after a long day of watching college football it always seems to be an interesting way to cap it off. Utah State managed to beat the Warriors 35-31 thanks to a last minute drive. Hilariously, one of the keys to the game that the third-rate announcers brought up at the end was the late Andy Rooney (to play, they said, 60 minutes). Can't make that up.

Tweet of the week

"So Fox Sports MW is electing to show California HS football instead of Kansas-Iowa State."

- Bill Connelly, writer for SB Nation and Football Outsiders.

Fisch's Finest

Note: Last week was the fourth in a row that my 10th ranked team lost (sorry Nebraska fans), perhaps that will give Georgia Tech some hope on Thursday at home.

1. LSU

2. Oklahoma State

3. Stanford

4. Alabama

5. Boise State

6. Oklahoma

7. Oregon

8. Arkansas

9. Clemson

10. Virginia Tech

Where we'll be this week

Senior writer Dennis Dodd and I will be in Palo Alto to catch the Pac-12 showdown between Oregon and Stanford. Mr. College Football Tony Barnhart will be between the hedges to catch Auburn at Georgia. Brett McMurphy will head to State College to see Nebraska at Penn State.

Leaning this way

TCU at Boise State

Before the season, people were circling this game as perhaps the Broncos toughest test. There was the added issue of the game being moved by the Mountain West from Ft. Worth to Boise as a parting gift for the Horned Frogs. At 7-2 with issues on both sides of the ball, TCU is solid this season but it's not the team we've seen the past couple of years. Boise State, meanwhile, has gotten off to some slow starts and will still need to take care of business. This could be closer than most people think but expect the home team to come out victoriously.

Auburn at Georgia

The Bulldogs put up an impressive 42 points in one quarter against the lowly New Mexico State Aggies but the competition will pick up a bit this week with Auburn rolling into town. Aaron Murray continues to come along at quarterback and Georgia should be at full strength after dealing with a few suspensions. It will be tough for Auburn to pull of the upset in this one as Georgia continues their march for Atlanta.

Oregon at Stanford

The Game of the Century, West of the Rockies Edition can be found in Palo Alto, with two top-six ranked teams squaring off. Stanford gave Oregon a scare last year before faltering in the second half and, given the injuries on both sides of the ball, it wouldn't be shocking to see the same thing happen again this year. The Ducks aren't quite as sharp as they were last season but they're capable of knocking off Andrew Luck and company.

Category: NCAAF
Tags: Aaron Murray, ACC, Akron, Al Borges, Al Golden, Alabama, Alex Garoutte, Andrew Luck, Andy Rooney, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Auburn, Ball State, Ball State, BCS, Bedlam, Bernard Pierce, Big 12, Big Ten, bill Connelly, Bob Condotta, Bobby Petrino, Boise State, Brady Hoke, Brandon Weeden, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Bryan Harsin, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Caleb Sturgis, Central Michigan, Charlie Strong, Clemson, Collin Klein, Colorado, Connor Shaw, Dan Persa, Denard Robinson, Dennis Dodd, Dennis Erickson, Duke, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Eric Page, Eric Reid, Fiesta Bowl, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Houston, Idaho, Iowa, Iron Bowl, Jacory Harris, Jedd Fisch, Jerry Palm, John Chavis, John Denver, Kansas, Kansas State, Keith Wenning, Kellen Moore, Kent State, Kirk Ferentz, Lamar Miller, LaMichael James, Les Miles, Louisville, LSU, Marcus Coker, Matt Barkley, Miami, Miami of Ohio, Michael Williams, Michigan, Minnesota, Montee Ball, Morris Claiborne, Mountain West, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Orange Bowl, Oregon, Pac-12, Pat Fitzgerald, Paul Pasqualoni, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Neuheisel, Rose Bowl, Sam Montgomery, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Steven Schott, Sugar Bowl, Surveying the Field, Syracuse, TCU, Teddy Bridgewater, Temple, Texas, Texas Tech, Tim Beckham, Toledo, Tom Fornelli, Tommylee Lewis, Tony Barnhart, Torieal Gibson, Trent Richardson, Trey Farquhar, UCLA, UConn, UNLV, USC, Utah State, Virginia Tech, WAC, Washington, West Virginia, Willis McGahee, Wisconsin
 
Posted on: November 7, 2011 11:53 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 1:04 pm
 

Houston Nutt is out at Ole Miss: now what?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The SEC has its first (and possibly only) coaching casualty of the 2011 season as Houston Nutt has gotten the ax at Ole Miss. Here's the essential questions that need answering in the wake of the Rebels' decision, and our best attempt at answering them:

Two seasons ago Nutt won his second straight Cotton Bowl, the best back-to-back seasons for the Rebels since their 1960s heyday. Now he's staring an 0-8 SEC season in the face and unemployed. What happened?

Several things, but none more damaging than that Nutt's last couple of recruiting classes weren't nearly as good as advertised. Ed Orgeron left the cupboard well-stocked for his successor, and to Nutt's credit he made far more use of Dexter McCluster, Jevan Snead, Peria Jerry and other stars than Orgeron ever did. But his seeming emphasis on quantity over quality -- unfortunately, the 2009 38-member signing class that spawned the SEC's 28-signee "Houston Nutt Rule" may be as much his Oxford legacy as those two bowl victories -- left the 2010 and 2011 Rebels entirely devoid of difference-making SEC stars. (It didn't help that several of his highest-profile signees, like now-exiled receiver Patrick Patterson, wound up being total busts.)

Nutt hasn't done a good job of day-to-day coaching (by any stretch of the imagination) these last two seasons, and his utter failure to develop a reliable quarterback for this 2011 campaign may have been his single biggest mistake of all. But on a broader level, his losses and misssteps on the recruiting trail meant that once Oregeron's players graduated, he was starting down the barrel of a sizable talent disadvantage against nearly every SEC team he faced in 2010 and '11.

Why now? Why not wait until the end of the season?

If the Rebels have the funds necessary to buy Nutt out of his ginormous contract, it really doesn't make any sense to wait--with LSU still on the schedule, Ole Miss's best-case scenario at the end of the season is a 4-8 overall, 1-7 record in the SEC. Coming off of last season's disappointment and with no reason to think next year will be dramatically better, that sort of record should result in Nutt's canning as long as the athletic department has the cash to get rid of him. Since they apparently do, now the coaching search can start in earnest ... and the sooner the new coach is hired, the sooner he can try and salvage something out of the Rebels' 2012 recruiting class.

Speaking of: who will the Rebels target?

Until he actually moves on from the Plains, the first name on any list of candidates for a mid- to lower-tier SEC job is going to be Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, even with his Tigers taking a step back offensively this season after Cam Newton's departure. The former Arkansas high school coach may not be able to resist the chance to prove he could outperform his old boss (and now bitter coaching rival, according to many) at the same position.

But the job is attractive enough that the Rebels may be able to pick-and-choose if they decide Malzahn's not the right fit (or vice versa). According to one report boosters have already contacted Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin, and Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables. It would make sense for current Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora to be in the mix, too, after taking his Eagles to 8-1 on the year. And of course there's always Mike Leach, who'll be along any minute to mention how much he'd love a shot at coaching in the SEC.


Posted on: November 6, 2011 2:45 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: LSU. 

Usually, we'd find some specific angle to take within the team or the coaching staff when naming our "top" winner. Saying LSU was your big winner this SEC Saturday is like saying fire is hot.

But the stakes were so high for their win over Alabama, the rewards so lavish, that there's no real need to split those kind of hairs. LSU will now be the unquestioned, unanimous No. 1 team in the nation in every available poll, BCS standings included; they are only two games away from clinching the SEC West championship, one of which is against a team that's lost 12 straight SEC games and the other at home against a team whose last two road trips ended in death-defying escapes from that same 12-game losing streak team and Vanderbilt; they are three SEC games, then, from playing for the national championship in their own home state, at the same site where they won it in 2003 and 2007. And they accomplished all of that by defeating what might be their bitterest rival's best team in 20 years in that rival's own stadium and forced their forme head coach under the .500 mark against their current head coach. It's 100 percent possible LSU just cleared the highest hurdle between themselves and the national championship and did so in the sweetest possible fashion.

Not bad for 60-plus minutes of work.

LOSER: "Make his ass quit." 

That's the phrase Nick Saban used in a pregame speech to his players before the 2008 meeting with LSU, and one popularized as a kind of motto amongst Tide fans for the program's philosophy of oustanding conditioning work, physical play, perfect execution, and -- specifically -- the combination of all three forcing the opponent to surrender as the second half drags on. It's worked spectacularly for the most part under Saban, and until Saturday 2011 was no exception: the Tide didn't even allow a second-half point in the month of October. 

But in recent big games, the Tide have been strangely unable to force anyone on the other side to "quit"--and in fact, have come closer to doing it themselves. There was the fourth-quarter failures against LSU in Baton Rouge last season. Then the fall from 24 points ahead against Auburn. And tonight, there was this in the second half: five first downs, 104 yards, two turnovers and three three-and-outs, the last of which was the disastrous overtime possession which covered minus-10 yards.  LSU did next-to-nothing on offense in regulation too, of course, but in overtime their Jordan Jefferson/Michael Ford speed option still worked as well as it ever did.

Result: another championship-level game in which it was the other team outplaying the Tide over the final 30 minutes-plus and walking off the winners. It's not conditioning (we have little doubt every team at this level is as fit as they're going to be), but those second-half woes are something Saban's going to have to figure out all the same if he wants his teams hoisting trophies again.

WINNER: the Baton Rouge ticket market. 

Oh, Arkansas's visit on Nov. 25 won't be a second "Game of the Century" ... but with the Hogs seeing off the Gamecocks and LSU triumphing in Tuscaloosa, that game now becomes the biggest tilt remaining in the SEC's 2011 season by some margin. Despite the Razorback road woes mentioned above, Arkansas's history with LSU makes them the only realistic obstacle standing between the Tigers and Atlanta ... maybe even the BCS title game. The hype starts now. Can Dennis Johnson also bring that wood?



LOSERS: Rematch advocates. 

The stipulation was always that the best scenario for a rematch was for Alabama to win a narrow, competitive game over the Tigers that left voters wondering what would happen on a neutral field. We got the "narrow, competitive game" part, but voters won't need to see LSU on a neutral field ... since they've already beaten the Tide on Bryant-Denny Stadium's highly hostile field. Beyond that, while the first half featured plenty of smart offensive football countered only by outstanding defense, the second more often seemed like a sloppy, grind-it-out affair with neither team taking much in the way of offensive risks or producing anything resembling attacking "flair." Aesthetic value shouldn't play a part when deciding who gets to play for a national title, but voters are human all the same--and they may not be thrilled by the prospect of a second touchdown-less meeting.

WINNER: Joker Phillips.

There were more than a few people who saw Kentucky's opening-week slog against Western Kentucky, their wipeout against Florida, the epic pratfall at South Carolina, and pegged them for an 0-8 season in the SEC. Even as recently as last week, a dispiriting double-digit home loss to Mississippi State didn't suggest a corner was about to be turned.

But Phillips kept his team believing, and Saturday they comprehensively outplayed an Ole Miss team that -- at the very least -- has more offensive playmakers and comparable defensive talent. No one, Phillips included, would claim he's done a great coaching job this season, but likewise no one would argue he and his staff didn't badly outprepare the staff on the opposite sideline. 

LOSER: Pete Boone.

Whether he chooses between them now or at the end of what will likely be an 0-8 SEC campaign, the Ole Miss athletic director has two choices ahead of him after today's Rebel loss in Lexington: he can either stand behind Houston Nutt and make his own less-than-popular hold on the AD's chair that much less popular, or he can swallow Nutt's gigantic contractual bullet and go in search of a new coach even as he also fundraises for a new basketball facility and other capital improvements. Before today, Boone could entertain the possibility that a big finish by Nutt would allow him to put the ax away for at least one more year and still save face. Not any more--Nutt will enter 2012 as a virtual lame duck, or employed somewhere else, and there's nothing else Boone can realistically hope for any longer.

WINNER: Jeff Demps. 

For weeks, Demps has been nagged by various injuries. And not coincidentally -- though God knows the Gators' issues weren't that simple -- for weeks the Gators' ground game has all the effectiveness of the proverbial submarine's screen door. Against Vanderbilt, Demps finally looked like his old self, and not just on the juke-the-first-tackler-out-of-his-j
ock 52-yard touchdown that all-but-clinched the Gator victory. Also not a coincidence: with a little bit of help from Mike Gillislee, the Gators ran for 197 yards -- 158 of them Demps' -- and won their first game since September. 

LOSERS: Mark Richt's circadian rhythms. 

You know, sleep patterns. Not that college football coaches ever have particularly regular ones, but Richt's might have stayed within shouting of distance of normal if he'd known his Bulldogs didn't have everything to lose against Auburn this coming Saturday. That's not to say there's any worries about the Dawgs' total dismantling of New Mexico State -- if anything, that was a calming performance, especially where Aaron Murray's return to his usual accurate form was concerned -- but when the day started, his team didn't have to worry about the pressure that comes with being two winnable home games away from a return to Atlanta. Thanks to South Carolina's loss, that's the case, but it's also the case that Richt's teams have not performed particularly well under this new kind of pressure the last few seasons.

That's not to say, of course, that Richt wouldn't take having his team control its own destiny in a heartbeat over the alternative. But we're guessing there's a few more exhausted stares at the digital clock at 2:47 a.m. this week, too, now that Richt knows the fallout from a loss will be greater than ever.

Posted on: November 6, 2011 2:45 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: LSU. 

Usually, we'd find some specific angle to take within the team or the coaching staff when naming our "top" winner. Saying LSU was your big winner this SEC Saturday is like saying fire is hot.

But the stakes were so high for their win over Alabama, the rewards so lavish, that there's no real need to split those kind of hairs. LSU will now be the unquestioned, unanimous No. 1 team in the nation in every available poll, BCS standings included; they are only two games away from clinching the SEC West championship, one of which is against a team that's lost 12 straight SEC games and the other at home against a team whose last two road trips ended in death-defying escapes from that same 12-game losing streak team and Vanderbilt; they are three SEC games, then, from playing for the national championship in their own home state, at the same site where they won it in 2003 and 2007. And they accomplished all of that by defeating what might be their bitterest rival's best team in 20 years in that rival's own stadium and forced their forme head coach under the .500 mark against their current head coach. It's 100 percent possible LSU just cleared the highest hurdle between themselves and the national championship and did so in the sweetest possible fashion.

Not bad for 60-plus minutes of work.

LOSER: "Make his ass quit." 

That's the phrase Nick Saban used in a pregame speech to his players before the 2008 meeting with LSU, and one popularized as a kind of motto amongst Tide fans for the program's philosophy of oustanding conditioning work, physical play, perfect execution, and -- specifically -- the combination of all three forcing the opponent to surrender as the second half drags on. It's worked spectacularly for the most part under Saban, and until Saturday 2011 was no exception: the Tide didn't even allow a second-half point in the month of October. 

But in recent big games, the Tide have been strangely unable to force anyone on the other side to "quit"--and in fact, have come closer to doing it themselves. There was the fourth-quarter failures against LSU in Baton Rouge last season. Then the fall from 24 points ahead against Auburn. And tonight, there was this in the second half: five first downs, 104 yards, two turnovers and three three-and-outs, the last of which was the disastrous overtime possession which covered minus-10 yards.  LSU did next-to-nothing on offense in regulation too, of course, but in overtime their Jordan Jefferson/Michael Ford speed option still worked as well as it ever did.

Result: another championship-level game in which it was the other team outplaying the Tide over the final 30 minutes-plus and walking off the winners. It's not conditioning (we have little doubt every team at this level is as fit as they're going to be), but those second-half woes are something Saban's going to have to figure out all the same if he wants his teams hoisting trophies again.

WINNER: the Baton Rouge ticket market. 

Oh, Arkansas's visit on Nov. 25 won't be a second "Game of the Century" ... but with the Hogs seeing off the Gamecocks and LSU triumphing in Tuscaloosa, that game now becomes the biggest tilt remaining in the SEC's 2011 season by some margin. Despite the Razorback road woes mentioned above, Arkansas's history with LSU makes them the only realistic obstacle standing between the Tigers and Atlanta ... maybe even the BCS title game. The hype starts now. Can Dennis Johnson also bring that wood?



LOSERS: Rematch advocates. 

The stipulation was always that the best scenario for a rematch was for Alabama to win a narrow, competitive game over the Tigers that left voters wondering what would happen on a neutral field. We got the "narrow, competitive game" part, but voters won't need to see LSU on a neutral field ... since they've already beaten the Tide on Bryant-Denny Stadium's highly hostile field. Beyond that, while the first half featured plenty of smart offensive football countered only by outstanding defense, the second more often seemed like a sloppy, grind-it-out affair with neither team taking much in the way of offensive risks or producing anything resembling attacking "flair." Aesthetic value shouldn't play a part when deciding who gets to play for a national title, but voters are human all the same--and they may not be thrilled by the prospect of a second touchdown-less meeting.

WINNER: Joker Phillips.

There were more than a few people who saw Kentucky's opening-week slog against Western Kentucky, their wipeout against Florida, the epic pratfall at South Carolina, and pegged them for an 0-8 season in the SEC. Even as recently as last week, a dispiriting double-digit home loss to Mississippi State didn't suggest a corner was about to be turned.

But Phillips kept his team believing, and Saturday they comprehensively outplayed an Ole Miss team that -- at the very least -- has more offensive playmakers and comparable defensive talent. No one, Phillips included, would claim he's done a great coaching job this season, but likewise no one would argue he and his staff didn't badly outprepare the staff on the opposite sideline. 

LOSER: Pete Boone.

Whether he chooses between them now or at the end of what will likely be an 0-8 SEC campaign, the Ole Miss athletic director has two choices ahead of him after today's Rebel loss in Lexington: he can either stand behind Houston Nutt and make his own less-than-popular hold on the AD's chair that much less popular, or he can swallow Nutt's gigantic contractual bullet and go in search of a new coach even as he also fundraises for a new basketball facility and other capital improvements. Before today, Boone could entertain the possibility that a big finish by Nutt would allow him to put the ax away for at least one more year and still save face. Not any more--Nutt will enter 2012 as a virtual lame duck, or employed somewhere else, and there's nothing else Boone can realistically hope for any longer.

WINNER: Jeff Demps. 

For weeks, Demps has been nagged by various injuries. And not coincidentally -- though God knows the Gators' issues weren't that simple -- for weeks the Gators' ground game has all the effectiveness of the proverbial submarine's screen door. Against Vanderbilt, Demps finally looked like his old self, and not just on the juke-the-first-tackler-out-of-his-j
ock 52-yard touchdown that all-but-clinched the Gator victory. Also not a coincidence: with a little bit of help from Mike Gillislee, the Gators ran for 197 yards -- 158 of them Demps' -- and won their first game since September. 

LOSERS: Mark Richt's circadian rhythms. 

You know, sleep patterns. Not that college football coaches ever have particularly regular ones, but Richt's might have stayed within shouting of distance of normal if he'd known his Bulldogs didn't have everything to lose against Auburn this coming Saturday. That's not to say there's any worries about the Dawgs' total dismantling of New Mexico State -- if anything, that was a calming performance, especially where Aaron Murray's return to his usual accurate form was concerned -- but when the day started, his team didn't have to worry about the pressure that comes with being two winnable home games away from a return to Atlanta. Thanks to South Carolina's loss, that's the case, but it's also the case that Richt's teams have not performed particularly well under this new kind of pressure the last few seasons.

That's not to say, of course, that Richt wouldn't take having his team control its own destiny in a heartbeat over the alternative. But we're guessing there's a few more exhausted stares at the digital clock at 2:47 a.m. this week, too, now that Richt knows the fallout from a loss will be greater than ever.

Posted on: November 6, 2011 1:24 am
 

QUICK HITS: Arkansas 44, South Carolina 28

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ARKANSAS WON: 
On the stat sheet -- where the Razorbacks outgained the visiting Gamecocks 435-206 and won the turnover battle 4-to-1 -- this was an easy victory. But the Gamecocks found a way to make the Hogs sweat, scoring on a Devin Taylor pick-six, a short field following a long kickoff return, and two out-of-nowhere long touchdown drives to pull within 30-28 early in the fourth quarter. But Tyler Wilson answered with a decisive 8-play, 63-yard touchdown drive to put the home team back in control, and the Hogs weren't threatened again.

WHY ARKANSAS WON: Because eventually, even with the help it got from Taylor and special teams, the Gamecock offense just wasn't built to keep pace with Arkansas's. Connor Shaw had led Carolina to 28 points total in his team's two previous games--getting them to 28 in this one game alone was a huge step forward, and a nod is due even if the Gamecocks somehow got there on only those barely-more-than-200 yards.

Arkansas, meanwhile, twice settled for field goals after driving inside the Gamecock 15, were stopped on 4th-and-goal at the 2, and had two other drives end in a missed field goal. And they'd still scored 37 points when Shaw stepped back to pass inside his own 10 late in the fourth -- no time any more for trying to grind out drives -- and was buried by Hog defensive end Jake Bequette. Shaw fumbled, the Hogs recovered, ballgame.

Coming from behind was never really an option for an offense like this ... and given the way Wilson was playing, that Dennis Johnson is running angry these days, and that the Hogs were at home, that was always going to happen eventually. This was just an offensive mismatch.

WHEN ARKANSAS WON: when Bequette made that sack. But we suppose getting Broderick Green into the end zone two plays later (pushing the lead to 16 points with only 4:07 to play), as opposed to a second goalline stuff, made it official.

WHAT ARKANSAS WON: Combined with Alabama's loss, a ticket directly back into the SEC west race. If the Hogs win out -- a tall task, since that would include taking down LSU in Baton Rouge -- they would force a three-way tie atop the division that would be broken by the BCS standings. It's a long shot, but it's a shot nonetheless.

WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA LOST: their grip on the SEC East. The Gamecocks now slip a game behind Georgia in the loss column, and will need beat Florida at home next week and have the Dawgs to lose to either Auburn or Kentucky to make it back to Atlanta. Their shot is probably better than the Hogs', truthfully, but it probably doesn't feel that way with their destiny controlled by someone else.

Posted on: November 5, 2011 6:10 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2011 6:31 pm
 

Report: Mizzou to SEC announced 'early next week'

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The long song-and-dance between the SEC and Missouri appears nearly over.

A Sporting News report Saturday cited a "high-placed SEC source" that said the Tigers would be officially announced as the SEC's 14th team "early next week," possibly as soon as this Monday.

The report has since been confirmed by CBSSports.com senior writer Dennis Dodd.

Mike Slive declined to comment on the report.

The source claimed that Missouri will be added to the SEC's East division, balancing the addition of Texas A&M to the West and preserving the Alabama-Tennessee annual rivalry that might have been jeopardized if Auburn had been shifted to the East instead. 

Though the Sporting News report did not mention whether the Tigers would join the league in time to play the 2012 SEC season, the recent leak of a pre-prepared welcome page on the SEC wesbite and Slive's admission the league is preparing for "13 or 14 team schedules" would seem to indicate they will.

The report suggests that the announcement could have been made earlier, but that Slive and the SEC did not want to detract from the buildup to tonight's mega-tilt between LSU and Alabama. 

The Sporting News also reported that the league would be interested in creating its own network for the purpose of airing "low-tier non-conference games." Many of those are currently aired on pay-per-view packages or the regionally-aired "SEC Sports Network."
Posted on: November 5, 2011 3:43 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 18 Georgia 63 New Mexico St. 16

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

GEORGIA WON: 
No scholarship running backs, no problem. Despite missing Richard Samuel to injury and three other tailbacks -- including Isaiah Crowell -- due to one-game suspensions, the Bulldogs had the very definition of "no problem" with visiting New Mexico State, scoring six second quarter touchdowns and coasting from there. (The 42 points in a quarter is an FBS high this season.) With the tailbacks out, corners Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin both got time on offense and both scored long touchdowns, Smith on a 56-yard run and Boykin a 42-yard pass reception. The Bulldogs finished the game with 628 offensive yards.

WHY GEORGIA WON: "They're Georgia, and the opponent was New Mexico State" pretty much covers it. But whatever hope the Aggies had of making this a competitive game likely required Aaron Murray to have been as erratic and scattershot as he'd been the previous week in the Bulldogs' win over Florida. No such luck for NMSU: Murray only played the first half, but that was long enough to go 18-of-23 for better than 10 yards an attempt and five touchdowns without an interception.

Obviously, Auburn's pass defense is going to offer a lot more resistance than NMSU's when the Dawgs host the Tigers next week. But Murray's big day has to give his team a lot of encouragement after his lackluster outing vs. the Gators.

WHEN GEORGIA WON: Oh, just pick a second quarter touchdown. We'll go with the Brandon Harton four-yard TD run to push the lead to 14-3, since it was immediately preceded by a questionable pass interference flag on a 3rd-and-4 incompletion. You knew that if NMSU couldn't even catch a break from the officials, they weren't going to hang around long.

WHAT GEORGIA WON: An entire second half of rest for their starters, and for a team with as many thin areas as the Bulldogs, they couldn't ask for anything more than that from this game.

WHAT NEW MEXICO STATE LOST: Lost? We suspect Dewayne Walker will wish his team had been more competitive and much sharper defensively, but no doubt the check from Georgia will soothe a lot of ills.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com