It is no secret that college football has perhaps the most dramatic, entertaining regular season in all of American sports. This week appeared on paper to be slow, with only a few seriously impactful games. However, it was not to be. The Big Ten provided the early drama, as the tightest divisional races in the land were thrown into further chaos. Nebraska controlled its own destiny in the Legends Division, and had an easy schedule remaining to potentially cruise to the conference title game.
Along came Northwestern, however, and the newcomers from the prairie were knocked back into the pack. Michigan State now has a game of clearance and winnable games the rest of the way – although their season finale is at Northwestern. The Leaders Division is harder to call, as Penn State has cruised to a two-game lead by not playing anyone important. The Nittany Lions close the season against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Nebraska in a row, and that lead may be hard to maintain with the Buckeyes and Badgers gunning for the division crown. Ohio State has a head-to-head tiebreaker over Wisconsin, but the Badgers would assuredly take the BCS ranking tiebreaker if all three end up deadlocked. Wisconsin is clearly the best team, but it is currently in the worst position to make a move. Whatever happens, it will be entertaining, and the introduction of division races has made the end of the Big Ten regular season relevant for the first time in a while.
Kansas State earned a bit of redemption from its humiliation by the Sooners, but in the end it was still not enough to beat Oklahoma State on the road. The Wildcats fought to the end but were simply outgunned by the red-hot Cowboys. This result has essentially guaranteed that the Bedlam rivalry game between OU and OSU will decide the Big 12 title, and possibly more. The Pac-12 South remains unsettled, but it is largely irrelevant because the winner will be murdered by Oregon or Stanford. The SEC East is now Georgia’s to lose following South Carolina coming up short at Arkansas. Overall, it was an exciting day with a few upsets and a number of thrilling games.
There was also the little matter of the most important regular season game since at least 2006, a titanic one vs. two showdown between bitter rivals in a setting unmatched anywhere in sports. This was billed as a Game of the Century, and despite the final score, it lived up to its billing. Alabama appeared to have the better offense, but that was expected. The defenses played different styles but were equally effective; Alabama was consistently dominant while LSU took the “Bend but don’t break” philosophy to new heights, pulling out big stops and critical plays whenever Alabama got too close. The two teams combined to cross each others’ ten yard-line twice in the entire game. One of those instances came in overtime, when that benchmark was only 15 yards distant. The defenses were as advertised, although LSU star safety Tyrann Mathieu, aka the Honey Badger, had a thoroughly poor game, missing tackles and coverages while committing stupid personal fouls. Jarrett Lee threw his first two interceptions in a month and a half, while Jordan Jefferson was merely adequate. None of the Tiger running backs made a serious impact. On the other side, Tide QB AJ McCarron was shaky but generally effective, and Trent Richardson was often unstoppable. The Tide had a far more impressive offensive performance, and dominated much of the first three quarters. The difference in the game was special teams, and what a difference it was. Alabama kickers combined to miss four field goals, all from long but reasonable range, while LSU punter Brad Wing pinned the Tide inside their five yard-line twice and booted a 73-yard punt from his own end zone in the fourth quarter. In addition, Tigers safety Eric Reid pulled off the play of the season, robbing the Tide of a probable touchdown with a spectacular goal-line interception that he literally ripped from the hands of the Alabama receiver. In the end, LSU overcame its own miscues again and got just enough help from the Tide to pull off the victory, showing off intangibles that even Tim Tebow would be proud of. Alabama is perhaps the strongest, most talented team in the country, but on this night, LSU is the best. In the end, the scoreboard is what counts.
So what does this mean for the title race? LSU is obviously a bulletproof number one, and Oklahoma State is presumably in second. Stanford probably will not be penalized for its close game against Oregon State. From here it gets tricky. Alabama will likely stay ahead of Boise State for now, leading to much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Idaho. The injury to Oklahoma wideout Ryan Broyles will serve either to galvanize the team or to cause it to unravel; at this point, there is no telling. An angry OU will beat up on OSU, while a demoralized Sooner side does not really have a chance. I still think Stanford will fall to Oregon. At the end of the season, I have the feeling that an unbeaten Boise State will pass Alabama for the second slot if Stanford and OSU fall, and Alabama is guaranteed to remain above Oklahoma regardless of what the Sooners do. The voters really do not want to create a Tide-Tigers rematch, and my national title game prediction remains unchanged, although more uncertain than before.
That is the big picture as the voters will see it; I still have my own ideas, one of which is that a loss in overtime to the top-ranked team means that you are essentially as good as the top-ranked team. Alabama will not drop in my rankings, because I still think that they would murder any of the rest of the bunch. The Tide and Tigers are a step above the rest, and I persist in my belief that only a strong attack of Boise voodoo can keep LSU from that crystal ball. For now, I am simply happy that the Tide got rolled. Now, time to exterminate Ole Miss.
1. LSU 6. Oklahoma
2. Alabama 7. Stanford
3. Boise State 8. Wisconsin
4. Oregon 9. Georgia
5. Oklahoma State 10. Arkansas
Week 11 Game Picks
Georgia Tech by 10 vs. Virginia Tech
Nebraska by 13 at Penn State
Georgia by 6 vs. Auburn
Oregon by 7 at Stanford