Emotions bring out best in McCarron
Bama QB gets signature moment as quarterback, human being
When T.J. Yeldon’s sprint transformed from hope to success to euphoria, silencing 93,374 voices in five electric seconds, AJ McCarron had his moment.
We’ve all had that moment. Usually, they are private ones. They’re the ones where self-doubt and uncertainty are flushed out by success and confidence. They’re the little celebrations we have inside of ourselves when we get the job we’ve long dreamed about or the raise that will ensure our family is secure or pass the impossible test that had long-barred the gate to our future. As the pride washes over us, we might shout, we might pump our fists, we might fight back tears. And that happens because diligence finally overcame doubt, because we knew, from that point forward, that we were damn good at what we do, that we’d be ready for whatever obstacles lay ahead because we’d hurdled the biggest one, the first one.
Yeldon’s 28-yard touchdown catch-and-run came to be because McCarron stared down a pair of LSU defensive linemen, who were allowed to run free, and threw a perfect screen pass in the instant before he was swallowed. After Yeldon crossed the goal line and the quarterback had celebrated with his teammates, McCarron found himself on the bench, alone, face buried in his palms, sobbing without regard for cameras or the crowd.
For McCarron, the moment, those tears, came because he realized he’d stepped out of the shadow of that defense, of all of those running backs that have carried Alabama for so long, that he’d be remembered as the man who beat LSU in impossible circumstances. It meant no longer being the archetypal Alabama quarterback, the one lucky enough to be dragged to a national title by a herculean defense.
Overcome by his moment, he had no choice but to share those private emotions with a rapt nation.
And, for that, I’m thankful.
Many say that sports give us an unfiltered, raw glimpse into the disparate elements of the human condition. And, while that notion might be worn out, it’s nonetheless true. Yes, football is fantastic distraction, but, in the small moments, the subtle ones when the camera draws close, it can be a vivid reminder of the highs and lows of our own lives.
Last week, Marcus Lattimore’s tears reminded us of what it looks like to have your heart broken and what the uncertainty of youth can feel like when it crashes down on you in a split second.
And, because we’d felt that pain before, we felt it with him. A week later, McCarron’s tears reminded us of precisely the opposite, of the moment when that uncertainty washes away, when we gain the confidence inherent in growing up – in making it – and relish success for a few short moments before we gladly accept more responsibility.
McCarron’s responsibility for three quarters – and for much of his career – was, “Just, don’t lose the game for us, kid.” All night, he was held in check by the ravenous LSU defense, by the 93,374 deafening voices so unaccustomed to losing when they see the moon hanging over Tiger Stadium.
Before the night’s final drive, the junior quarterback had fewer than 100 yards passing and had completed less than half of his attempts. But, after LSU kicker Drew Alleman’s 45-yard field goal that would’ve given the Tigers a six-point lead meandered a few yards wide with 1:34 lingering on the clock, McCarron’s responsibilities shifted drastically. “Go win us the game, kid. Go make sure we can still get that national championship everyone expects us to win.”
McCarron stood tall and confident against that those 93,374, against the aura of the Louisiana night sky and against the defense that had bedeviled him all night. He stepped into each throw then demonstratively rallied his players back to the line, arms flailing and eyes wide as he conducted his symphony. Though the clock was ticking against him, and he had to move with urgency, there was still a palpable calm underneath the crimson helmet branded with the white “10”. On the drive, four of his five attempts, none shorter than 11-yards, found their targets. He moved the Crimson Tide 72 yards in 43 seconds against a defense that’s made a habit of yielding less ground in entire quarters.
"He was locked in,” Alabama running back Eddie Lacy said after the game. “But it was something different this time, this drive. I mean, he knew he had to make plays. He got the plays in. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, made the right reads and made the right passes. You can't ask for any more.”
I imagine football will get a lot easier for McCarron now. I imagine that he’ll command a huddle in ways he never has. I imagine he’ll trust himself to deliver the ball into the tight window on a 15-yard out because he did it for 43 seconds at night in Baton Rouge when the entire world thought he couldn’t.
LSU’s final drive fell flat when quarterback Zach Mettenberger was smothered by Alabama’s Damion Square. As the clock struck zero, the scoreboard read Alabama 21, LSU 17 and the field flooded with joyous players wearing Crimson. But, in the blissful chaos, McCarron sprinted straight to his family, to his parents, who were there watching their son in the front row all night. They’d all worked so hard together, poured in so much of themselves, to earn that moment, to ensure that their son could find whatever success he craved.
When he arrived, he wrapped his arms around them and cried – they pulled him in tight and did the same. His tears expressed thanks; theirs showed pride. But, a grown man, why would he run to them like a kid after a little-league game? Because, at his core that night, he was just a son who wanted to make his parents proud, to show them that he could succeed, to pay back all they’d invested in him, no different than you or me when we called to say we got into the school, or got the job or won the award.
“Words can't explain the emotions of that game,” McCarron tweeted once the tears had dried late Saturday night.
It’s OK, AJ, you don’t have to explain – we know exactly how you feel.
Crimson Tide fans weren’t the only ones hoping that McCarron would march his team down the field – diehards from around the Southeast were cheering with each completed pass. Why? Why cheer for the juggernaut that had run roughshod over the conference for half a decade? Because Alabama’s national title hopes were likely a conference’s national title hopes. Also riding on McCarron’s shoulders was the streak that SEC devotees take the most pride in – the conference’s six consecutive national titles. An Alabama loss might have meant that a one-loss SEC team wouldn’t make the national title game given that Oregon, K-State and Notre Dame very well could run the table. The South – simultaneously divided by the nation’s fiercest rivalries and united under a three-letter banner of collective excellence – breathed a collective, sweet tea-scented sigh of relief when Alleman missed that late field goal.
Given the stakes, wasn’t this the best game all year? Les Miles, true to form, brought out as many tricks as he could muster – a fake field goal, a sneak-onside kick – and went for it on fourth down twice. Uncharacteristically, though, Miles had a bad night at the blackjack table, and his usual luck wasn’t there. Both of the big fakes failed and LSU converted neither fourth down try. Those decisions, ultimately, dictated the fate of his team on a night when LSU defense dominated most of the game, yielding only one third down conversion and holding the Alabama passing game in check for 58 minutes. It’s only the second loss at home on Saturday night for the Tigers under Miles – and the largest crowd in Tiger Stadium history witnessed it. Like Alabama, the bright spot for the Tigers was the man under center. Zach Mettenberger, who has struggled in his first year as starter put up 298 yards, a score and no interceptions against the nation’s best defense.
There was just too much good football transpiring on Saturday evening. I was transfixed by the end of the Notre Dame-Pitt game (more on that shocker later) and missed the first few plays of the Oregon-USC game. But if you miss one snap of an Oregon game, you’re bound to miss points. This was no different – by the time Notre Dame escaped defeat, Oregon already had 14 points on the board and it looked like the game was going to be the rout that the Ducks badly needed to distance themselves from the Irish and K-State in the polls. But this Trojan team, though already eliminated from the national title hunt, still has a lot of pride and, more importantly, talent. After spending a quarter trying to learn the rules of whatever this new fast-paced sport was that Oregon was playing, the Trojans fought back. Oregon pushed the lead to 21-3 early in the second, but Matt Barkley immediately answered with a 75-yard strike to Calvin Johnson, sorry, I meant Marqise Lee. A week after breaking the single-game Pac-12 receiving yardage record, Lee didn’t seem very winded and tacked on 157 more yards and a pair of scores. Oh, and he also returned eight kicks – because Oregon tends to kick off a lot – at 31.2 yards per return, including an 82 yarder that set up a Trojan score.
On the other side of the ball, Chip Kelly finally let Kenjon Barner play an entire 60 minutes – the results were more devastating than I’d imagined. The speedy 195-pound senior took 38 carries for 321 yards and five scores. What!?! Barner set the school single-game rushing yardage record and, on Sunday, he eclipsed the record for most Gatorade consumed by a human in a single day (previous record was held by Jessica Simpson). Many other records fell in Oregon’s 62-51 win. Oregon had 730 total yards of offense, breaking both their school record and USC’s yardage-allowed record. The 62 points were the most a Trojan team has ever allowed. USC didn’t have a shabby day on offense either – the Trojans put up 615 total yards in the losing effort and quarterback Matt Barkley tossed five touchdowns. Exhausting – I lost five pounds just watching this one. While Oregon’s offense looks like an effective mixture of soccer, ultimate frisbee, dynamite and basketball, the Ducks’ defense will need to step up if it wants to capture the crystal football.
Right around the time many of us were gasping for air at the end of the Oregon-USC track meet, the entire town of Manhattan, Kan. was holding its breath. Why? Because it was struggling – and likely failing – to digest the four most frightening words it’s ever heard: Collin Klein is hurt. After struggling early, the Wildcats stormed back and knocked off Oklahoma State 44-30. But Klein’s injury, not the win, is the most important story. Klein appeared to have banged his head on a couple of his signature battering-ram runs in the third quarter. After scoring a touchdown, and getting up slowly, Klein’s helmet was taken away by team trainers who spoke with him on the sideline. He came out after the one-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and never returned – the only thing that can stop Klein, it seems, is his own punishing style of play. In only a half-game’s worth of work, Klein already had 245 passing yards and 64 more on the ground. Freshman Daniel Sams performed well in Klein’s stead, completing four of his five pass attempts, rushing for 20 yards and preserving the K-State lead, but you can’t simply replace the Heisman frontrunner with a freshman and hope to stay undefeated through a tricky final three games. There’s no info on the injury yet, but let’s hope Klein is alright – head injuries are frightening and it’d be awful to see a Heisman campaign and an undefeated season snuffed out like that.
Did you see the trailer? It goes something like this (read it in your best gravelly, super serious movie trailer voice): “One man had nothing to lose. One man plays for keeps. One man will do whatever it takes to win. This fall, see Gary Patterson in Double Overtime.” Patterson, without a perfect record to protect as he has in recent years, took a huge risk and went for the kill on the final play of a contest against West Virginia that was full of plot twists. Rather than kick the extra point to tie the game and send it to a third overtime, Patterson kept his offense on the field. Freshman Trevone Boykin tossed a tough pass to the front-corner of the end zone that receiver Josh Boyce had to dive to haul in. But he came up with the ball and the Horned Frogs came up with the win, handing the Mountaineers their third consecutive loss. Tavon Austin returned a punt to give the Mountaineers a 31-24 lead with 3:19 remaining. Great job by Austin, but his only mistake was not running laps around the field and burning more time off of the clock. Asking the Mountaineer defense to protect a one-score lead for 3:19 is like setting a bowl full ice cream in front of a toddler and asking him not to eat it for 3:19 -- it’s not going to happen. The Mountaineers didn’t touch the ice cream for a whole two minutes, but finally relented when Boyce found himself running all alone down the left sideline with a 1:30 left. Boykin found him and Boyce outraced the entire Mountaineer secondary en route to the 94-yard touchdown that pushed the game to overtime and let Gary Patterson start his action movie career.
Reports of Texas’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Longhorns went to Lubbock to take on one of the nation’s most balanced teams on Saturday and never really let the Red Raiders think they had a chance. It was Texas’ best showing all season and badly needed after last week’s near-upset at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks. Reports of quarterback David Ash’s demise, also, seem to have been blown out of proportion. After getting pulled last weekend for the younger of the McCoy brothers (famed quarterbacks, not gunfighters, in the Lone Star State), Ash played like a man fighting to keep his job. The sophomore completed his first seven passes, helping Texas bolt out to a 24-13 halftime lead. By the end of the game, Texas had a hard-earned nine-point victory, Ash had tossed three touchdowns and McCoy hadn’t set foot on the field.
|RUNNING FOR A LIVING|
For running game connoisseurs -- and you know who are: you own a beige sedan with a high side-impact safety rating – Michigan State-Nebraska was the game for you. Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez and Michigan State human-battering-ram Le’Veon Bell went shoulder-pad-to-shoulder-pad (not literally) all afternoon long in one of the better games we’ve seen played in the Big Ten all season. Bell had 188 yards on 36 carries – the fourth time he’s eclipsed 35 carries this season and the fifth time he’s gone for more than 120 yards – while Martinez, per usual, did more with his legs than his arm, eclipsing 200 yards on only 17 carries. Michigan State looked like it had the game wrapped up when Bell poked home his second score of the game early in the fourth quarter, which pushed the Spartans’ lead to 10 points. But, Nebraska and its roster laden-with drama majors, was only putting itself in position for another come-from-behind victory. Martinez scampered 35 yards for a score with seven minutes left and hit Jamal Turner for a five-yard touchdown pass with only 6 seconds remaining, handing Michigan State its fourth conference loss, and putting it out of contention for a second consecutive trip to the Big Ten title game.
A torn meniscus gave birth to a quarterback controversy in Corvallis, Ore. Sean Mannion, who played well through the first half of the season, had to have knee surgery, which opened the door for freshman Cody Vaz, who went on to win a pair of games in Mannion’s stead. Mannion tossed four picks in his return a week ago, a huge factor in the Beavers’ first loss of the season. So it was Vaz who got the starting nod in hopes of plugging the dam (sorry for that one, couldn’t resist). Despite a slow start, he did just that, tossing three scores en route to Oregon State’s 36-26 win against Arizona State. While Vaz performed well, credit Oregon State’s 30th-ranked defense with the win. Arizona State has been potent in Todd Graham’s first year directing the attack – it’s averaged 37 points per game so far. Holding it well below that average was crucial as the young quarterback slowly acclimated to his new role as the Beavers’ starter.
Last Thursday, for three short hours, Miami (Fla.) looked like Miami again. As the Hurricanes were busy running wild on Virginia Tech , I thought I saw a mink-coat-wrapped Luther Campbell roaming the sidelines and a few empty cans of hairspray haphazardly discarded by Jimmy Johnson. Turns out it was just the Hokie mascot and a few crumpled Gatorade cups, but still, the fact that I mistook them for Luther and hairspray is a good sign for a program trying to find its way back to prominence. Freshman running back Duke Johnson, who started the season on fire but cooled quickly, was the star of the 30-12 win against the visiting Hokies. Not only did Johnson run for 100 yards on 11 carries, but he had an 81-yard kickoff return in the first quarter that set up an easy touchdown. The win propelled Miami to the top of the ACC Coastal Division and handed Virginia Tech’s its third conference loss – its most since 2008. Even sweeter for the Hurricanes, they knocked off one of their most hated conference foes for only the third time in 10 tries.
Vanderbilt hadn’t shut out an SEC opponent since 1968. Few reading this remember that because they weren’t born then. Those who were born don’t remember it because it was, well, 1968. That year, the Commodores blanked Kentucky 6-0. Forty-four years later, they did it again, albeit with a bit more style. This time, Vandy won 40-0, holding the Wildcats to only 260 yards of offense and 15 first downs. The 40-point win was Vanderbilt’s largest margin of victory since 1948, which, if you’re old enough to remember that, you may be on this website by mistake – your Reader’s Digest is on the coffee table in the other room. It’s the first time since 2008 that Vanderbilt has mustered three conference wins and the Commodores still have two more chances – both winnable games against Ole Miss and Tennessee – to add to that total.
Well, it could’ve, and probably, should’ve been worse for Maryland. Yes, it lost 33-13 and didn’t get on the scoreboard until the second half, but, remember, it was starting a freshman linebacker at quarterback, one who’d only had one week’s worth of first-team reps. Yet the disastrous situation only yielded a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech, not a 222-point one that the Jackets doled out to Cumberland a century ago, which, given the circumstances, seemed like it might be in play. Kudos to the linebacker-turned-QB Shawn Petty, who acquitted himself well on Saturday. The freshman went 9 for 18 for 115 yards, a pair of scores and only one interception. Georgia Tech’s defense has been several notches below stellar this year, but is still a talented enough unit that it could’ve made Petty want to crawl into his Terrapin shell. While the linebacker was flinging it around the field, the Yellow Jacket quarterbacks passed about as many times as you might have expected from Petty. Vad Lee and Tevin Washington combined for four whole pass attempts for 31 yards. But you don’t really need to execute those new-fangled, risky forward passes on a day when you run the ball for 370 yards at a 6.6 yards per carry.
I’m not superstitious, but after Saturday I’ve started wearing green socks every day (to my girlfriend’s dismay, I only own one pair). Why? Because, after Notre Dame overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit – and a crucial missed extra point – en route to a 29-26 triple-overtime win against Pitt, I became convinced that the “luck of the Irish” is a real thing and I wanted in. I hope the green socks work, because I really, really don’t want to have to dye my hair red. A week after getting Brent Musburger to declare something about relevance thanks a huge road win against Oklahoma, the Irish nearly careened back toward irrelevance by letting a four-loss Pitt team push them around for three quarters. But the Notre Dame team we’ve grown accustomed to this fall finally showed up in the fourth as the defense shut the Panthers out and gave the offense a much-needed short field to work with before the game’s tying touchdown. After Everett Gholston tossed an interception in the end zone on the would-be tying touchdown, the Irish defense pushed Pitt backward five yards on the ensuing three-and-out. Two plays later, the Irish were in the end zone and tacked on the tying two-point conversion on a Gholston scramble. In overtime, Notre Dame fumbled at its own goal line and let Pitt get a crack at a game-winning field goal try. But the lucky Irish dodged both errors and poked in the winning touchdown shortly after. In short, Notre Dame had about 37 opportunities to lose this game, but somehow walked off of the field in South Bend with arms aloft and an unblemished record intact. And I walked straight into Goodwill on a mission for a quality pair of used green socks.
If you’ve been reading regularly, you know I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. Well, this time, my prediction was so bad that I’m terrified to own up. See, it may have cost you a few hours Saturday afternoon when you could’ve been sleeping, soaking in the smell of sawdust at Home Depot or watching the Quick and the Dead for the 29th time on AMC. (Gene Hackman? Russell Crowe? Gunfights? Overwrought dialogue? A plot based around a tournament bracket? Yes, please.) On Wednesday’s weekend preview, I suggested everyone be firmly planted on their couch by noon so they could enjoy what seemed to be an entertaining clash between SEC newcomer Texas A&M and budding power Mississippi State. “Despite their disparate styles of play, this is as evenly-matched a game as you’ll watch all year,” your favorite college football writer opined. Well, that thesis held true for about nine minutes of the first quarter. By then, A&M had poked in its second score and was ahead 14-0. The Aggies pushed the lead to 31-0 before the Bulldogs could muster a single point. And, remember, this one was played in Starkville, Miss. Your final, Texas A&M 38, Mississippi State 13. Why the dominance? Because that Johnny Manziel kid once again found an SEC defense to be rather accommodating. He completed all but six of his 36 pass attempts for 311 yards and ran for 129 more along with a pair of scores. Again, the freshman did this on the road against a one-loss SEC team. That is not supposed to happen. Based on what I’ve seen through his first nine games, I’ll go ahead and make another prediction – Manziel will win a Heisman eventually and will approach Tebow-esque levels of fanfare. If I’m wrong on this, it’s okay, because it’ll be four years from now and you won’t remember I wrote this. Phew, in the clear. Sorry again for forcing you to watch this game – I hope you changed the channel at halftime and watched Crowe and Hackman try to out-act each other.
Remember when Florida was No. 2 in the BCS? Feels like two months ago, doesn’t it? Well, it was only 10 days ago. Then the Gators lost to Georgia because Jarvis Jones watched 300 on the way down to Jacksonville: “Give them nothing! Take from them everything!” Jarvis took the ball and the Gators’ No. 2 ranking. This past weekend, Florida still seemed a bit shaken by Jones’ Leonidas-esque performance as the Gators only managed to squeak by Missouri 14-7. The Gators, playing at home, didn’t muster a point until a 36-yard touchdown run by Omarius Hines that tied the game at 7-7 midway through the third quarter. Missouri, which came into the game with the nation’s 25th-ranked defense, limited the Gators to fewer than 300 yards – only 106 of those came through the air. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel didn’t toss an interception, but that was pretty much the lone bright spot on a day where he only mustered 4.6 yards per attempt. Fortunately for Driskel, Missouri quarterback James Franklin had an even tougher afternoon, tossing four picks that kept the Gators in the game despite the uncharacteristically tepid offensive showing.
Well, at least the Vols won, right? That’s good. But a harrowing 55-48 win against Troy may have felt like a loss for many in Rocky Top nation. Fans in orange and white who took leisurely rides on their personal watercraft up the Tennessee River to Neyland Stadium probably didn’t adequately prepare themselves for a game against a Sun Belt team that saw 10-lead changes and more than 1,400 yards of total offense combined. Yes, both teams eclipsed 700 yards in what became a glorified 7-on-7 drill. It was, however, the Vols’ first win since September, much needed after four consecutive conference losses against ranked opponents. Yet again, Cordarrelle Patterson was the centerpiece of the Volunteers’ attack – he had 219 receiving yards and a score – and continues to be one of the few – lone?? – bright spot in a season that started with much promise, but quickly turned sour.
Jim Mora (dropping the “Jr.” again this week – you’ll know why when you see the score) asked his assistant coaches to wear war paint on Saturday night. And, sure enough, they came onto the field with faces painted like Mayan warriors. Well, as odd as it seems, the gimmick worked. No, it really, really, really worked. UCLA had its best showing of the season, beating Arizona 66-10. Maybe they should go with full chest paint for the rest of the season. Remember, the Wildcats knocked off USC last week, and appeared to have been suffering through a brutal hangover after the biggest win of their season. After getting banged up last week, Arizona quarterback Mike Scott was once again knocked out of the game, but the contest was already out of hand by the time he was sidelined. The Bruins jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and kept scoring thanks, in large part, to Johnathan Franklin’s 162 yards on the ground. Young teams learn how to cope with losses first, but, as they improve, they have to learn how to handle big wins. What happened Saturday after beating USC is an important lesson for RichRod’s team on how not to handle success.
1. The top five teams in the BCS took center stage Saturday night and, rightfully so, diverted everyone’s attention from much of what else transpired throughout the day. Well, Georgia, No. 6 in the BCS when games were being played on Saturday, quietly dispatched Ole Miss 37-10. Sure, it was supposed to win that one, but a week after seizing control of the SEC East in an emotional win against Florida, no one would’ve blamed the Bulldogs for putting forth a less-than-stellar effort against the Rebels. And, for a quarter, it looked like that might be the case when the Ole Miss jumped out to a surprising 10-0 lead. But the Bulldogs woke up and scored 37 unanswered, proving that the blowout loss to South Carolina earlier this year was an aberration, not a season-defining calamity. With a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way (which pains me to say as a Georgia Tech devotee) it looks like the Bulldogs will finish the regular season with one loss and the SEC East crown. When they head to Atlanta in December to take on the Crimson Tide, don’t think this year’s Bulldogs will roll over on command like they did in last year’s SEC title game against LSU.
2. Rightfully so, the undefeated and national title game talk has surrounded Oregon, Alabama, Kansas State and Notre Dame for the past month. But there is one more undefeated team playing in an AQ conference – Louisville, which won its ninth game of the season with a 45-17 showing against Temple. The win was expected, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s day wasn’t – he tossed five touchdowns against no picks. Bridgewater has quietly put together a terrific season for an undefeated team – he’s now tossed 18 touchdowns, only four picks, is completing more than 70 percent of his passes at more than nine yards-per-attempt. Because it plays in the Big East, and because the Cardinals schedule is easier than that of the other undefeateds, Louisville won’t get a national title shot and Bridgewater won’t get much, if any, Heisman buzz. But if they can run the table and Bridgewater can continue this level of efficiency, you’ll be hearing his name more come awards and bowl season.
3. No one has written the words “Indiana” and “Rose Bowl” within the same sentence, no, paragraph, since the Hoosiers made the trek to Pasadena in 1968. Well, thanks to postseason bans of division-mates Penn State and Ohio State and a consecutive wins against Illinois and Iowa, the Hoosiers control their own Big Ten Leaders Division fate. They only have to pass Wisconsin, who they host this week, in order to earn a trip 45 minutes north to Indianapolis to compete for the Big Ten title game. The Hoosiers are only in the second year of what should be a lengthy rebuilding process given their recent struggles, but, thanks to the infractions by the heavyweights in their division, this might be the most noteworthy chance they get any time soon to fight for a conference title and a trip West.
You’ll be spending your week in the cold tub after the year’s most exhausting few hours of football last weekend. By Saturday, though, you should be healed up enough to hop back on the couch and strap on the remote once more. Here’s what you’ll be watching:
No. 15 Texas A&M
at No. 1 Alabama
3:30 p.m. ET
How much fun is this one going to be? Manziel and A&M gained a lot of confidence with the convincing win in Starkville and Alabama will likely be emotionally – and physically – drained after the war in Baton Rouge. No, no, I’m not saying I expect a freshman quarterback to march into Tuscaloosa and ruin a national championship season; I just think Manziel might have Alabama fans sweating like they’re drinking Tabasco in July for a quarter or two. No matter how battered they are post-LSU, Alabama’s speed should neutralize Manziel’s ability to get around the corner, but his creativity could take advantage of any overzealous pursuits by those five-star athletes in Crimson. A good day by A&M and Manziel, even in a losing effort, could plant the seed in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa that the SEC West might not belong to the Tide and Tigers for much longer.
No. 13 Oregon State
at No. 16 Stanford
3 p.m. ET
It’s taken a while for the Pac-12 to sort itself out, but we’re getting close. Oregon, without question, is the westernmost conference’s top dog. USC has three losses, so I’m hard pressed to call it second-best. No, Oregon State and Stanford, who’ve combined for only three losses, are going to battle for that completely subjective, completely valueless title on Saturday. Whoever comes out of Palo Alto with the W will have my vote, though neither will likely have a chance to battle for the conference title because both have the geographical misfortune of sharing a division with the Ducks.
No. 3 Kansas State
7 p.m. ET
If Collin Klein is marooned on the sideline, we might see the Wildcats’ national championship hopes shattered this weekend. Though it has a young defense and a freshman replacement at quarterback, TCU has been able to hang with some of the better teams in a good Big 12 Conference. It pushed Texas Tech to three overtimes two weeks ago and just knocked off West Virginia. If Klein is healthy, TCU has no chance, but if K-State’s own freshman replacement has to step under center, TCU could rearrange the top of the BCS rankings.
at No. 18 Nebraska
3:30 p.m. ET
The Big Ten Leaders Division, and, almost by default, the Big Ten title itself are Nebraska’s to lose. The Huskers are tied atop the division with Michigan, but hold the tiebreaker thanks to the convincing head-to-head win two weeks ago. Penn State, conversely, has only pride to play for thanks to its postseason ban. Given that there’s no chance at postseason glory, regular-season games matter even more for the Nittany Lions, who would likely count derailing Nebraska’s title hopes as a bright spot. Nebraska has been pulling out games late, but can it keep living so dangerously? Because the game is in Lincoln, I like the Huskers, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Penn State might give them another scare.
Views and opinions expressed here are soley those of the writer.
Follow Brian Burnsed on Twitter at @brianburnsed