LSU survives in overtime, has inside track to national title game

Louisiana State University quarterback Jordan Jefferson (L) crack up with teammate center back Tyrann Mathieu after beating the University of Kentucky at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana October 1, 2011. Jefferson was just released from suspension by LSU this week. REUTERS/Dan Anderson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Defense and kickers, that’s what might have just decided the national championship. LSU survived a 9-6 overtime slugfest tonight against Alabama in a matchup of the top two teams in the country.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it was bad football. Quite the contrary, actually. These are two defenses unlike many we’ve seen in college football, and that’s fun to watch. They’re big, they’re fast and they’re physical. And let’s remember, when these two teams aren’t playing each other, the offenses do just fine.

The key in this one wound up being Alabama’s ineptitude in overtime, as the Tide went backwards and were forced to try a 52-yard field goal, which missed, um, poorly. LSU merely had to run the ball and set up a field goal on its possession, and it did, kicking a 25-yard game winner from the center of the field.

But A.J. McCarron struggled all game long, and Nick Saban showed late the lack of confidence he had in his quarterback by not calling a timeout with a little less than 2 minutes left and LSU set to punt it away. A coach that’s confident in his quarterback and offense calls that timeout and gives them a chance to drive for a game-winning field goal. Saban sat on his timeout and played for overtime.

Now, unless there aren’t any unbeaten teams remaining, there’s no chance we get a rematch here, nor should we. While I feel these are the country’s two top teams, they’re certainly not unbeatable, not with those quarterbacks. If either team runs into a situation where its defense is struggling against a good team, it’s in a lot of trouble. Do you trust McCarron, Jarrett Lee or Jordan Jefferson to bring a team back at the end of a game? I don’t.

That said, would you bet on either defense failing? I wouldn’t.

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Who needs offense? LSU crushes Oregon

Louisiana State University head coach Les Miles (R) talks with field judge Ed Kierce during the second half of the NCAA Cotton Bowl football game in Arlington, Texas January 7, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

LSU may have come into tonight’s game with Oregon missing its starting quarterback and wide receiver because of suspensions, but that didn’t matter. The LSU defense and special teams were more than enough in LSU’s 40-27 win.

It’s a real nice victory for LSU and the SEC (again). It’s a tough loss for Oregon, which is about to get the Ohio State label draped on it when it comes to big games. The Ducks, as it turns out, aren’t that difficult to defend if you have some time to prepare for them.

In their last three big-time nonconference games — Ohio State, Auburn and LSU — the Ducks offense hasn’t been anywhere near the explosive unit that it is during the season. People that are smarter than I am on Twitter claim it’s because what Oregon does is actually pretty simple, and when you have the athletes to match up with it, all you have to do is play assignment football.

That being said, shutting down Oregon is quite an accomplishment, and LSU’s defense won’t face many offenses that are more explosive. They’ll face different and more balanced offenses (Darron Thomas is woefully inadequate in the passing game), but not many that can do what the Ducks can.

It plays in the SEC West, so LSU has a hell of a lot of work to do in order to play for the title this year, but this was a huge hurdle, especially considering the suspensions. It was an even bigger hurdle for the SEC, which may have just guaranteed itself a spot in the title game again.

Surprise! Cam Newton played, and — surprise! — Auburn won

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Cameron Newton  of the Auburn Tigers stays in bounds as he scores a touchdown against Brandon Boykin  of the Georgia Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Amid rumors swirling about his eligibility and participation in a pay-to-play scandal, Cam Newton went out and did what he does best on Saturday — dominate.

Newton had 148 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and added 151 yards and two more scores on the ground as Auburn remained undefeated with a 49-31 win against Georgia. The win clinches the SEC West Division title for the Tigers, who will enter their annual Iron Bowl showdown with Alabama at 11-0.

What happens between now and Nov. 26 — the day of the Iron Bowl — with Newton is unknown. At the rate news breaks on the subject, I imagine things will be a lot more clear before that.

Apparently Auburn feels safe enough with the information it has about Newton’s eligibility. Or maybe it doesn’t, and just doesn’t care. Why sit him and miss out on a national title without knowing for sure if he’s going to be ruled ineligible? Maybe he goes through the season, wins the Heisman and a national title and nothing happens.

Or maybe they’re stripped of everything after the fact. The only thing I think we can say with any level of certainty is that without Newton on the field, none of that matters, because Auburn isn’t beating Alabama without him. Heck, it might not beat the Tide with him.

I guess the other thing we can be certain of is that this story isn’t going away any time soon.

Nothing at noon: Early college football slate has been boring

CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 02: Terrelle Pryor  of the Ohio State Buckeyes leads teammates including Justin Boren , Dan Herron  and Mike Adams  off the field during a game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State defeated Illinois 24-13. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

If you like to sleep in on Saturdays (like, really sleep in), you’ve been in luck. The noon (eastern) slate of college football games this season has been both lacking big-time games, and any kind of surprises. It’s essentially the bad Big Ten and ACC games, and maybe lower-level SEC matchup.

I imagine it has a lot to do with television, and the networks trying to get the biggest games in the prime spots (3:30 and 8). But in year’s past, I seem to remember there being some noon games that were worth watching. And even if they weren’t worth turning on at the start, there always seemed to be at least one game that you saw the score for that made you turn on the TV.

Outside of Florida’s scare against Miami (OH) in Week 1, South Carolina’s win over Georgia in Week 2 and Miami’s win over Clemson last week, there really hasn’t been that much to watch early in the day. And really, none of those were all that exciting. This is surprising in a year where college football has had a ton of big games with a lot of hype. As a couch potato who loves to come home from my morning duties and take in some football right away, I’m very dismayed by this.

Sure, the 3:30 and 8 time slots are great, but if you plan on focusing on one game, the others might as well not even be on. Plus, some of the bigger games get pushed completely off of television in different markets. For instance, last week’s 8 p.m. ABC game in Michigan was Notre Dame vs. Boston College. If you’re not a Notre Dame fan (or I suppose a BC fan, but there’s really not many of those in this state), that doesn’t do much for you. The mirror game on ESPN2 was Washington at USC, which turned out to be a good game, but really doesn’t draw that much interest in the Midwest.

One of last week’s biggest games, Stanford at Oregon, wasn’t even on TV, and I’m not just talking about my crappy basic digital package at home. Buffalo Wild Wings, which has like 75 TVs, didn’t have the game on because it wasn’t available. You’re telling me Notre Dame at Boston College couldn’t have been moved to the noon time slot where people in the Midwest and East (the obvious major markets for that game) could have been awake and watching?

Surely there are more pressing issues in college football right now, but this dearth of noon games seems to be the easiest to fix. So get on it, NCAA, because not only is this boring me early in the day, but it’s really making it hard to find things to write about before 3:30.

Alabama gets back to its roots in comeback victory

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram smiles on the sideline during the second half of their NCAA football game with the Duke Blue Devils in Durham, North Carolina September 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jim R. Bounds (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

While the face of college football is constantly changing, one thing seems to remain a constant: If you can play good defense and run the ball, you’re going to win a lot of football games.

Alabama has those qualities, which is why its the reigning national champion, and the current No. 1 team in the country.

The Tide fell behind today, but on the back of its defense and run game clawed back into its game with Arkansas and eventually picked up a 24-20 win in front of a raucous crowd in Fayetteville.

Mark Ingram ran for 157 yards, many of which came with one or more Razorback on his back. His counterpart Trent Richardson added 85 more yards, and the team finished with 228 on the ground. It was punctuated with a 2-yard run by Greg McElroy on fourth-and-inches from midfield with under a minute to play. I’d say Nick Saban made a gutty call going for it in that situation, but I don’t know if anyone had any doubt the Tide was going to convert at that point.

The defense gave up some yards to Ryan Mallett, who threw for 357, but they also forced a career-high three interceptions from the highly-touted quarterback. Two of those came in the final 5 minutes, one setting up the go-ahead score. Arkansas isn’t much of a running team, but it was held to 64 yards on 20 carries.

This was just the first game in a really tough three-game stretch for Alabama, but it’s arguably the toughest of the three. Florida is next, but that’s at home, and the Gators’ offense doesn’t seem like it will pose much of a threat. That’s followed by a trip to South Carolina, and while the Gamecocks look much improved this year, I don’t think they’re ready for the Crimson Tide.

I had my doubts early in the year about Alabama’s chances to repeat, but Ingram and Richardson can run on anyone, and that defense — which just passed what will be its toughest test of the season — is only going to continue to get better. At this point, I don’t know who can beat the Tide.

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