By Jim Weber
Finally, LSU vs. Alabama lived up to the hype.
After a snooze fest during LSU’s 9-6 victory in last season’s “Game of the Century” and the “Lame of the Century” in the BCS National Championship Game, Saturday’s game between the Tigers and Crimson Tide had all the drama you could ask for: Great plays, huge momentum swings and plenty of Les Miles craziness.
All champions have a moment in their season where it looks like the title is going to slip away, and Alabama faced that moment by getting the ball back at its own 28 with no timeouts and just 1:34 remaining.
After doing absolutely nothing offensively in the second half up to that point, Alabama ran its two-minute offense to perfection and was in the end zone five plays later, ripping the heart straight out of Death Valley.
While Alabama deserves all the credit in the world for coming from behind in Baton Rouge, the “Mad Hatter” is going to face immense criticism like he did last January. Miles’ horrendous fake field goal, onside kick, fourth-and-one attempt and soft coverage on Alabama’s last drive all blew up in his face and will have critics once again blasting his game management.
As for Alabama, consider this: The Crimson Tide’s run over the last four seasons is one of the best stretches by a college football program ever. Alabama is now 44-4 since 2009 while playing in the toughest conference in America and on the path to a third national title in four years.
The word dynasty gets thrown around way too often in sports these days. But if Alabama clutches the crystal trophy again this January in Miami, it would definitely apply to the Crimson Tide.
LUCK OF THE IRISH: Speaking of great games, the Notre Dame-Pitt game went from an expected blowout to an instant classic that the Irish somehow pulled out in triple overtime. In what appeared like it was going to be the letdown game of all letdown games, the Irish bumbled their way through three quarters before finally waking up. Notre Dame rallied from 20-6 down for the 29-26 win over a Pitt team that lost to FCS Youngstown State earlier this fall.
A win is a win, but this game ensured that Notre Dame won’t play for the national title unless two of the other undefeated teams ahead of it (Alabama, Kansas State, Oregon) lose. Because there is no way voters would allow the Irish to jump any of those teams after three narrow victories at home over Purdue, BYU and now Pitt.
BARN-BURNER: Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas entered the season with all the Heisman Trophy hype in Eugene because of his all-world speed, but it’s time to start recognizing Kenjon Barner as arguably the best running back in college football. All he did Saturday was rush for 321 yards and five touchdowns vs. USC. Barner now has 1,295 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season but those numbers don’t even tell the whole story of his greatness.
Why? He’s normally on the bench during the second half of Oregon blowouts. This is much more telling: Barner is averaging 6.9 yards per carry, which isn’t that far behind Barry Sanders’ 7.6 YPC average during the greatest Heisman Trophy season of all time in 1988. Rob Moseley of The Register-Guard projected that Barner would be on pace for 3,604 rushing yards this year with a full workload. Think about that for a second.
A&M ROLLING: You can’t give enough credit to Texas A&M freshman QB Johnny Manziel and Aggies’ rookie head coach Kevin Sumlin, who have turned TAMU from an underachiever under Mike Sherman to the surprise team of the SEC. After slapping Mississippi State silly in a 38-13 win, the Aggies are now 7-2.
Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury – who is best remembered as Mike Leach’s first gunslinger QB at Texas Tech – also deserves effusive praise. After being named Offensive Coordinator of the Year last season while at Houston, Kingsbury’s A&M offense is averaging 44.7 PPG, fourth best in the nation. This is a guy who is just 33 years old and was in the CFL five years ago. Don’t expect Kingsbury to be an assistant coach much longer.
MOUNTAIN-TEARS: The implosion in Morgantown for Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia Mountaineers continues after losing to TCU in overtime, 39-38. A WVU team that was ranked No. 5 in the country just four weeks ago now sits at 5-3 after three straight losses.
And the schedule doesn’t get any easier from here. West Virginia plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday (which crushed TCU last weekend), hosts Oklahoma and then plays at Iowa State before finishing with Kansas at home. That means a regular season many thought would end with a ticket to the BCS title game could instead end at 6-6.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? The idea of Indiana having a winning season, let alone playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, seemed outright preposterous before the season started. And yet, after the Hoosiers’ 24-21 victory over Iowa, Indiana will host Wisconsin on Saturday for the inside track to represent the Leaders Division in nearby Indianapolis with both Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the game.
You really have to hand it to head coach Kevin Wilson, who endured a 1-11 nightmare last season but now stands at 4-5 and could easily have been 5-4 if the Hoosiers had finished off an upset of Michigan State on Oct. 6.
UN-JOLLY ROGER: I still have no doubt that Mike Leach will be successful at Washington State but this season has been a dreary mess. The Cougars officially hit rock bottom in a 49-6 loss to Utah in which Wazzu only scored on the last play of the game. At 2-7, Leach is now assured of his first losing season ever as a head coach. Said The Pirate after the loss: “Despite what the score said, they could have beat us by 100 today.” Yikes.
Even worse? Leach’s trusty “Air Raid” offense has the Cougars ranked 112th in scoring offense (19.0 PPG) because he can’t find a quarterback to run his system well. And Kliff Kingsbury, Sonny Cumbie or Graham Harrell aren’t walking through that door.
Top games: Week 11
5. Penn State vs. No. 20 Nebraska: Nebraska has its eye on a Rose Bowl trip while Penn State is looking for a signature win to define a surprisingly successful first season by new head coach Bill O’Brien.
4. No. 2 Kansas State vs. TCU: After a stunning come-from-behind win at West Virginia, can TCU follow it up by ruining Kansas State’s chance for a national title? It will be a lot easier if the mystery injury to K-State QB Collin Klein keeps the Heisman frontrunner from playing.
3. No. 15 Mississippi State vs. No. 5 LSU: Mississippi State just got hammered at home while LSU had its heart broken vs. Alabama. Needless to say, there will be a nasty hangover effect for both teams.
2. No. 11 Oregon State vs. No. 14 Stanford: If Oregon plays for the national title, this game could decide who plays in the Rose Bowl. It would be Stanford’s third straight BCS bowl while the Beavers haven’t played in “The Grandaddy of Them All” since 1965.
1. No. 16 Texas A&M vs. No. 1 Alabama: Alabama better not celebrate its win over LSU too long because Johnny Football and Texas A&M’s explosive “Air Raid” offense will give the Crimson Tide all they can handle again.
Photos: Crystal LoGiudice, Kirby Lee, Spruce Derden