College Football Overtime (cont.)
Les Miles can eat all the grass he wants. Better yet, he can shove some sod into the mouths of his many critics, myself included, because we deserve it. Had Tennessee not sent 13 men onto the field that fateful afternoon last month, the Mad Hatter may well have lost his job on the spot. But after he knocked off Alabama on Saturday -- and outcoached Enemy of the State Nick Saban -- I've got to believe the Mad Hatter has finally won over the faithful.
The fact that the Tigers are 8-1 is a minor miracle considering how inept their offense has been for most of the season. For whatever reason, oft-maligned quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee chose Saturday to step up and deliver their coach a signature victory. They were a combined 14-of-20 for 208 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Jefferson's 75-yard touchdown strike to Rueben Randle got LSU going in the second half, and Lee's 47-yard completion to Randle on third-and-13 late in the game helped the Tigers ice the win.
But let's be honest: The unquestioned star of the day (besides beastly defensive tackle Drake Nevis) was LSU's fearless leader, who once again rolled the dice in crucial situations and once again went home the winner. Down 7-3 early in the second half, Miles called a fake punt from his own 40. Of course it worked. On fourth-and-1, down by one with 9:51 left, he called a reverse pitch that involved ... a tight end. Deangelo Peterson broke for 23 yards.
LSU has come too far for us to keep chalking these things up to luck. With a limited team offensively, Miles and the Tigers have put a lot of time into working on and perfecting the kind of wrinkles that can make the difference in a tight game against a worthy adversary. "It's not just pulling things out of his hat," said defensive coordinator John Chavis. "He knows what he's doing."
Miles also clearly understood the ramifications of Saturday's win. That 2007 national title ring didn't earn him immunity from the demanding LSU faithful. Those were Saban's players after all. This time, however, Miles' players beat Saban's.
"I'll cherish this for a lifetime," Miles said afterward. Hopefully he celebrated with a proper meal.
Michigan's Rich Rodriguez -- the man who holds Miles' self-professed dream job -- still has a long way to go to earn the trust of Wolverines fans. But he enjoyed a pretty darn good week himself.
Last Thursday, the NCAA's Committee on Infractions announced its sanctions against Rodriguez's program. Four major violations isn't something to sneeze at, and the report is littered with findings that involved downright negligence by Rodriguez's support staff. But Rodriguez also scored a major victory when the committee threw out an initial fifth alleged infraction that he "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance." It was a rare victory for a coach who's suffered a lot of defeats in less than three years in Ann Arbor.
On Saturday, Rodriguez's team delivered an important on-field victory. The Wolverines' 67-65, triple-overtime victory was hardly the stuff of champions, and their successful blitz to squelch Illinois' last two-point conversion attempt was about the only stop the Michigan defense made all day. But Michigan coaches and players celebrated afterward like they'd won the Super Bowl, and understandably so. In ending a three-game losing streak, the Wolverines got a huge monkey off their backs, becoming bowl eligible for the first time in three years.
According to AnnArbor.com, Michigan AD Dave Brandon -- the man who ultimately controls Rodriguez's fate -- came up to Rodriguez in a hallway afterward and said, "Rich, you had a really good week." Barring a collapse next week at Purdue, Michigan is likely headed toward a 7-5 finish, which should ensure a fourth year for its coach.
That won't necessarily be welcome news for a whole lot of Wolverines fans who remember when a triple-overtime win over Illinois would have been cause for panic, not celebration, and who came away from Saturday feeling no less embarrassed about their 114th-ranked defense. But they have to ask themselves, what's the alternative? Starting over with another coach and eliciting another round of transfers from an already ultra-young roster?
Michigan's defense is without a doubt a mess, and Rodriguez will almost certainly part ways with coordinator Greg Robinson this offseason. But the school hired RichRod for his offensive wizardry, and it's hard to argue with the results. The Wolverines posted 676 yards Saturday, setting a school record for passing yards (419). Receiver Roy Roundtree also set a record with 246 receiving yards.
And to think, Roundtree and quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier are only sophomores. I'd say there's reason to smile in Ann Arbor this week.
My reaction to the latest AP and coaches' polls:
Underrated: Stanford (AP: No. 7; coaches': No. 9)
The Cardinal, who throttled Arizona on Saturday and have only lost to No. 1 Oregon, may be the best one-loss team in the country. The coaches disagree; they have Stanford ranked behind four other one-loss teams, including ...
Overrated: Ohio State (AP: No. 8; coaches': No. 7)
The Buckeyes started high (No. 2 in both polls), so they remain high despite the fact that they haven't beaten a single team currently ranked in either poll. Their best win is ... Miami? Illinois? But hey, GameDay's coming to town. That's something.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:
Title game: Oregon vs. Auburn
Rose: Wisconsin vs. TCU
Fiesta: Nebraska vs. Pittsburgh
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State
Sugar: LSU vs. Boise State
If you're a Boise State fan, this is the optimistic projection right now. You're counting on the Sugar Bowl to go for the highest-ranked team rather than the bigger-name school. (And really, who wouldn't want to watch the masters of trickeration, Les Miles and Chris Petersen, go head to head?) In the meantime, you should probably root for Ohio State to lose to Iowa and Michigan State to lose to Penn State. Already, the Big 12 is down to just two one-loss teams (Nebraska and Oklahoma State), so the Big Ten is your biggest threat.
Meanwhile, Stanford is staring at its own BCS snub. The Cardinal could go 11-1, finish in the top five and have nowhere to go because of the Rose Bowl's non-AQ obligation and the Fiesta Bowl's inevitable Big East condemnation. Perhaps the Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl would see fit to reward Andrew Luck and Co., knowing Stanford's large national alumni base might travel well. One thing's for certain: Boise State and Stanford aren't both getting in.