Posted: Wednesday January 4, 2012 11:47AM ; Updated: Wednesday January 4, 2012 11:47AM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Rematch debate now evolving into offense vs. defense dispute; more

Story Highlights

Some are using Rose and Fiesta shootouts to detract from 'boring' rematch

Despite the cyclical nature of college football, mass defensive uprising unlikely

Plus: Sugar Bowl fallout, Penn State latest, most disappointing player, more

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Explosive offensive performances from Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and other Fiesta and Rose Bowl players has led to renewed LSU-Alabama backlash.
Explosive offensive performances from Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and other Fiesta and Rose Bowl players has led to renewed LSU-Alabama backlash.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Throughout the SEC's Reign of Terror the past five years, fans from other conferences have taken umbrage with a variety of perceived blemishes contributing to that league's success, including weak nonconference schedules, oversigning, unfair geographic advantages at bowl sites, etc. And of course, the South defended its honor at every turn.

Now, with the divisive LSU-Alabama rematch fast approaching, a new debate has gripped loyalists from both sides: What exactly constitutes entertaining football?

Do you have any thoughts on the contrasts between the Rose and Fiesta bowls (both amazing offensive battles) versus the anticipated defensive slugfest of the national championship game? The Rose and Fiesta were thrilling games. A repeat of the LSU-Alabama 9-6 game would just be depressing.
-- Michael Carey, Tallmadge, Ohio

Oklahoma State and Oregon would loose [sic] against a great defensive team. Look at how easily they were scored on. Trading touchdowns is more boring than a close, low-scoring game. Get real OSU and DUCKS.
-- Lanny, Jacksonville, Fla.

Before we proceed, let's establish two truths: First, LSU and Alabama both have otherworldly defenses. I don't care what stats you throw at me regarding the quality of offenses Alabama in particular faced; these are two of the most talented defenses in recent memory, and anyone who questions that is grasping at straws. Secondly, I refuse to believe anyone with an iota of interest in football found the Rose or Fiesta bowls boring. Anyone who claims otherwise is an overly defensive Alabama fan who can't spell "lose."

One of the beauties of this sport is that every season is different, and the oddity of 2011 is the vast dichotomy in style between the No. 1 and 2 teams (LSU and Alabama) and those right below them in the polls (Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon). The latter may play a more entertaining brand for the masses, but the former more closely resemble the traditional mold for championship football. And yet, the most memorable championship game of the BCS era was a Rose Bowl with a nearly identical score (41-38) and combined yardage total (1,130) as the one played the other day (45-38, 1,129). I don't remember anyone complaining about the quality of defense in that Texas-USC classic, just fawning over the scintillating performances of Vince Young and Co.

Why does it have to be one or the other? I covered the Oregon-Wisconsin game, and it was a whole lot of fun to watch. I don't know about you, but I like watching great players at their best, so getting to see Russell Wilson, Montee Ball, LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas all do their thing was a treat. As with the Oklahoma State-Stanford game, neither Rose Bowl team possessed an elite defense, which helped allow for the offensive explosion, but I was fine with that. If you temper every great offensive performance by saying "they never would have done that against LSU's or Alabama's defense," then you're sucking the fun out of football. We get it. That's why those teams are playing for the national championship.

However, I also covered the first LSU-Alabama game, and while the lack of scoring was a drag at times, I can certainly appreciate elite defensive athletes making big-time plays. An Alabama linebacker wrapping up a ball-carrier may not be as sexy as Oregon's Thomas busting a 91-yard touchdown run, but it requires just as much talent. I believe the 9-6 score was an aberration -- neither team has played another game remotely like that all season -- but I know if both teams score fewer than 20 we'll hear all the same complaints from outside the Southeast about how "any defense would look good against those crappy quarterbacks." Again, stop being a killjoy. Appreciate LSU and Alabama for what they do so well, just as you appreciate Andrew Luck releasing a throw at the perfect moment or Justin Blackmon reaching high for a touchdown.

There were plenty of bad bowl games to go around this year. The Rose and Fiesta were welcome antidotes, and I'm confident the title game will be, too.

Stewart, you have made it clear through many writings that you believe all things to be cyclical with respect to college football. I believe you, but please prognosticate: How long before the pendulum swings so that winning teams play effective defense? I expect my opinion is a minority one, but personally I am disgusted with games where more than 50 or 60 total points are scored (that is one reason I don't generally watch basketball).
-- Scott Steinbrink, Erie, Pa.

As I alluded to before, we'll continue to see year-to-year fluctuation regarding the type of offenses and defenses that compete for the national championship. There will not be defenses the caliber of LSU's and Alabama's every year, and Oklahoma State and Oregon will not keep scoring 50 points a game for perpetuity (though I'd certainly count on the Ducks doing it again in 2012).

In terms of the sport as a whole, though, it's hard to imagine a large-scale defensive uprising, seeing as offenses have been evolving and diversifying for more than a decade. Quarterbacks get more accurate and efficient every year. Schemes get more creative. As we saw the past month or so, schools keep hiring offensive-minded coaches (Urban Meyer, Rich Rodriguez, Mike Leach, Gus Malzahn, et. al.). And most importantly, elite high school athletes want to play on offense. A player like De'Anthony Thomas would have been a college cornerback a decade ago, but now there are offenses like Oregon's that value his skill set.

Remember, only a handful of programs realistically compete for the national championship on a regular basis. Those programs tend to place more emphasis on defense. The vast majority of teams are simply trying to win games, reach bowls, become relevant and, under the right circumstances, rise up and contend in their conference from time to time. For them, flashy offense will always be the easier path.

Just watched the winning kick in OT for the Sugar Bowl. The Michigan kicker took a step before the ball was snapped. Isn't that a false start?
-- Kerr, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

In this extremely similar play from last year's Cal-Oregon game, the Pac-10 refs called illegal motion on the kicker. A Pac-12 crew -- one with an interesting definition of "indisputable evidence" -- also called Tuesday night's game.

 
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