More Overtime (cont.)
Not surprisingly, Alabama coach Nick Saban found flaws in his team's beatdown of eighth-ranked Michigan at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday. "I don't think there's one player that could sit in the locker room and tell you now there's not something that we could work to improve on," Saban said following a game the Tide led 31-0 in the second quarter.
We won't get bogged down in the minutiae of missed assignments or cornerback footwork. An interesting takeaway Saturday was that despite Alabama's apparent wealth of talent at running back, which grew greater after freshman T.J. Yeldon's electrifying debut, one of Saban's biggest critiques was that the Tide ran too much. Beyond a 51-yard first quarter touchdown pass, quarterback AJ McCarron put up much the same ordinary stat line (11-of-21, 199 yards, two touchdowns) he often did last season.
"I think we're capable of throwing the ball more effectively," said Saban. "... If we're going to be the kind of team we're capable of, we're going to have to be able to create balance on offense, because AJ's really too good of a quarterback for us not to utilize his talents in throwing the football."
That's a much different mindset than Alabama employed last season, but that's in part because circumstances have changed. For one thing, McCarron is no longer a first-year starter. He was the offensive MVP of the national title game. But also, the Tide's defense was so ridiculously dominant last year (leading the nation in all major categories), there was no real need for McCarron to do much more than hand the ball to Trent Richardson and stick largely to high-percentage short throws. This year's defense is still awfully good, but it's going to inevitably give up more big plays than a year ago, so why not unleash McCarron and try to jump on teams like the Tide did Saturday night?
Saban will always win first and foremost with defense and a strong running game, but as I wrote Saturday night, this year he seems to have a more explosive offense in mind.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: LSU vs. Oregon
Rose: USC vs. Michigan State
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin
Sugar: Alabama vs. Texas
Orange: Florida State vs. Louisville
There's no reason to change anything yet, but here's one thing to keep an eye on: Can Ohio can make a 2007 Hawaii-like run to the BCS? Its remaining schedule, quite frankly, is a joke, with a Sept. 15 game at Marshall possibly the closest thing to a tough road game. That means it may take a while for the Bobcats to crack the Top 25, and even then they'd need to rise into at least the top 16 (and possibly the top 12) to make the BCS lineup. It could be a couple of months before we know whether that's realistic.
We're going to try a little experiment this year. It may or may not become a weekly staple, but here's the idea: A real-time top three Heisman ballot in which the only consideration is the players' performances to date. Neither preseason buzz nor actual realistic chances of winning will come into play, but the quality of competition to date will.
What I'm curious to see is how many weeks it takes before my top three (which could seem rather unorthodox early on) intersects with the mainstream top three.
This week's ballot:
1. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State: In his first game as the Spartans' primary ball carrier, Bell ran 44 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns and caught six passes for 55 yards against Boise State. Oh, and he did this.
2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: He completed 32-of-36 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 65 yards and another score against Marshall. What went wrong on those other four passes, Geno?
3. Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson: Tough call here between Ellington (26 carries for 231 yards) and USC receiver Marqise Lee (10 catches, 202 yards), but we're presuming Auburn has a better defense than Hawaii.
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