Posted: Wednesday September 19, 2012 12:49PM ; Updated: Wednesday September 19, 2012 1:49PM
Stewart Mandel

Alabama-LSU national title rematch remains unlikely; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

Even after USC's loss, it's doubtful voters will allow an LSU-Alabama title rematch

Spread of prime time scheduling makes fans pick between high-profile matchups

Plus: Braxton Miller's Heisman case, ND's BCS hopes, Mailbag Crush returns, more

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Alabama's AJ McCarron against LSU
Though they're currently ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the AP Poll, Alabama and LSU are unlikely to again play for the national title.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Mandel Initiative Podcast
John Walters joins the show to talk Notre Dame. Stewart and Mallory preview this weekend's big lineup of games.

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Later in this column, we're going to take a trip down memory lane and revisit a prominent figure from Mailbags past. Hint: It's a lady.

In the meantime, looking back at more recent history, the first Mailbag mention last year of a possible Alabama-LSU rematch came on Oct. 18. I, of course, dismissed the notion as silly and presumptuous. Whoops. I should probably not repeat that mistake ... but c'mon. We haven't even reached Week 4!

Here we go again! Everyone has said two SEC teams will never be in the National Championship Game again. Being still early in the season, LSU and Alabama are head and shoulders above the rest of college football. If the game Nov. 3 in Tiger Stadium is close, what's the chance we possibly see a repeat of last year?
-- Derek, Baton Rouge

So with USC now out of the picture (sure they could bounce back, but let's be real, their lack of depth was exposed), are we doomed to another year of SEC oppression?
-- Adam Lienau, Not the South

News flash: USC was never the country's lone non-SEC team capable of winning a national championship. The reason it may seem that way is because several other viable contenders have yet to play their first meaningful game.

Oregon, overlooked all preseason amid the USC hype, has continued to fly under the radar thanks to three opening games against non-AQ opponents. This week the third-ranked Ducks face No. 22 Arizona, and if Chip Kelly's team hangs half a hundred on Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats (Oregon is averaging 54.0 points), I expect Oregon will become a standard part of the conversation. No. 4 Florida State plays a showcase game against Clemson this week. If it wins, people are going to start looking at the Seminoles' schedule and realizing just how few obstacles they have the rest of the way. No one's really seen No. 6 Oklahoma play yet, but they will against No. 15 Kansas State this weekend. In fact, it feels like the entire Big 12 has had a bye to this point. I'm eager to see No. 8 West Virginia and No. 12 Texas face tougher conference competition.

And as vulnerable as USC looked last weekend, I wouldn't rule the Trojans out just yet, either. They lost on the road to a team that went 23-3 over the last two years. It happens.

It's entirely possible Alabama and LSU are indeed the cream of the crop again. The Tide have outscored their first three opponents (including two preseason top-10 teams) 128-14, and a purportedly inexperienced defense has pitched consecutive shutouts. I'm certainly not picking against them anytime soon. Meanwhile, the Tigers have won their first three games by a margin of 145-31, but I'd like to see them play someone better than Washington, which has the look of a 6-6 team, before fully jumping on board. This week's opponent, Auburn, might not be any better.

That brings up a different point. One reason to feel confident in Alabama and LSU running the table outside of their head-to-head meeting is the rest of the SEC West, which doesn't look nearly as imposing as it did before the season. In fact, it's pretty darn bad. On the other hand, the East may produce a champion this year (possibly Georgia) with an actual chance of winning in Atlanta.

Finally, at the risk of looking stupid again, I'd be willing to bet three months of Andy Staples' barbeque expenses that voters will not allow another SEC rematch this year. There was too much backlash to last year's game, and even though it's not voters' fault the second game was lopsided (Alabama may well have beaten a different opponent by far more than 21 points), the dissatisfaction is still going to factor into their thought process this time. The people desperately want to see the SEC play someone else, and they're going to get their wish. I don't know who that team will be, but you might want to tune in this weekend for possible clues.

This Saturday, I would watch Florida State-Clemson, Oklahoma-Kansas State and Notre Dame-Michigan if they were televised in separate time slots. Instead, I will watch only one of those night games and none earlier in the day because there are none worth watching. Do the networks really garner better overall ratings by having such premier games go head-to-head at night rather than spreading them throughout the day?
-- Gary Swider, Sherman Oaks, Calif.

The migration of more big games to prime time began six years ago when ABC figured out it could draw better ratings on Saturday nights by showing college football instead of scripted dramas or second-rate reality shows. We had previously counted on the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) to show the biggest games in the afternoon, with evening spots primarily reserved for ESPN's SEC and ACC broadcasts or Fox Sports Net's old late-night Pac-10 games. But with FOX joining the fray this year, yet another marquee game moves from 3:30 p.m. ET to 7:30 or 8 (like Kansas State-Oklahoma). Even NBC is even doing it now, with Michigan-Notre Dame this week.

The result, unfortunately, is that fans are now forced to pick and choose between high-profile matchups. Last year in Week 3, ABC garnered a very good 5.8 rating for its prime time game, Oklahoma-Florida State. A year earlier it notched a 4.7 for Texas-Texas Tech. This year it got just a 3.2 for Notre Dame-Michigan State. ESPN's Florida-Tennessee broadcast, which overlapped during the second half, produced a 3.1, and FOX's USC-Stanford showing netted a 2.5. Granted, there was a lot more buildup leading into that Oklahoma-Florida State game last year, but networks can usually count on Notre Dame to draw a big audience, especially against a top-10 team. However, if you combine the ratings for the head-to-head ABC and FOX games you get 5.7 -- almost identical to ABC's number last year.

On the bright side, the afternoon options should improve once teams get into conference play and there are multiple games of interest in each league. Unfortunately, though, the cluttered prime time lineup is here to stay.

Stewart, through three weeks, Ohio State's Braxton Miller has accounted for 988 yards, 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Through three weeks in 2007, Tim Tebow had 1,027 yards, 13 touchdowns and only one interception. Does Miller have any chance to repeat Tebow's feat of winning the Heisman as a sophomore playing for Urban Meyer? Or will the Buckeyes' lack of postseason eligibility take him out of the race?
-- Josh L., Columbus, Ohio

It's a good question. Miller is already starting to pop up in the top five of various Heisman watches -- but it's early. I certainly think he can continue putting up his current numbers over the course of the season (though probably not Tebow's 51 touchdowns in 2007), but as the year progresses, our attention will increasingly turn toward the BCS race, one in which the Buckeyes won't be involved. Will Miller get overlooked? It's possible. Last year, USC folks felt the Trojans' ineligibility cost Matt Barkley a trip to New York. Then again, Barkley and his team started slow and had to play catch-up. Miller is already gaining acclaim, and his team has yet to lose.

My guess is if Miller has a truly spectacular season, his team's postseason status won't affect him very much. Ohio State needs to win, and he needs to perform well in big games. Other than that, he plays for one of the most visible teams in the country, and the votes are tallied before the bowl games. And lest we forget, Tebow's team lost three regular-season games the year he won the Heisman. Florida was playing for the Capital One Bowl by late October, yet he still ran away with the trophy. Miller could do the same, but he'd have to truly distinguish himself. If, for example, Geno Smith keeps putting up the same gaudy numbers and West Virginia contends for the Big 12 title, the advantage goes to Smith.

Just when I thought you were going to ignore another classic, absolutely bizarre Holy War, you go and post something like this ... AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF.
-- Nick Driggs, Los Angeles

If I know Utah fans like I think I do, they'll invite me right in for tea and strumpets.
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