Alabama, Oregon could be nearing culture clash unlike any in BCS era
'Bama, Oregon notched huge Week 10 wins with diametrically opposite approaches
Notre Dame is struggling in South Bend; Texas A&M made another SEC statement
Plus: My current BCS forecast, Heisman ballot in making, spreading the field, more
If a first-time college football viewer happened to be flipping between Saturday night's Alabama-LSU and Oregon-USC games, he may have thought he was watching two entirely different sports.
Down in Baton Rouge, the top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 5 Tigers staged a thrilling, classic, low-scoring SEC showdown, this time with touchdowns (including a game-winner). When the folks down South boast about "big-boy football," they're talking about games like this, where field position came at a premium, LSU ran the ball 49 times and held possession for nearly two-thirds of the contest and Alabama ultimately survived, 21-17, when quarterback AJ McCarron came to life on a brilliant, five-play, go-ahead touchdown drive. Remarkably, it was the Tide's closest win since Sept. 25, 2010.
"The way we won," running back Eddie Lacy told reporters afterward, "it felt like an SEC championship."
Meanwhile, in the shadow of Hollywood, the second-ranked Ducks and No. 18 Trojans staged a nonstop action flick. When the folks on the West Coast (and the rest of the country) decry SEC football as boring, it's because they're frequently spoiled by shootouts like Saturday's, a game in which Oregon racked up a school-record 730 yards and scored the most points ever by a USC opponent. Chip Kelly's squad won its first four-quarter test this season, 62-51.
"Sometimes the matchups don't go in your favor," said Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, whose unit allowed 615 yards but notched three turnovers. "But we got a couple more stops than they did and we won the game."
You couldn't ask for a better snapshot of the dichotomous state of college football than Saturday night's dose of dueling television drama. On FOX, there was Oregon, the poster program for everything new and different, revving the tempo and running an offense that manages to turn the inside handoff into something just as exciting and productive as the 40-yard bomb. On CBS, there was Alabama, the current standard-bearer for championship football, running much the same offense that's worked for decades upon decades of title teams before it.
You could not ask for two more stylistically opposite approaches, which is exactly why much of the country is thirsting for an Alabama-Oregon BCS championship showdown. It would be a culture clash unlike any in the event's 14-year history.
But of course, this being the BCS, it's never that simple. For those with particularly proficient remote control skills, Saturday night also offered the latest installment in No. 3 Kansas State's methodic march through a seemingly daunting Big 12 schedule. The Wildcats moved to 9-0 with a 44-30 win over 5-3 Oklahoma State despite losing star Collin Klein to an undisclosed injury in the third quarter. If Klein's injury proves serious, the Wildcats' inclusion in this discussion may prove moot, but as of now, they remain a spot ahead of the Ducks in the BCS standings.
If Alabama is the traditional, defensive-minded juggernaut and Oregon is the new-age, score-as-quickly-as-humanly-imaginable machine, Kansas State falls somewhere in between. Klein is an old-school, bull-headed quarterback, but he runs a fairly modern, shotgun-zone offense. The Wildcats' defense is more reliable than Oregon's, but it's not oozing with five-star talent like the Tide's.
The question of which two teams deserve to play in Miami will become an unending headache if somebody (including 9-0 Notre Dame) doesn't lose. But there's little question which hypothetical matchup would be the most fascinating.
"It's just two different styles," said Oregon AD Rob Mullens, who formerly worked in the SEC at Kentucky. "That's what makes it all fine. There are different ways to accomplish your goals."
Mind you, we've been down this road before (sort of), and it almost always ends the same way. In the 2008 title game, SEC champion Florida held a fast-paced Oklahoma offense that came in having scored 60-plus points in five straight games to just 14. Two years earlier, Urban Meyer's defense humiliated Ohio State Heisman winner Troy Smith. Saban's 2003 LSU team teed off on a Heisman-winning quarterback (Oklahoma's Jason White), and his 2009 Alabama team knocked out a finalist for the award (Texas' Colt McCoy).
On the other hand, the team that came closest to ending the SEC's streak is Oregon, which lost to Auburn on a last-second field goal two years ago. Alabama fans will be quick to point out that these Tide are not those Tigers, so dependent on one transcendent player (Cam Newton) and so mediocre defensively for much of that year. 'Bama presumably looks at the 51 points Oregon allowed Saturday and snickers. The Tide have allowed a mere 82 points in nine games.
(Note: Oregon lost three starting defensive linemen for parts of Saturday's game, including standout end Dion Jordan, a contributing reason why its previously stout defense couldn't remotely stop USC in the second half.)
Ducks fans would presumably counter that Alabama hasn't faced an opposing quarterback nearly of the same caliber as USC's Matt Barkley, and 'Bama certainly hasn't defended a player in the vicinity of Trojans star wideout Marqise Lee. In fact, the Tide's defense proved mortal for the first time Saturday in allowing previously unimpressive LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger to go 24-of-35 for 298 yards.
Maybe Alabama would shut down the Ducks the way they have so many foes before them. Maybe Lacy and T.J. Yeldon would run circles around Aliotti's defense. And maybe Kansas State's ball-control approach is a smarter gameplan for topping the Tide than Oregon's breakneck philosophy. Only one thing is for certain: It would be fascinating to find out.
Apparently, it's written into Notre Dame's NBC contract that every home game must be incredibly dramatic, regardless of the opponent. A goal-line stand to beat Stanford? OK, it's Stanford. But a come-from-behind, triple-overtime 29-26 win over 4-4 Pittsburgh? Really, Irish? This is getting ridiculous.
All kidding aside, there's a strange phenomenon going on in South Bend. The Irish have now played five home games, and all of them have been decided by seven points or fewer. On the other hand, Notre Dame beat Miami 41-3 in Chicago and Oklahoma 30-13 in Norman. Ten of the Irish's 11 turnovers have come at home (including Everett Golson's fourth-quarter end-zone interception Saturday with the Irish down 20-12, one that seemed like a dagger at the time) as well as 33 of their 48 penalties.
Why does Notre Dame make things so much harder for itself at home?
"We're really trying to figure that out," Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. "It might be, it is what it is. But we've looked at schedule, we've looked at limiting distractions. ... I don't think there's any question there's a lot going on here at Notre Dame. We really think we've streamlined a lot of those distractions, whether it's ticket requests, family and friends wanting tours of the football facility.
"I also think if we put some points on the board early against Pitt, we're not having this conversation."
Indeed, a week after redshirt freshman Golson played a near-flawless game on the road against top-10 foe Oklahoma, he and the offense were so stagnant early against the Panthers that Kelly yanked him yet again for veteran Tommy Rees. Rees proved no more effective. Ultimately, it was Golson who threw an 11-yard touchdown to T.J. Jones to cut the score to 20-12 early in the fourth quarter and then, after rebounding from his end-zone pick (which came at the end of a 91-yard drive), tossed a five-yard touchdown to Theo Riddick and scored the ensuing two-point conversion to tie the game with 2:11 remaining.
As is often the case in these NBC nail-biters, the Irish needed a little luck. After Cierre Wood fumbled into the end zone in the second overtime, Pitt kicker Kevin Harper missed what would have been a game-winning 33-yard field goal. It was revealed Sunday that Notre Dame should have been flagged on the play for having two players with the same jersey number on the field at the same time. "It was a coaching mistake," said Kelly.
Golson eventually scored the winning touchdown to escape yet another home scare and keep the 9-0 Irish's undefeated season alive.
"I know this -- we'll battle you at home," said Kelly. "We'll protect our turf, we'll find a way to win."
Good news, though: Two of Notre Dame's final three games are on the road.
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