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The Tide's 9--6 overtime loss to LSU is fresh in his mind, as are 'Bama's four missed field goals in that game. "This is the first year I can remember where we haven't had a great placekicker," says Ryles.
The retired sergeant major must periodically raise his voice to be heard over shouts of the brothers Sabula—Jim and Nick—from Youngstown, Ohio. The over-under on the C-USA game is 75. They put money on the under. After three quarters the Golden Eagles are up 42--21. Nick now lives in Houston and supports the Cougars. He regrets having to root against them at this moment, but a bet's a bet.
They're not the only guys in this dimly lit, smoke-filled room who took the under on this game. When Southern Miss linebacker Ronnie Thornton scores on a pick-six with 2:41 to play, a profane chorus goes up. A bullet-headed man in an Arizona Cardinals windbreaker seems especially aggrieved. Another TD by either team will lose the wager for them.
Jim wants to talk about Matt Cavanaugh and Ron Calcagni, who played in the same backfield at Youngstown Chaney High, then went on to star at quarterback at Pitt and Arkansas, respectively. Cavanaugh led the Panthers to the national title in 1976; Calcagni engineered an 11--1 season, capped by an Orange Bowl victory over No. 2 Oklahoma, the following year. Had benighted AP voters not awarded that season's national title to Notre Dame, two quarterbacks from the same high school might have led their teams to national championships in successive seasons.
A playoff takes the decision out of the hands of pollsters, I point out. Nick posits that Alabama and LSU are far and away the two best teams in the country.
"That said, Alabama doesn't belong" in the BCS title game. "I don't believe in rematches—Tackle him! Keep him inbounds!"
The Cougars, you see, are marching smartly down the field. On first-and-goal at the nine and with time running out, a Houston running back is dropped for a four-yard loss. The threat has passed, or so it seems. "We're gonna make it," says one of the Unders. But with 10 seconds left Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin calls a timeout. Near bedlam breaks out around me.
On the final snap of one of the most brilliant quarterbacking careers in NCAA history Keenum fires a 13-yard TD pass to Justin Johnson. The Caesars sportsbook goes nuts.
"Son of a bitch!" shouts Bullet Head.
"What's he trying to prove, scoring like that," says Jim Sabula.