Never has a college football coach taken a job without uttering these words at his introductory press conference: “We’re gonna put a fence up around this state and close of the borders.”
Everyone says, few do it. That’s because it’s a heckuva lot easier said in a press conference than done in real life.
Below we look at where the top 10 prospects (according to Rivals.com) in each of the SEC’s 11 states decided to play football. In addition to the totals, we indicate which school made off with the #1 prospect in each state with an asterisk. Here goes…
Ark St 1
Div II 1
Fla St 3*
S. Carolina 2
Ohio St 1*
W. Ky 4
Ohio St 1
Texas A&M 1
Ole Miss 5*
Miss St 4
Kansas St 2
Fla St 1
S. Carolina 4
Okla St 1
N. Carolina 1
Notre Dame 1
Texas A&M 2*
Boise St 1
Ohio St 1
* Alabama grabbed the #1 prospect in the state of Alabama, the state of Arkansas and the state of South Carolina. In fact, they plucked the top prospect in the Palmetto State right out of Columbia.
* Alabama and Auburn were nearly neck-and-neck for the state of Alabama’s top 10 prospects, but Bama edged out the race six signees to four.
* It’s easy to discern the state of Arkansas high school football just by looking at the destinations of the state’s top 10 prospects. Six went to SEC schools. The rest of the state’s best signed with Arkansas State, Memphis, Tulsa and Division II Pittsburg State. Considering the shallow pool of talent he had to work with, Bret Bielema did fine in landing five of the Natural State’s top 10 players.
* Will Muschamp wound up with a very good class but it could have been better had the Gators grabbed more of the top talent in their home state. Florida’s highest-ranked signee from the Sunshine State came in at 10, barely even making our cut-off point.
Tonight in New Orleans, the sixth-consecutive BCS champion from the SEC will be crowned. When all is said and done, we believe that team will be Alabama. Below we tell you why we like the Crimson Tide in the Rematch of the Century… and we toss out nine more things to think about as kickoff nears.
Allow us to drop our dime:
1. Why The Tide Will Win
Because Alabama lost the first matchup between the two teams. And both of these squads are way too strong, deep and talented to lose to the same foe twice in one year. If LSU had lost Game One, we’d be taking the Tigers. But they didn’t. Bama did. And throwing everything else out the window — the stuff we’re gonna talk about below — we don’t see Bama losing to LSU twice in the same season. So our official MrSEC.com pick: The Crimson Tide in a close, tight classic.
2. Fairest Result: LSU Wins
That doesn’t mean we’ll be rooting for Alabama. On most occasions, we either just watch SEC games without cheering for one team or another… or we pull for the best storyline. In this instant, we’ll be pulling for what’s fair. That’s an LSU victory.
Many have argued that after winning in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers shouldn’t even have to face Alabama again. In a perfect world, we’d agree. But the BCS title game is set-up to feature the two best teams in America and it’s the opinion of this website that the two best teams are indeed playing in tonight’s game. So with LSU forced to face Bama again, we’ll be hoping they can complete their perfect season anyway. If they can, they’ll save us all a lot of debate and controversy.
If Alabama wins tonight, there will be some who will vote LSU as national champs in the AP Poll. There likely won’t be enough to swing the vote in the Tigers’ favor, but there will be enough to give the talking heads on ESPN something to bicker about for days to come. And a strong argument could be made for LSU even if they lose to Bama:
Win – Kent St. 48-7
Win – Oregon (N) 40-27
12-2 (won bowl 45-38 over Wisconsin)
Win – at Penn St. 27-11
9-4 (lost bowl 30-14 to Houston)
Win – NW State 49-3
5-6 in FCS
Win – North Texas 41-0
Win – at Miss. St. 19-6
7-6 (won bowl 23-17 over W. Forest)
Win – Arkansas 38-14
11-2 (won bowl 29-16 over Kansas St.)
Win – at W. Virginia 47-21
10-3 (won bowl 70-33 over Clemson)
Win – at Florida 38-10
7-6 (won bowl 24-17 over Ohio St.)
Win – Kentucky 35-7
Win – Vanderbilt 34-0
6-7 (lost bowl 31-24 to Cincinnati)
Win – Florida 41-11
7-6 (won bowl 24-17 over Ohio St.)
Win – at Ole Miss 52-7
Win – at Tennessee 38-7
Win – Tennessee 37-6
Win – Auburn 45-10
8-5 (won bowl 43-24 over Virginia)
Loss – LSU 9-6
Win – at Alabama 9-6
Win – at Miss. St. 24-7
7-6 (won bowl 23-17 over W. Forest)
Win – W. Kentucky 42-9
Win – Ga. Southern 45-21
11-3 in FCS
Win – at Ole Miss 52-3
Win – at Auburn 42-14
8-5 (won bowl 43-24 over Virginia)
Win – Arkansas 41-17
11-2 (won bowl 29-16 over Kansas St.)
Win – Georgia (N) 42-10
10-4 (lost bowl 33-30 to Mich. St.)
The victories away from home (Oregon, West Virginia, Georgia), the bowl results (WVU scored 21 at home versus LSU and then tagged ACC champ Clemson for 70), the whole “won the Southeastern Conference championship” thing — only an Alabama fan could look at the two teams’ resumes and declare the Tide’s stronger.
In our view, even if Bama wins tonight, LSU’s had the better season. If the world were fair, they’d wrap up the title tonight and end any controversy before it began.
3. Bama Should Get The Crown With A Win
But this world is rarely fair. And both LSU and Alabama are BCS conference members who have signed off on the BCS system deciding their national title. No, it’s not an official NCAA-recognized title, but the BCS crown is the closest thing we have to a true championship game in college football. Until there’s a playoff (not happening) or a seeded, plus-one system (could happen soon), the BCS Championship Game is the game. No offense to George Bush, but it’s the decider.
And I don’t recall anyone from the Bayou State being in favor a split title back in 2003, do you? You remember ’03, don’t you? That’s when LSU won the BCS Championship Game only to have the AP hand its national title to Southern Cal. Kinda wishy-washy if all of a sudden a split title has now become a good idea, Tiger fans.
So even if LSU did have the better season, it should be Bama that’s the undisputed titlist with a win tonight.
Villanova wasn’t really better than Georgetown in 1985 (the Hoyas had beaten the Wildcats twice in the regular season). The 14-6 New York Giants weren’t really better than the 18-1 New England Patriots in 2007 (the Pats had beaten the Giants in the regular season). But it’s the team that wins the ultimate game — regardless of records and regular-season work — that gets the prize.
If Alabama wins tonight, Alabama deserves both the BCS and AP crowns.
4. Nick Saban Will Rely On His Defense, Not Field Goals
In the teams’ first meeting, Saban knew that points would be at a premium. For that reason — even with a shaky pair of field goal kickers — the Tide coach elected to try some long-distance field goals early. The results: 44-yard miss in 1st quarter, 50-yard miss in 1st quarter, 49-yard kick blocked in 2nd quarter.
Given a mulligan, Saban would likely have punted the ball deep and relied on his defense. If faced with similar situations tonight, we expect to see punter Cody Mandell trot onto the field rather than Alabama’s placekickers.
5. Will LSU’s Option Work In Round Two?
In the November 5th meeting, Les Miles took the keys to his offense from Jarrett Lee and handed them to Jordan Jefferson. The Tigers used Jefferson’s legs and an option package to get wide on Alabama’s defense and wear down the Tide’s dangerous linebackers.
You can bet Kirby Smart’s guys will be better prepared for that aspect of the LSU attack tonight. But that might open up other aspects of the Tiger offense.
Alabama has no doubt practiced assignment-based, anti-option defense for weeks. That’s time they could have spent practicing other things. Knowing that, could Greg Studrawa unleash his aerial attack this time around? (Jefferson completed 60% of his passes this year with six touchdowns and just one interception. He lacks the number of passes to qualify, but his passer rating of 150.9 would have ranked first among SEC passers.) Or might the Tigers simply line up and run wide on the Tide without the option element? (In the first game, LSU ran wide 13 times for 74 yards while gaining just 65 yards on 22 inside runs.)
LSU’s option probably won’t be as effective tonight as it was two months ago, but it may not have to be.
6. Can Bama Run On LSU?
In Game of the Century I, Alabama found running to be awfully tough against LSU’s D-line. The Tide totaled just 96 yards on 31 carries. Trent Richardson accounted for 89 of those yards on 23 carries. Eddie Lacy got just five touches for a total of 19 yards.
That put the onus on AJ McCarron to deliver and for the most part he did — 16 of 28 passing for 199 yards. But he couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. And 80 of those passing yards came courtesy of Richardson out of the backfield.
All things being equal, Jim McElwain would rather have the BCS title in the hands of Richardson than McCarron. Especially since McCarron will be facing a pair of All-American corners. Which brings us back to Alabama’s ground game. In dissecting film, did Bama’s staff find running plays from the first game that can be more often exploited tonight? It didn’t seem that they picked up on anything during that first game.
Richardson’s carries in the fourth quarter and overtime: 2 yards, 3 yards, 24 yards, 9 yards, 2 yards, -6 yards, -3 yards, 0 yards. Six of his final eight carries went for three yards or less. For the Tide’s sake, they’d better hope they’ve discovered some rushing opportunities in the last two months that they didn’t pick up on during the first meeting.
7. Tigers A Team Of Destiny (So Far)
One thing’s for sure tonight — LSU won’t be flustered. It’s difficult to recall another college football team that has handled more adversity with better results than Miles’ 2011 squad. Think about it: a new offensive coordinator who has to trade roles with another coach in August due to a diagnosis of Parksinson’s Disease, a starting quarterback arrested and suspended on the eve of the season, an NCAA suspension for a key playmaker, midseason disciplinary suspensions for two starters and a key contributor, tough games away from home (Oregon, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia). Yet time and again, the Tigers have survived. If ever the overplayed “team of destiny” moniker has applied to a team, it sure seems to be this year’s LSU squad.
8. Miles Vs Saban
Saban is viewed by many to be the best college football coach in America. Being the first coach since World War II to win national titles at two different schools will do that for a guy’s reputation.
But if Miles beats Saban tonight he will have knocked him off twice in one season and three times in a row. He will have beaten him in Baton Rouge, in Tuscaloosa and on a neutral field (expect the crowd to be split down the middle tonight). He will have beaten a veteran Bama squad with a much younger LSU team.
If Miles beats Saban tonight, it might be time for Saban to hand his crown to Miles.
9. The Return Of The Mad Hatter?
Speaking of crowns, The Mad Hatter has gone missing in 2011. No clock mismanagement. No scratch-your-head gaffes. No unnecessary gambles. Miles has been just a regular ol’ coach this season. And that’s likely one reason the Tigers have marched through the season without stubbing their toes.
In the biggest game of the season, might Miles revert to his gambling ways the way Mark Richt reverted to his close-to-the-vest, conservative style in Georgia’s bowl game? If so, we think the results could be similar — a loss.
There’s nothing wrong with taking chances, so long as they make sense. Miles has taken a lot of unnecessary chances over the years. His players have often come through for him. For proof, go to the 8:00 mark of this clip from the 2007 LSU-Auburn game:
Tonight, with a national title on the line, it’s no time for Miles to take big risks when they aren’t necessary. His team has won games this year with superior athleticism and superior gameplanning. There’s no need to go all riverboat gambler just because the Mississippi River is nearby.
10. More Points In The Rematch
Alabama and LSU felt each other out in their first game. We anticipate tonight’s game will feature a bit more scoring for that reason. The current over/under is 40.5 (with Alabama a 2.5-point favorite). We’ll take the under, thank you.
The Tide wins it 20-17. (But if life were fair, that result would be reversed.)
BATON ROUGE – Ohio State guard Tayler Hill converted a layup with 37 seconds remaining to break a 53-53 tie and the seventh-ranked Buckeyes survived a late rally from the LSU women's basketball team to escape the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with a 59-55 win on Wednesday night. (more)
Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun: “Florida proved it could play physically enough to beat No. 4 Ohio State on Tuesday night. But the No. 9 Gators didn’t play smart or poised enough in the final 10 minutes of a 93-75 loss to the Buckeyes at the O’Connell Center. After Florida sophomore guard Kenny Boynton hit a 3-pointer to cut Ohio State’s lead to 63-60 with 10:26 remaining, the Gators were outscored 30-15 the rest of the way. During that span, the Gators committed nine turnovers, including eight in 11 possessions.”
Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun: “For the second time in four nights, a Florida team had no answer for a freshman. On Saturday night it was Marcus Lattimore. On Tuesday night, it was Jared Sullinger. Both left Gators gasping in their wakes. The difference is that the South Carolina running back will have to wait two more seasons to turn pro. I doubt Ohio State’s center will have to wait much longer than next June.”
Rachel George of the Orlando Sentinel: “In an early season test for both teams, No. 9 Florida found maybe it didn’t deserve all the preseason hype. The Gators fell to No. 4 Ohio State in the O’Connell Center on Tuesday 93-75, hanging with the Buckeyes for the first 30 minutes before falling apart in the final 10. Leading 41-38 at halftime, the Gators (1-1, 0-0 SEC) were down three midway through the second half before getting outscored 30-15 in the final 10 minutes of the game.”
Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch: “”We went into halftime and we talked about a couple of things we needed to get better at,” Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta said. That put it very mildly. “He yelled at us,” Sullinger said. “His face was red. He let us know it was time to rebound. ‘It’s either buckle down or just get out the gym.’ We answered the bell.”
George Sipple of the Detroit Free-Press: “Michigan State built its biggest lead of the game at end of the first half and then struggled to deal with South Carolina’s press in the second half. The No. 2-ranked Spartans were outrebounded, 44-41, missed half of their 34 free-throw attempts and committed 19 turnovers. Still, they were able to pull out an 82-73 victory at the Breslin Center.”
Mike Griffith of the Knoxville News-Sentinel: “Tennessee’s depth was put to the test Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols passed the test – barely – holding off Belmont after a 17-point lead had dwindled to one in an 85-76 men’s basketball victory.”
Andy Johnston for the AJC: “Georgia’s players didn’t heed their coach’s words, but the Bulldogs made enough shots from the line in the final minute to hold off Colorado 83-74 at Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday night. Georgia struggled from the line, shooting 62.8 percent (27-for-43) for the game, but survived when Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware combined to make seven free throws down the stretch. The Bulldogs started the season 2-0 for the first time since 2007.”
Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News: “It remains to be seen whether Alabama will have to deal with Cam Newton, but there will be no escaping Nick Fairley. Given the choice, the Crimson Tide quarterbacks would much rather get spanked by Nick Saban. The best defensive lineman in college football this season, the best defensive tackle this state has seen since Tracy Rocker — who just happens to be Fairley’s position coach — is not going to be suspended by the Southeastern Conference for Auburn’s next start.”
Steven Wieberg and Thomas O’Toole of USA Today: “A central figure in the co troversy surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton spoke with NCAA investigators Tuesday, laying blame for any potential rules violations at the feet of Newton’s father, Cecil. Kenny Rogers, a former Mississippi State player, met for several hours with two NCAA investigators in the Chicago of fice of his attorney, Doug Zeit. According to Zeit, Rogers re peated to the NCAA the allega tions he made on a Dallas radio station last week that Cecil New ton Sr. wanted up to $180,000 for his son to commit to Mississippi State.”
Chris Low of espn.com: “Alabama coach Nick Saban’s “spanking” of backup quarterback AJ McCarron has received plenty of play this week. Saban was furious with McCarron following a fourth-quarter possession last week during the 30-10 win over Mississippi State. As McCarron came off the field, Saban met him out on the field and proceeded to get in his face as they walked back to the sideline. To punctuate his message to his redshirt freshman quarterback, an animated Saban gave McCarron a good, swift pop on the rear with his hand that was caught on camera.”
Wes Rucker of the Chattanooga Times Free Press: “The Volunteers, after winning just two of their first eight games, outscored Memphis and Ole Miss by a combined 102-28 score the past two Saturdays. And they’ve enjoyed nearly every second of it. “You work hard to win, and you celebrate when you win,” senior defensive end Chris Walker said. “It’s great to have a little fun after everything we’ve been through the past few years, especially us older guys.”
1-5. LSU jumps ahead of Boise on the back of its quality wins, but no quite ahead of TCU, who also gets a quality win over Utah. Auburn still holds on to #1, as the LSU win looks even better.
6-10. Oklahoma St. rockets up the BlogPoll with a quality win over Baylor and A&M joining the BlogPoll. they went from zero top 25 wins to two in the space of a week. Nebraska has great quality wins but that Texas win keeps looking worse. Stanford’s USC win looks better. Michigan St is clinging to the top ten as my second Big Ten team.
11-15. Ohio St. still lacks any good wins. They are getting by on laundry more than any other team. Ohio St has two wins over bowl eligible teams: Miami and Ohio. That’s right, Ohio is their second best win. Arizona stays ahead of Iowa by virtue of their head to head win. Arkansas is still hanging out without any big wins, though A&M is now their best win. The Hogs, of course, will have the chance to move up the ballot.
16-20. Mizzou had a bad week. Not only did they lose, but their best win is Oklahoma, which now lacks panache. Mississippi St is still chilling out with their two good losses. Florida and Oklahoma both setlle into the poll.
21-25. Four new teams, as I struggle to find teams worthy of the ballot. VT’s terrible JMU loss matters less and less as they storm through the ACC. USC’s late heroics get them on the ballot, and A&M’s big win puts them on the ballot. Miami gets in over Maryland in a battle of ACC Mediocrity. And I don’t have the heart to drop Baylor yet, as no one is forcing their way onto the ballot.
1-5. I don’t think anyone has any quibbles with my top four except Oregon partisans. Auburn has beaten four teams in the BlogPoll top 25. That ends the discussion for me. Wisconsins sneaks in at #5, as they have quietly put together a great resume with wins over Ohio St and Iowa, plus a win over Arizona St. Those are elite wins against two teams that may finish the year in the top ten (we’ll get to my Ohio st rating in a second).
6-10. Utah is the only undefeated not in the top 5. Their best win is Pitt, which should explain that. Nebraska has some great wins (Mizzou, Okie St, and even K-State). LSU and Bama could easily be flipped. LSU’s losing some of the quality of their wins, but they still have quantity of BCS wins. State is now LSU’s best win, though. OU’s wins have lost a lot of luster as FSU, Air Force, and Texas keep dropping games. It’s killing the Sooners.
11-15. I know most people have Stanford in the top ten, and I like them too. But their best win is USC. You only get so much mileage out of losing to Oregon. Arizona ranks ahead of them: same record, same conference, but throw in a win over Iowa. I’m going more and more off resume here. Michigan St and Mizzou both have nice resumes (though Sparty has much better wins), but both got blown off the field last week. And honestly, its not like either has a ton of big name scalps. Which brings me to Ohio St at #15. Yeah, I know. Ohio St’s best win is Miami, and unranked team currently 5th in the dreadful ACC. OSU’s best conference win is either Purdue or illinois. Either way, it’s not impressive. BEAT SOMEBODY. We’re too far into the season to rank a team based on their brand. Ohio St can certainly climb the polls, but they have managed to get to November with no real quality wins.
16-20. Iowa has some big pelts but also two losses. Same with South Carolina. Oklahoma St finally has a decent win, over Kansas St, but I don’tthink that’s a great win. A very thin resume. Mississippi State’s two losses are both to top ten teams. Give it up.
21-25. Sic em! I’m probably over-ranking the Bears just a tad, as their best win is either K-State or Texas in Austin, but come on… it’s Baylor. Let’s enjoy this while it lasts. Arkansas lacks quality wins but they have no bad losses. state gets the nod over VT for being the 2-loss ACC team that didn’t lose to James Madison (and Maryland’s best win is Navy, speaking of weak schedules). Oregon St and Florida fill out the last two spots for being 3-loss teams with tough schedules. There’s really no one who desreves those last two spots, so let’s give it to teams who went and played good teams. though it helps to win.