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05 Dec 2011

One Foot Inbounds: Peerless

by Robert Weintraub

Poise. Patience. Power.

Peerless.

As I sat in the Georgia Dome stands, these were the alliterative words that came to mind watching LSU storm past Georgia 42-10 to win the SEC Championship and prance into the BCS title game, to be held a short Second Line march from Baton Rouge. The Dome was cracking as UGA took a 10-0 lead and totally dominated most of the first half, making the 80 percent of the crowd wearing red and black very happy. The Dawg defense was outplaying its more ballyhooed opponent, controlling the middle with Jonathan Jenkins, bringing blitz overloads off the edge, and shutting down LSU’s four-man running back attack. LSU had zero, count ‘em, zero, first downs in the half. It was as good a 30-minute defensive effort any team has given all season, including LSU.

But unfortunately for Georgia, instead of leading 17-0 or even 21-0, which was possible, especially given the touchdown drops by Malcolm Mitchell and Tavares King, they only led 10-7. That was because UGA made the cardinal sin of punting to Tyrann Mathieu, and the Honey Badger made them pay. His 62-yard return touchdown completely stifled the momentum Georgia had built up, and led to many foreboding statements in the bathrooms and breezeways of the Dome at halftime, as pretty much everyone foresaw what was coming.

That would be 35 unanswered second-half points, 204 second-half rushing yards, three second-half UGA turnovers, one big rout. For the second straight week, LSU fell behind by double digits, and quarterback Jordan Jefferson was on the brink of being pulled. And for the second straight week, Les Miles stayed patient, trusted his athletes, running game, and his defense, and the Tigers wore out the opponent and smothered them in the final 30 minutes.

Remember just before the season started, when LSU was preparing to face Oregon in an opening week showdown? They lost their starting quarterback and No. 2 wideout to suspension, their best offensive lineman to injury, they got put on (slight) probation, and they found out their offensive coordinator, Steve Kragthorpe, had Parkinson’s Disease. A lot of teams would have folded, but not this group. Just as they showed plenty of faith in their ability to buckle the opposition after getting behind early, LSU knuckled down and walloped all comers. Whatever happens in the BCS title game, it’s been one helluva season for The Lester and his team.

Afterward, the hardy few in purple and gold were chanting "We Want Green Bay!" -- at least it was a break from the standard "S-E-C!" chant usually heard in these parts. I’m guessing most of the country will be sick to death of Mike Slive’s conference when LSU meets Alabama in the BCS title game, as predicted here several weeks ago. Six straight championships for the SEC is now guaranteed. In 2008, Slive proposed a four-team playoff system, and the other big conferences, led by Jim Delany and the Big Ten, blocked it. Can’t say they weren’t warned.

Give Oklahoma State credit -- they had to make a dramatic statement against Oklahoma, who generally treat State like Nelson Muntz treats Milhouse, and they certainly did. State briefly got T. Boone Pickens dreaming of something other than wind power by blowing out the Sooners 44-10.

Sunday morning there sure seemed like a pro-Cowboys sentiment was brewing, but that was among people who reflexively want to see something new. While I wouldn’t have been upset if OK State had gotten in, I think Bama is better and stands the best chance of beating LSU. But that’s just me -- I can certainly see the T. Boone argument. And if he has some sort of juice that can make a playoff a reality (see below), then this will be a good result. I doubt he does, but anything to blow away this hypocritical nonsense.

A Tide win on January 9 would leave a bit of a hollow feeling everywhere outside Tuscaloosa. After all, that would mean LSU will have won in Alabama, and Bama will have won on a neutral field -- albeit one in Louisiana.

After this depressing, difficult, groundshaking year of college football, perhaps an ending rife with disquiet is appropriate. But if LSU completes an unbeaten season, the lasting memory of 2011 will be that of a team for the ages.

TOEDRAGS

  • Those seat-fillers in Indianapolis at the inaugural Big Ten title game between Wisconsin and Michigan State were sure treated to a show -- a game even better than the first encounter that was settled on a last-ditch Hail Mary in Sparty’s favor. This time, Wisconsin completed its comeback and edged MSU 42-39. Who says rematches stink?

    Kirk Cousins was fantastic, and Russell Wilson was even better. Montee Ball scored four more times, to give him 38 on the season, one shy of Barry Sanders’ record. Just as in the first battle, the Badgers started fast and built a two-touchdown lead. Just as in the first battle, the second quarter was Wisconsin’s Waterloo. Back in October, Sparty scored 23 points in the second fifteen. Saturday, they put up 22. In total, MSU outscored Wiscy 45-0 in those two frames.

    But they play the whole game, and just as in the first battle, Wilson led his team back. Several times Wilson made Randall Cunningham-esque maneuvers to avoid the rush and complete big passes downfield. He also hit a fourth-and-6 bomb to Jeff Duckworth late in the game that set up the go-ahead score, a play that elicited the biggest "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH"
    of the evening from Gus Johnson. With the clock showing two minutes left, Wisconsin was forced to punt. Keyshawn Martin returned the kick inside the Wisconsin 5, but MSU was whistled for running into the punter and the Badgers ran out the clock. Payback and a Rose Bowl berth for the Big W.

  • Southern Miss gets the anti-All About The Benjamins Award. The Golden Eagles stomped on previously unbeaten Houston 49-28 to win the Conference USA championship -- on the Cougs’ home field, mind you. But in so exposing Houston, the potential BCS bid that likely would have been coming for Case Keenum and Co. evaporated. That was worth $17 million, to be shared by the C-USA member schools. Tough to be a gymnast or soccer player in the conference today.
  • Northern Illinois was down 20-0 to Ohio in the MAC Championship game. But the Huskies came all the way back to win 23-20 on a last-second field goal, one that was set up an incredible catch by Perez Ashford. I, of course, picked NIU to cover 3.5 points. I mean, if you aren’t going to cover, just lose 20-0 next time, OK guys? No need to taunt me.
  • West Virginia is off to the Orange Bowl as Big East champs, thanks in large part to a stunning play of its own. The Mountaineers were tied at 27 with South Florida in the dying seconds, facing fourth-and-10. Geno Smith found his high school teammate, Stedman Bailey, for 26 yards, Bailey making a fantastic diving grab as he got clobbered over the middle. Bailey was clearly out on his feet, but he managed to stagger back into formation as Smith spiked the ball, then wobble off the field so his team didn’t get called for a penalty (no timeouts left for WVU) as the field goal team came out and won it, 30-27. Hopefully he’ll be fully recovered in time to take his talents to South Beach (OK, Miami Gardens is a bit north of the beach itself).
  • South Florida was mediocre this season, finishing 5-7, but cut the Bulls some slack -- this was their third loss on the final play of the game, not counting the loss to Cincinnati, which came on a touchdown with 12 seconds left.
  • I spent a lot of the endless TV timeouts fantasizing about an eight-team playoff -- the six big conference champs (LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Oregon, and West Virginia), plus two at-large teams (Alabama and either Boise State or Stanford -- I can’t decide). Next Saturday would then feature this quadruple header:

    Noon -- (6) WISCONSIN @ (3) ALABAMA (ESPN - Tessitore/Gilmore)
    3:30 -- (7) CLEMSON @ (2) OKLAHOMA ST. (ESPN - Nessler/Blackledge)
    7:00 -- (8) WEST VIRGINIA @ (1) LSU (CBS - Verne/Gary)
    8:30 -- (5) STANFORD/BOISE @ (4) OREGON (ABC - Brent/Kirk)

    It's otherwise known as the greatest day in sports, even with one or maybe two rematches. The winners would clash on December 17 in a doubleheader, one in Glendale, Arizona the other at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Both of them would be broadcast on FOX, and somehow Gus Johnson will call both games. And the Championship Game would take place two weeks later, on January 2 (New Year’s Day is a Sunday, otherwise that would be the date) in New Orleans.

    Sure, LSU could potentially have three rematches in this scenario en route to a title, but them’s the breaks. It surely wouldn’t happen every season, as few teams are as balls out as the Tigers when it comes to playing non-conference foes. Just let that opener simmer for a minute. Wisconsin coming to Tuscaloosa at high noon.

    Instead, enjoy the Beef O’Bradys Bowl, everyone. I know Syracuse won’t, not after gagging four straight games down the stretch to be ineligible. Tough month and change for my Orange, on many levels.

OFI TOP 25

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oregon
4. Stanford
5. Boise State
6. Oklahoma State
7. USC
8. Wisconsin
9. Arkansas
10. South Carolina
11. Kansas State
12. Oklahoma
13. Virginia Tech
14. Michigan
15. Baylor
16. TCU
17. Georgia
18. Southern Mississippi
19. Michigan State
20. Clemson
21. Houston
22. West Virginia
23. Nebraska
24. Northern Illinois
25. Penn State

LOWSMAN TROPHY WATCH


1. Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S, LSU.
Touches the ball three times, on two punt returns and a fumble recovery, and earns the SEC title game MVP. Now that’s efficiency. Just don’t go all DeSean Jackson on us in the big game and hold the ball until you actually cross the goal line...

2. Offensive Line, LSU. We give all the love to the LSU defense, and rightfully so, but LSU is just as much about pounding you up front on offense. T. Bob Hebert is my favorite, even though he might not be the best of the LSU front line, and in fact, he didn't even play against Georgia. But he has the most representative Cajun name, that’s for sure (even though he’s a Georgia boy, the son of former Falcon Bobby, whose big mouth may be the reason T. Bob is suddenly out of favor). Remember, LSU lost its best lineman, Josh Dworaczyk, to a knee injury before the season started, making this unbeaten season that much more amazing.

3. Furious Bradley, DB, Southern Miss. Bradley’s blocked punt and touchdown return put some serious distance between the Golden Eagles and Houston. And, also? His name is Furious Bradley!

4. Stephone Anthony/Andre Branch, LB/DE, Clemson. The Tigers clobbered Virginia Tech 38-10 to capture their first ACC Championship in twenty years. Coming off a hammering at the hands of South Carolina a week ago, the Tigers revivified themselves on the very first play, when Anthony knocked the ball from Logan Thomas and Branch fell on it. Clemson was off and running to the Orange Bowl after that.

5. Oklahoma State Defense. If you force five turnovers in Bedlam to snap a ten-game losing streak to Oklahoma and blow out the Sooners 44-10, you wind up here. Sure, OU was a comedy of errors and helped the Cowboy defense out on some of those turnovers, but nevertheless.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for -- ballot time. The 2011 season will be remembered for the lack of dominant Heisman trophy candidates, as Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and the other quarterbacks all had poor or mediocre games when it counted most. The running backs -- Trent Richardson, Montee Ball, David Wilson -- were good, but not 1998 Ricky Williams transcendent.

So rather than force the award on a skill guy, its high time the rest of the college football world come around to my way of thinking and reward the Lowsman Award winner with the Sir Stiffarm. There are plenty of candidates worthy of recognition, but unlike last season, it isn’t particularly close. Tyrann Mathieu of LSU is the clear winner, as he wrapped it up in the last two weeks. Sure, he isn’t even the best corner on his own team, but no one has a more incredible ratio of big plays to touches than he does. Congrats to Honey Badger, and hopefully he gets the big trophy in the real world as well.

I mean, when we look back at this season in 10 years, who are we going to remember? Andrew Luck or Tyrann Mathieu? Ty, no question.

And with that, One Foot Inbounds will step aside for a few weeks. Back to recap the bowl bonanza in early-January! Enjoy your holiday season, everyone.

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 05 Dec 2011

8 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2011, 1:29pm by glen55

Comments

1
by TomTom (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 5:23pm

Honey Badger deserves the Heisman, I approve of the nod to him.

2
by Anon (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 6:59pm

Why do you have to include the conference champions in your playoff scenario? Why not just the best 8 teams? You would be giving WV a nod over Stanford or Boise St., which were much better teams. Also, you screw with the regular season badly. This way, there's no reason to schedule good OOC matches. Save the energy for the conference games. And even conference realigment would look different. I was always of the impression that, if a playoff system is at some point established in college football like this one, schools like Alabama or Florida State would just found their own conferences with milquetoast teams to get their conference championship secured.

/flame over.

4
by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:33am

But if only conference games mattered, then teams wouldn't have incentive to duck other good teams OOC.

6
by Adam H (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:36pm

I think people discredit the value of good OOC games in the current system. If Oregon had beaten LSU, they would be in the NCG even with their one loss. If they had simply not played LSU they would be ranked right around where Stanford is. And if Stanford had played LSU, they would be in the NCG if they won, and right around where Oregon is if they lost.

So big reward and low risk.

3
by nath :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 7:34pm

"T. Bob Hebert is my favorite, even though he might not be the best of the LSU front line, and in fact, he didn't even play against Georgia. But he has the most representative Cajun name, that’s for sure (even though he’s a Georgia boy, the son of former Falcon Bobby, whose big mouth may be the reason T. Bob is suddenly out of favor)."

I had to look up that T. Bob was actually from Georgia, because Bobby Hebert played for the Saints too, and was born, raised, and went to college in Louisiana. Just a neat tidbit.

5
by DD (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:58am

I'd have a hard time voting for Mathieu, even if Claiborne wasn't a better corner, after being suspended for the Auburn game. Missing a game is a knock and that the reason he missed it was for disciplinary reasons compounds it for me.

7
by glen55 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 1:25pm

Alabama is a team for the ages, too. This is my 50th year following the Tide, during which time I have seen 7 national championship teams and two other teams (1966 and 1977) that got ripped off by undeserved #1 votes for Notre Dame, and this is the best and most dominant Alabama team I have ever seen. Don't forget it was only missed field goals that cost them the win against this here other team for the ages.

Out of those 7(+2) national championship teams, every single one of them crapped the bed in at least 1 game, although several of these teams managed to win that game anyway and finish undefeated. Alabama's 2011 team has not had a single unimpressive game, unless you count the 45-21 win over Georgia Southern when tuning up for Auburn as unimpressive. It was definitely Alabama's worst game of the season, but I just can't call a 45-21 win crapping the bed.

I don't dispute that LSU's accomplishments are unparalleled in terms of the teams they have defeated. But Alabama would've beaten every one of those teams handily, too.

It's a jewel in the 2011 season's crown to not only have two of the best teams ever, but to have them play each other twice.

8
by glen55 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 1:29pm

Please give me ONE way reason determining it based on conference championships would make for a better playoff.

I'll give you NINE that they're not if you'll look at this post I wrote.