Can't lose with Ducks-Trojans, Tide-Tigers
Imagine you're a college football fan with no ties to the Pac-12 or the SEC, nor any to the West Coast or the Southeast. You've barely digested this past Saturday's action and the phone rings Sunday morning with an unimaginable offer: two game tickets, plus an all-expense-paid trip to see either Oregon at USC or Alabama at LSU this coming weekend.
Yes, the Oregon-USC game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Saturday night lost some of its luster when the Trojans fell 39-36 at unranked Arizona this past weekend. But how can you pass up the chance to watch the No. 4 Ducks' high-powered offense and fashion show?
Also remember that the Trojans upset the Ducks 38-35 last season, which ended Oregon's 21-game winning streak at Autzen Stadium, the longest home streak in the country at the time.
With quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, the Trojans might still have the best chance at knocking off the Ducks in the regular season. Given Oregon's soft nonconference schedule and its company at the top of the BCS standings, it probably can't afford to lose a game if it wants to play in the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami.
Of course, No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 LSU played two epic games last season. The Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa in the regular season, but the Tide won the rematch 21-0 in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans to win their second national title in three seasons.
Alabama looks unbeatable again this season, moving to 8-0 with a 38-7 rout over then-No. 11 Mississippi State on Saturday night. LSU has lost only once, falling 14-6 at Florida on Oct. 6. Although the Tigers have looked like a mess at times on offense, they still have one of the country's most ferocious defenses. And they'll have the undeniable advantage of playing at home on Saturday night at Death Valley, one of the most intimidating stadiums in the country.
The winner in Baton Rouge takes control of the SEC West and takes a big step toward playing in the Dec. 1 SEC championship in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Unlike last season, when Alabama won a BCS national championship without winning its division or conference, the Tide probably won't get a mulligan this year.
"It's the game," Alabama center Barrett Jones said. "It's the game we circle on our schedule every year, and it's been hard not to think about it until now. We know we're going to get their best, especially in Death Valley."
You can choose only one game to attend. How do you decide? Here's how:
If it's about atmosphere and tailgating, the Bayou wins in a landslide. There might not be a better place to eat a pregame meal than Baton Rouge, from its Cajun gumbo to crawfish to shrimp etouffee. When Alabama (or any other ranked opponent, for that matter) comes to Baton Rouge, it's the only show in town. You can bet that political consultant James Carville will even take a break from the presidential election to watch his beloved Tigers play at home.
Although the Coliseum is one of the most recognizable stadiums in the country, there's too much going on in L.A. for it to be the biggest event in town, especially after the Trojans lost last week.
Furthermore, there are few stadiums in the country as raucous or intimidating as Tiger Stadium. LSU owns a 22-game home winning streak, the longest current streak in the country and the best in school history. The Tigers' last home loss came against No. 1 Florida on Oct. 10, 2009. Under coach Les Miles, the Tigers are 48-6 at home. It's especially difficult to defeat the Tigers when they're playing at home at night: They have a 226-60-4 record in night games at Tigers Stadium since 1960 (they're only 25-26-3 in day games in that span).
Advantage: Alabama at LSU
Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles have combined to win four national championships. Saban won a BCS title at LSU in 2003 and two more at Alabama in 2009 and 2011. He is the only coach to win three BCS titles and win a BCS championship at two schools. Miles, a former Oklahoma State coach, replaced Saban at LSU and won a BCS national title in his third season in 2007.
Few coaches have accomplished more in their first four FBS seasons than Kelly, who has a 42-6 record with the Ducks. He is the first Oregon coach to guide the Ducks to three consecutive undisputed conference championships, and he has led them to two Rose Bowls and the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, which they lost to Auburn, 22-19.
USC's Lane Kiffin, 37, has been a lightning rod in his four-year career as a college head coach. He bolted Tennessee after only one season in 2009 and inherited a USC program riddled by NCAA probation. The Trojans went 8-5 in his first season in 2010 but finished 10-2 last season. After Barkley decided to return for his senior season, the Trojans were a popular choice to win a national title this year. But USC has already dropped two games, losing 21-14 at Stanford on Sept. 15, then at Arizona. Kiffin is 24-9 in two-plus seasons at USC.
Advantage: Alabama at LSU
Which game would be more exciting if it came down to a final drive? If you've watched LSU during Miles' tenure, you know you can never know what to expect. The "Mad Hatter" has gambled on fourth down and pulled off fake field goals with the game on the line. Over the past couple of seasons, however, Miles has coached closer to the vest, relying on his defense and punter to win games.
Oregon's fast-paced, high-octane spread offense always seems to be a two-minute drill. There isn't an offense in the country more adept at scoring points in a hurry.
You want drama? What if the game in Baton Rouge comes down to an Alabama field goal attempt? The Tide missed four field goals in their regular-season loss to LSU in 2011.
Advantage: Alabama at LSU
You might be able to call the plays from your couch for Alabama-LSU. If you watched last season's doubleheader between the schools, you know the defenses dominated both contests. LSU hasn't scored an offensive touchdown against the Crimson Tide in more than 120 minutes. Neither team found the end zone in their regular-season meeting last season; it was the second-lowest-scoring game ever between Nos. 1 and 2 (No. 1 Army tied No. 2 Notre Dame 0-0 in 1946).
Alabama has opened up its offense more under first-year coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who has put more responsibility on quarterback AJ McCarron's shoulders. But LSU's offense has been a mess with new quarterback Zach Mettenberger under center; the Tigers rank 106th nationally in passing with only 177.4 yards per game.
You have to imagine that Kelly has something up his sleeve for USC's porous defense. The Ducks rank No. 1 nationally in scoring offense with 53.4 points per game; they scored eight touchdowns in the first half of Saturday's 70-14 victory over Colorado. It's always fun to watch Kelly match wits with USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the father of the famous Tampa 2 defense.
Advantage: Oregon at USC
If you like offense
Keep it tuned to the game in Los Angeles. The Ducks and Trojans have combined to score 88.4 points per game this season. LSU and Alabama combined to score one touchdown in two games last season.
In USC's upset of the Ducks in 2011, the teams combined to score 73 points and gained 936 yards. The teams went 16-for-30 on third down and completed 49 passes.
Advantage: Oregon at USC
If you like defense
Watch the game in Baton Rouge. Alabama ranks No. 1 nationally in run defense (57.3 yards), pass-efficiency defense (86.6 rating), total defense (203.1 yards), scoring defense (8.1 points) and pass defense (145.9 yards). Even after losing several starters to the NFL draft, the Tide haven't allowed more than 14 points in a game this season.
LSU's defense has been nearly as good. The Tigers rank No. 2 in pass-efficiency defense (90.4 rating), No. 3 in total defense (243.4 yards), No. 9 in scoring defense (14.6 points) and No. 5 in tackles for loss (8.1 per game).
After the Crimson Tide and Tigers combined to kick field goals in their regular-season meeting, LSU managed only 92 yards of offense in the rematch in New Orleans.
Advantage: Alabama at LSU
Barkley came into his senior season as the Heisman Trophy favorite, but the Trojans' early-season loss to Stanford all but knocked him out of the race. He's completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,266 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions (four of which were thrown in USC's two losses).
Oregon freshman Marcus Mariota has been sensational in his first season as a starter, completing 68.6 percent of his attempts for 1,483 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has orchestrated Kelly's spread offense to near perfection and largely has avoided mistakes that typically plague young quarterbacks. He also is the biggest threat among the quarterbacks in these games to run the ball, averaging 6.6 yards on 57 carries, including an 86-yard touchdown run against Arizona State.
McCarron, a junior from Mobile, Ala., has shed his label of being nothing more than a "game manager" in Alabama's offense. He has emerged as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, completing 68.9 percent of his passes for 1,684 yards with 18 touchdowns. McCarron leads the country in pass efficiency with a 182.4 rating and hasn't thrown an interception in 177 attempts.
Mettenberger, who signed with Georgia and transferred to LSU after playing at a junior college, was supposed to give the Tigers a more potent downfield passing game. But he has struggled in his first season, completing only 56.5 percent of his attempts with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
Advantage: Oregon at USC
Running back play
USC has long been known as "Tailback U.," but Alabama and Oregon have produced better tailbacks recently. This season is no different, as the Crimson Tide and Ducks have two of the country's most potent one-two punches in the backfield.
Oregon's Kenjon Barner is No. 10 nationally in rushing with 121.8 yards per game and needs only 26 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Sophomore De'Anthony Thomas is probably the most dangerous player on the field, however, with 499 rushing yards on only 58 carries and 218 receiving yards on 24 catches.
USC's best tailback is Silas Redd, who transferred from Penn State in August. He leads the Trojans with 640 rushing yards with seven touchdowns.
Advantage: Oregon at USC
Wide receiver play
No team in the country has better receivers than the Trojans. Lee ranks No. 2 nationally in receiving with 76 catches for 1,129 yards with 10 touchdowns. In Saturday's loss at Arizona, Lee caught 16 passes for 345 yards with two touchdowns, the fifth-best receiving day in NCAA FBS history. Woods has 53 catches for 585 yards with nine touchdowns, and he caught 111 passes in 2011.
The Ducks do much of their damage on the ground and distribute passes among a lot of players (seven Oregon players have 10 or more catches).
LSU sophomore Odell Beckham Jr. is the Tigers' best perimeter threat with 26 catches for 420 yards with two touchdowns.
Advantage: Oregon at USC
If you didn't receive that phone call Sunday morning, keep your TV remote close by because the two games kick off only an hour apart Saturday night. Who knows? You might be watching the two teams that will play for a BCS national championship on Jan. 7.
On The Mark
There's a reason so many players and coaches from around the country have offered their heartfelt support for injured South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a serious knee injury in the Gamecocks' 38-35 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.
It's because there might not be a more humble superstar in the country, and teammates and opponents alike know how hard Lattimore worked to return from a torn ACL he suffered in his left knee last season.
Now Lattimore's career might be in jeopardy after one of the most gruesome injuries you'll ever see. South Carolina doctors said Lattimore hyperextended his right knee, causing injury to several ligaments. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said he's confident Lattimore can return to football and indicated his star tailback might redshirt in 2013 while recovering.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, NFL players A.J. Green, Tim Tebow, DeMarco Murray and J.J. Watt, and NBA star LeBron James offered their support on Twitter. Georgia's players and coaches prayed for Lattimore's recovery after their victory over Florida.
South Carolina officials planned a rally on their campus for Lattimore on Monday, his 21st birthday.
"He knows what the road ahead is," Spurrier said. "We're all hoping and praying he'll be back."
Off The Mark
There's bad luck and then there's Maryland's luck. The Terrapins lost their fourth quarterback to a season-ending injury in Saturday's 20-17 loss at Boston College. Freshman Caleb Rowe, who started the season as a third-stringer and was forced into action after C.J. Brown (torn ACL), Perry Hills (torn ACL) and Devin Burns (foot) were lost, tore the ACL in his left knee and will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
The Terps will start Shawn Petty, a converted linebacker, in Saturday's game against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Randy Edsall hasn't been the most popular coach, but even his biggest critics have to be sympathetic. At 4-4, the Terps must win two of their final four games to become bowl-eligible.
"It's very unusual," Edsall told reporters during a conference call Sunday. "I don't know something like this has ever happened to a team at that position. With this team, they understand and they feel bad for Caleb, but they know we still have games that we want to win."
On The Mark
The last time Kent State played in a bowl game, in 1972, Nick Saban and Jack Lambert were starting on its defense and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was catching passes as a tight end. The Golden Flashes, who were coached by Don James, went 6-5 and lost to Tampa 21-18 in the 1972 Tangerine Bowl.
Forty years later, the Golden Flashes took a big step toward their first bowl game since then by upsetting No. 15 Rutgers 35-23 on Saturday. Kent State forced seven turnovers, including six interceptions, and now leads FBS teams in turnover margin at plus-19.
Kent State was 0-22 against ranked opponents in 90 seasons of football until beating the Scarlet Knights.
"We're 4-0 on homecoming, so be careful," Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said.
Off The Mark
Auburn coach Gene Chizik's biggest concern about his job security has to be that the Tigers aren't getting any better. Instead, they seem to be getting worse every week.
The Tigers fell to 1-7, 0-6 SEC after Saturday's 63-21 loss to Texas A&M, which is the most points Auburn had allowed since the final game of the 1917 season and the most ever at home.
The Aggies gained 671 yards, the most ever allowed by Auburn, and led 28-0 before the Tigers picked up their initial first down.
"I haven't studied the record books exactly, but when you play in a game like that and are involved in a game like that, you have to know historically it's somewhere at the very bottom," Chizik said. "Whether that's at the very bottom or somewhere close, you know that's where you're at."
Herbstreit on BCS standings
On the Mark Mailbag
On The Mark: Precision Passers
1 Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Boyd completed 27 of 38 passes for a school-record 428 yards and five touchdowns in Clemson's 42-13 win over Wake Forest. Boyd leads the ACC with 20 pass touchdowns this season.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Bridgewater completed 24 of 41 passes for a career-high 416 yards and two touchdowns in Louisville's 34-31 overtime win over Cincinnati. Bridgewater completed passes to nine different receivers in the game. It was the eighth straight game in which Bridgewater has completed a pass to at least seven different receivers.
3. Derek Carr, Fresno State
Carr completed 31 of 44 passes for 416 yards and four touchdowns in Fresno State's 49-32 win over New Mexico. Carr is one of three players this season (also Geno Smith and Mike Glennon) with two games with at least 400 pass yards and four pass touchdowns.
4. Mike Glennon, NC State
Glennon had a career-high 467 pass yards and tied a career high with five pass touchdowns in NC State's 43-35 loss to North Carolina. The senior threw for at least 300 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
5. Steele Jantz, Iowa State
Jantz had a career day in Iowa State's 35-21 win over Baylor. He set career highs in attempts (52), completions (36), yards (381) and touchdowns (five). Jantz is the first Cyclones player to have at least five pass touchdowns in a game since Todd Bandhauer had five at Texas on Oct. 3, 1998.
--ESPN Stats & Information
On The Mark: Ground-Gaining RBs
1 Zurlon Tipton, Central Michigan
Tipton had career highs in carries (37) and rush yards (243) in Central Michigan's 35-14 win over Akron. He also tied a career high with three touchdowns, including a career-long 72-yard run on the second play of the game.
2. David Fluellen, Toledo
Fluellen had career highs in carries (35) and rush yards (228) in Toldeo's 25-20 win over Buffalo. It was his second 200-yard rushing game of the season and his fifth straight 100-yard game, the third-longest active streak in FBS.
3. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
Franklin had 26 carries for 164 yards and two touchdowns in UCLA's 45-43 last-second win over Arizona State. It was his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season, tied for third most in FBS and the most among players from AQ schools.
4. Venric Mark, Northwestern
Mark had 16 carries for 162 yards in Northwestern's 28-17 win over Iowa. He has 1,072 rush yards for the season, making him the first Wildcats player to reach 1,000 rush yards in a season since Tyrell Sutton gained 1,000 in 2006. It is the 15th 1,000-yard rushing season by an individual in Northwestern history.
5 Todd Gurley, Georgia
Gurley had a career-high 27 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown in Georgia's 17-9 win over Florida. Gurley has 10 rush touchdowns this season, third in the SEC behind Johnny Manziel (13) and Marcus Lattimore (11).
--ESPN Stats & Info
On The Mark: Big-Play WRs
1. Marqise Lee, USC
Lee had the fifth most receiving yards (345) in FBS history in USC's 39-36 loss to Arizona. For the game, he had a career-high 16 receptions, including two touchdowns. It was his fifth game with 10 or more catches this season, the second most in FBS.
2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Watkins had his first 100-yard receiving game of the season in Clemson's 42-13 win over Wake Forest. He finished the game with eight receptions for a career-high 202 yards and a touchdown. It was the sophomore's fifth career 100-yard receiving game.
3. Austin Hill, Arizona
Hill had 10 receptions for a career-high 259 yards in Arizona's 39-36 upset of USC. His 259 receiving yards are the second most in a game in school history, trailing only Jeremy McDaniel's 283 yards against California on Nov. 2, 1996. McDaniel had four overtimes to accumulate his yards.
4. Davante Adams, Fresno State
Adams had nine receptions for a career-high 198 yards and two touchdowns in Fresno State's 49-32 win over New Mexico. It was the freshman's second game this season with at least 100 yards receiving and two touchdown receptions, tied for fourth most in FBS.
5. Terrance Williams, Baylor
Williams had 13 receptions for 190 yards in Baylor's 35-21 loss to Iowa State. It was Williams' fourth straight 100-yard receiving game, the longest active streak in FBS. Williams leads FBS this season with 171.9 receiving yards per game, 30.8 more yards per game than the next closest player, Marqise Lee.
--ESPN Stats & Info
RecruitingNation: Weekend rewind
Three-star tailback Richy Anderson (Frederick, Md./Gov. Thomas Johnson) decommitted from Maryland on Sunday night and became Penn State's 12th commitment of the 2013 class.
Anderson took an official visit to Happy Valley for the Ohio State game Saturday, and he knew by noon Sunday that he needed to switch his loyalty.
"The sanctions don't matter to me," he said Sunday night. "Being in that environment, it just proves it. No, you can't play in a bowl game. And, no, they lost a lot of scholarships -- but the tradition and everything is still there. It's not just about football.
"And they were down big in the fourth quarter, and nobody left. It was just amazing. It's more than football there, and it's crazy."
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound tailback said he wasn't completely sold on the school Saturday night. But when he spoke with strength coach Craig Fitzgerald and sat down to Sunday breakfast with the staff, his mind started to change. When he sprawled inside his father's car, slipped on his headphones and stared out the window, he realized he was committed to the wrong school in Maryland.
On that car ride home, different scenarios and questions played through Anderson's mind -- but it always came back to Penn State. Could he make it to the next level? Well, PSU has NFL scouts at most practices. Does this PSU fan base still support the football team? Nobody left the game. Can he leave with a good degree? PSU boasts great academics.
Anderson felt himself lean toward PSU, so he took a nap. When he awoke, 30 minutes before arriving inside his Maryland home, he told his father he wanted to create a list of pros and cons so he could make certain it wasn't just his heart making the decisions.
Anderson and his father, a Penn State alum, sat at the kitchen table and came up with two lists -- one for the Terrapins and one for the Nittany Lions. And everything seemed to fall in Penn State's favor.
"I decided what was best for me, and I felt that I respected Maryland's coaches and wanted to let them know. I wanted to be a man about the situation, in a way," Anderson said. "And then I just talked to Coach [Bill] O'Brien and [Charles] London and let them know. They were fired up, and they were happy for me -- and I felt secure in my decision.
"It was a fun weekend, and it really changed my mind on a lot of different things."
Anderson plans to enroll early at Penn State, and he said he holds no preference over whether to redshirt. If he does take that year to improve, however, it won't be because he just wants to see an extra bowl game.
"If I enroll early and feel like I can compete, I would like to play," he said. "I'm not going to just sit out a year because of a bowl game. Every home game is a bowl game. To me, that's not really a factor."
Anderson received a Penn State offer just two months ago, something he called a "dream" at the time. He committed to the Terrapins two months before PSU entered the picture, and Anderson knew at the time of that PSU offer that the new school would be a strong contender.
The Maryland native has attended numerous Penn State games in his lifetime -- his father, Richie Sr., was a fullback under Joe Paterno -- but he said there was still something special about Saturday. And that feeling helped put his mind at ease over his new commitment.
"I can't explain it," he said. "It was just a different feeling. Everyone in the stadium felt the same way. And, win or lose, they were going to be happy with it because they really support the team. I just know Penn State's the best place for me."
-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation
RecruitingNation: What we learned
Balance is the name of the game for the Crimson Tide, who have nearly identical numbers rushing (1,715 yards, 20 touchdowns) as they do passing (1,776 yards, 19 touchdowns) this season.
-- Alex Scarborough, TideNation
The Gators have to find some sort of passing game to complement the running game. Teams are ganging up on running back Mike Gillislee and daring the Gators to beat them with the pass -- and they can't.
-- Michael DiRocco, GatorNation
Florida State didn't miss a beat without starting running back Chris Thompson, who is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and the rest of the replacement runners accounted for 261 yards and three touchdowns in a dominant win over Duke.
-- David Hale, NoleNation
Georgia isn't so soft on defense after all. Producing easily their most spirited game of the season, the Bulldogs shut down Florida's previously productive running game and forced six turnovers from a Gators team that had previously turned it over just four times all season.
-- David Ching, DawgNation
Michigan lost its grip on the Legends Division and also had the long-standing thought surrounding the Wolverines' offense confirmed: Without Denard Robinson, Michigan doesn't have much of an offense.
-- Michael Rothstein, WolverineNation
Braxton Miller is healthy, and apparently the Buckeyes are getting stronger on defense as well after a thorough, impressive 35-23 win at Penn State brought a perfect season one week closer to happening.
-- Austin Ward, BuckeyeNation
The Sooners are a good team, but they're not elite. At least not on the level of Kansas State or Notre Dame.
-- Jake Trotter, SoonerNation
Penn State's offensive line can't yet adjust to the extra pass-rusher, and that pressure will force quarterback Matt McGloin into some bad decisions.
-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation
The Longhorns may have stirred up a quarterback controversy by pulling starter David Ash and putting in backup Case McCoy. McCoy flamed that controversy by leading Texas to two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including the game-winning drive with less than three minutes left.
-- Carter Strickland, HornsNation
The Aggies have become a quality road team under Kevin Sumlin, going undefeated so far this year (4-0). But A&M's final two roadies will be their toughest: at Mississippi State and Alabama.
-- Sam Khan Jr., GigEmNation
Teams that commit five turnovers and 13 penalties can see their national championship hopes fade away quickly. USC simply couldn't overcome those miscues -- and numerous others -- in a 39--36 loss to Arizona.
-- Garry Paskwietz, WeAreSC
After being called soft last week, Washington made a point to prove its resilience during a 20-17 win over No. 7 Oregon State. Following the victory, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said, "We knocked them out. We punched them in the mouth and they didn't want to do anything about it."
-- Mason Kelley, HuskyNation