Win over LSU not only positive for Alabama

BY foxsports • November 9, 2009

Alabama took a big step Saturday in its effort to win the 2009 national championship.

Not just beating LSU, 24-15, which was of course an important victory for the Tide. The major stride Nick Saban's team took Saturday was getting the ball in the hands of Julio Jones and putting him in position to do what Julio Jones does.

Heading into the weekend, there were 19 players in the SEC who had caught more passes than Jones, which is a pretty gross stat. For real, he's a difference maker. And here's how you can tell — he made the difference against LSU, when he took a flanker screen from Greg McElroy and bolted 73 yards for a touchdown that might just make Alabama the team to beat.

Yes, the defense is what makes 'Bama an elite team, and Mark Ingram is the offensive engine, and Leigh Tiffin is on pace to smash the NCAA season field-goal mark. But without Jones getting the ball here and there and covering substantial chunks of yardage — as seemingly only he can do — this team can't beat Florida in the national championship semifinal match (aka the SEC title game) on Dec. 5.

Defenses have been loading up against Ingram, largely to no avail, as he and the offensive line have done their jobs remarkably well. McElroy, however, has been unable to hit downfield passes to loosen the defenses (he played well enough Saturday, but without the 73-yarder, he was a so-so 18-for-33, for 203 yards). That one electrifying play reminded Alabama that scoring quick-and-easy points can be beneficial, too.

Jones has been suspiciously absent from the game plans and highlight reels this season, compared to last year, when he caught 58 passes as a freshman for 924 yards and four touchdowns. Heading into the LSU game, he had caught just 20 passes for a pedestrian 229 yards and one touchdown.

Only with Jones (and Marquis Maze) on the same wavelength as McElroy in support of Ingram's rushing attack, will Alabama have the kind of offense it's going to need against Florida — not to mention against Texas. Unlike the Gators, Mack Brown's Longhorns will refuse to get dragged into an SEC-style positional struggle, so Alabama better be able to at flaunt at least the threat of big plays, which is where Jones comes in.

Reversal for Rose Bowl

A great day for the Big Ten and Pac-10 brainiacs meant for a lousy day for the Rose Bowl.

Before Saturday's results, it looked very possible that the Rose was headed for a juicy top-five showdown. Talk about Pasadena being the center of the college football world: On Jan. 1, the Rose Bowl was anticipating a couple of clear-cut champions in 12-0 Iowa and 11-1 Oregon, followed a week later by the BCS Championship Game in the same stadium.

Instead, the upsets dealt by Northwestern and Stanford on Saturday mean that Pasadena will not have anything close to such a marvelous matchup on New Year's Day.

The Big Ten title suddenly looks like it's going to land in Ohio State's lap, what with the Buckeyes handling Penn State, 24-7, and now ready to play host to quarterback-less Iowa this week. Ohio State would have been favored to beat Iowa, anyway, but two Saturday developments seem to have tilted the field: The Buckeyes came together for their most impressive, well-rounded performance of the season, and the Hawkeyes lost quarterback Ricky Stanzi to a high-ankle sprain. That will leave Iowa hoping for something like a 6-3 victory, which won't happen in Columbus.

Sorry, but a 10-2 Ohio State vs. a 10-2 Oregon or Arizona doesn't measure up on the whoop-whoop meter. Consider, too, that the uninspiring USC Trojans are back in the Pac-10 race — and a USC-Ohio State Rose Bowl rematch would be positively painful.

Stars aligning for Boise?

After it was generally panned for its inability to bury Louisiana Tech on Friday night, Boise State pleasingly watched a significant shift Saturday in the alignment of the BCS stars.

Remember, the four BCS Bowls (in addition to the BCS Championship Game) are required to invite no more than one team from the mid-major conferences, even if more than one is ranked in the top eight in the country. That team looks like it will be TCU, presuming the Horned Frogs win their MWC showdown this week against Utah.

But the collection of Saturday results appears to be creating a heretofore almost unthinkable development: Both TCU and Boise State being invited to the major games.

Here's the deal: A yawning crevasse has opened up between top seven teams and everyone else. And with lots of key teams playing one another in the final month of the season, there's finally a plausible way that the Fiesta and Sugar bowls both will come around to seeing fit to invite these two highly ranked, undefeated teams among the four at-large spots.

The 10 BCS bowl slots go to the six major conference champions and four at-large teams. The loser of the SEC championship game is almost certainly heading to the Sugar Bowl. Also, a Big Ten runner-up is likely to have a 10-2 or 9-3 record, and will presumably be in the top 14 in the BCS standings (Penn State, Iowa, or Wisconsin; assuming Ohio State is Rose Bowl-bound).

That still leaves two more spots, and now that Notre Dame has sat on its hat, and with USC looking increasingly mediocre and in danger of losing a third game, who else will emerge as an attractive at-large option? Miami? Oklahoma State? Cough ... Pittsburgh or West Virginia (behind Cincinnati in the Big East)?

Please. Boise State and TCU — if they can finish what they've started — would be far more worthy. Besides, it would go a long way politically.

BCS bowl update

It currently dials out something like this:

  • BCS Championship Game: Florida/Alabama vs. Texas
  • Rose Bowl: Oregon/Arizona vs. Ohio State/Iowa
  • Fiesta Bowl: Penn State/Iowa vs. USC or Boise State
  • Sugar Bowl: Florida/Alabama vs. TCU
  • Orange Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Georgia Tech

    Not working out for Best

    In light of all the attention that went to the Tim Tebow concussion early in the year, it's particularly scary that Cal's Jahvid Best sat out practice on Wednesday with "a mild concussion," and then experienced the frighteningly severe concussion Saturday when landing on his neck in scoring a touchdown.

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    Who knows if one led to the other — especially considering the violent way Best crashed to the turf Saturday — but part of the result of this injury surely will be to further raise awareness of the risks players undergo following even "mild" head injuries.

    Players will almost always insist they're fine and they're ready to go, so it's difficult for doctors and training staff to see through the fog for the players. But the speed and power of today's game requires erring on the side of caution more than ever before.

    The way we like it

    How do you not love what Paul Johnson did to help Georgia Tech beat Wake Forest? He simply did what every fan of every team wants every coach to do: In overtime, on fourth-and-1 at the 4, he shunned a game-tying field goal. Instead, he basically allowed quarterback Josh Nesbitt to persuade him to go for the first down and the victory.

    Nesbitt snuck for the necessary yard on fourth down, and on the next play, skipped for the game-deciding 3-yard touchdown run, 30-27.

    Had it not worked, we'd be wondering what was he thinking? But it goes back to the notion of playing to win, rather than simply playing not to lose. And now that the Yellow Jackets are 9-1, they're becoming one of the great stories of the season.

    Making a strong Case

    Houston's Case Keenum already had the stats, and now he has the signature comeback and highlights that it takes to become a serious Heisman Trophy candidate. Keenum posted 522 yards passing at Tulsa, and the Cougars needed all of them, including the touchdown pass with 21 seconds remaining ... and the ensuing onside kick ... and his 14-yard, and 13-yard completions to set up the last-second game-winning field goal.

    Watch for an increase in comparisons in the next couple of weeks to Houston's 1989 Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware. Like Ware, Keenum is posting glossy stats, and perhaps more important, winning performances. These Cougars are 8-1; Ware's team went 9-2.

    Currently, I'm looking at Ingram for a spot on my ballot, with the two other spots probably going to Keenum or Tim Tebow or Toby Gerhart or Jordan Shipley or Colt McCoy or Jacquizz Rodgers or Golden Tate.

    A glance ahead

    Friday, Nov. 13
  • West Virginia at Cincinnati: Mountaineers get their shot at Bearcats.

    Saturday, Nov. 14
  • Georgia Tech at Duke: Tech playing for division title; Duke has bowl in sights.
  • Wisconsin at Michigan: Year 2 of RichRod is becoming a train wreck.
  • Texas at Baylor: Longhorns are in stride; Bears beat Missouri last week.
  • Florida at South Carolina: The Gamecocks have fizzled, but there's no game Spurrier would rather win.
  • Iowa at Ohio State: Game of the year in the Big Ten.
  • Idaho at Boise State: Broncos try to make speed bump of 7-3 Vandals.
  • Nebraska at Kansas: Huskers have control of Big 12 North if they can finish.
  • Stanford at USC: After whipping Oregon, Cardinal has major upside.
  • Alabama at Mississippi State: Tide needs to stay more than marginally sharp.
  • Notre Dame at Pittsburgh: 8-1 Panthers could send Irish limping to finish line.
  • Utah at TCU: If you win, Utes, you're costing your conference millions.
  • Texas Tech at Oklahoma State: Cowboys trying to position selves to Fiesta Bowl.
  • Arizona at California: First of four tough steps to Rose Bowl for Cats.
  • Arizona State at Oregon: Ducks are still in control of Rose Bowl race.

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