Rock-solid defenses separate Florida, Alabama from pretenders
BATON ROUGE, La. -- As the clock wound down on No. 1 Florida's 13-3 win over No. 4 LSU on Saturday night, I stood on the Gators' sideline with several writers, one of whom --
"You know how in the NCAA tournament you have those years where the Final Four has two No. 1 seeds on one side and a four and a six on the other?" he said. Well, if the Dec. 5 SEC Championship were a national semifinal, Florida and Alabama would be those dueling No. 1 seeds. The latest AP poll confirmed that sentiment Sunday by listing the two conference rivals No. 1 and 2 in the country.
By the end of the day Saturday, it had become abundantly clear the Gators and Crimson Tide stand head and shoulders above the rest of their conference peers. This year's SEC is hardly the ultra-deep league it's been the past few years, where no team was safe from one week to the next. It's more like the SEC of the mid-to-late '90s, when Florida and Tennessee staged an annual two-team race.
Both teams handled their much-anticipated road trips Saturday with relative ease thanks to another set of dominant defensive performances. Alabama rendered formerly ballyhooed Ole Miss quarterback
Take a look around the league. Who's going to beat these guys? Georgia? South Carolina? Auburn? Tennessee? Not in their current incarnations. Not when Florida and Alabama rank first and second, respectively, on the NCAA's total defense chart.
In Saturday's undercards, Auburn suffered its first defeat in humbling fashion, falling 44-23 to Arkansas. But that paled in comparison to the humiliation Tennessee laid on Georgia in a 45-19 butt-whipping. We knew the Dawgs' defense was subpar, but when
Nearly every team in the SEC is plagued by a common element: They're utterly lacking on one side of the ball. All, that is, except Florida and Alabama.
"The game plan going in wasn't to spread it out," Tebow said. "It was that we were going to out-physical them, manage the ball" and let Florida's top-ranked defense take care of the rest.
With relentless running from
"The management of the game was dependent upon how the defense and special teams played, and those two phases were tremendous," Gators coach
If the Gators have a hole, it's their receiving corps. Once again, tight end
That would be Alabama, which, despite what the poll order might say, has been the nation's most dominant team through six games. While it's now clear preseason darling Ole Miss isn't remotely what we expected, the Tide's defense had plenty to do with Snead throwing four interceptions and the Rebels managing just 19 yards in the first half.
"That's about as fine a defensive performance in the first half as I've been around in a while," said Alabama coach
Much like with the Florida-LSU game, the Alabama-Ole Miss outcome was never in doubt once
Barring injuries or an unforeseen collapse, there aren't a whole lot of remaining potential potholes on either team's schedule.
Florida's toughest remaining test may actually come next week at home against 3-2 Arkansas, which has posted 40-plus points in four of its five games.
Then again, the Razorbacks have already had a shot at one of the SEC's pacesetters, and it didn't go particularly well; Alabama throttled Arkansas 35-7 on Sept. 26.
Alabama's next big game figured to comes Nov. 7 against Saban' former team, LSU. But the 5-1 Tigers' offense has been a mess nearly the entire season, which doesn't bode well going against the Tide's defense. The Nov. 28 Iron Bowl at Auburn could return to its former place as a high-stakes showdown, but that's a long ways away.
It may be that, for the first time in several seasons, the nation turns its attention away from the SEC for a while. While the Gators and Crimson Tide presumably continue on their collision course toward Atlanta, we'll be busy checking in on teams like Texas, Virginia Tech and USC, all of whom have critical games in the coming weeks.
You know, the other side of the bracket.
ESPN's Thursday night games rarely fail to disappoint, with last week's Nebraska-Missouri game providing the latest dramatic episode. Trailing 12-0 heading into the final quarter, the Huskers -- whose offense struggled miserably all night under a torrential downpour -- suddenly scored two touchdowns in a 57-second span to start the fourth quarter, then pulled away to win 27-12.
For viewers nationally, the game served as a showcase for the Huskers' powerful defensive front, led by prospective No. 1 draft pick
While Suh was the game's undisputed star -- prompting several columnists around the country,
Second-year Nebraska coach
"We've made a lot of progress from where were last year," Pelini said Sunday. "You've got to be able to stop the run and rush the passer, and we've been able to do that very effectively this season."
In fact, the Huskers did much the same thing in their Sept. 19 game at Virginia Tech, controlling the line of scrimmage nearly the entire game and holding the Hokies to 190 total yards before quarterback
"We lost one earlier in the year where the tone changed real late," Pelini said. "This time we kind of made things happen in the fourth quarter. Hopefully it gives us some momentum and some confidence."
The Huskers may need it this weekend when they host Texas Tech, which has won the teams' past three meetings. It will be interesting to see whether Suh and the defense can disrupt the Red Raiders' precision-based passing attack as drastically as they did Missouri's.
Even without starting quarterback
Toward the end of the Nebraska-Missouri game
• After toiling on the cusp for four years, Duke quarterback
"I will probably upset a couple of my former quarterbacks," said Duke coach
You do know who his former quarterbacks include, right?
• Michigan coach
Compounding matters, ABC reported during its broadcast that Forcier had "heated words" with Rodriguez on the sideline, a charge the coach vehemently denied. "Let's not create something that's [not] there, guys," he told reporters. "I put Denard in to get a spark, and we got a spark. And the spark was still lit."
And the Wolverines' summer-long quarterback question makes its ugly return.
• Virginia Tech's offense has really kicked it into gear these past few weeks. On Saturday against Boston College, running back
• What a strange game in Columbus. Wisconsin held the ball for 42:47 to Ohio State's 17:13.
• If ever a team was guilty of "looking ahead," it was Texas. The 'Horns trailed woeful Colorado 14-10 at halftime Saturday and scored more touchdowns on defense and special teams (three) than on offense (two) in their 38-14 win. Colt McCoy had two turnovers. "When everybody talks about how bad Colorado is all week, it's really hard to go out there and take them serious,'' Texas coach
• Georgia Tech quarterback
• Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead is being dubbed this season's biggest disappointment (the preseason Heisman candidate is competing 46.8 percent of his passes with nine interceptions), but to be fair, he's getting no protection. "Their big weakness on their team is their offensive line," Alabama defensive tackle
• Undefeateds Cincinnati and South Florida meet Thursday night in a game many believe will decide the Big East title, but it might not be wise to dismiss Pittsburgh just yet. The 5-1 Panthers, down 21-6 to UConn late in the third quarter, pulled off an impressive rally to win on a last-second field goal. Freshman
• How's this for a stat line: Bowling Green receiver
• The Army "bowl watch" continues. After knocking off Vanderbilt in overtime, the Black Knights are 3-3, the latest they've been at least .500 since their last bowl season in 1996. Next week brings another winnable game at 3-2 Temple.
There are big doings in Moscow these days. (Not
Since moving from the Sun Belt to the WAC in 2005, the Vandals had been a perennial cellar-dweller. In the four seasons prior to this one, they'd won a combined six conference games. Coaching instability certainly didn't help. First,
After enduring a nightmarish first two seasons (a combined 3-21 record), Akey has Idaho off to its best start since 1994, when the school was still in Division I-AA. The past three wins have all come against bowl-eligible teams from a year ago (Northern Illinois, Colorado State and San Jose State). It's too early to say how Idaho will ultimately stack up in the WAC (San Jose was the Vandals' second conference opponent), but just reaching a bowl for the first time since 1998 would be accomplishment enough.
What's interesting about Idaho is that, prior to this decade, the Idaho-Boise State rivalry had been fairly even, and in fact the Vandals won three straight lopsided games from 1996-98 when the two schools first moved up to I-A. Obviously, the two programs have gone in opposite directions since then. But is it really all that crazy to think a school that once churned out such coaches as Erickson and
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be the only remaining person in a 90,000-seat stadium? I can now tell you from experience: It's eerie.
After filing my story from LSU's Tiger Stadium late Saturday night, I returned to my hotel a little after 1 a.m. to make the horrifying discovery that, for the first time in 11 years of covering football games, I'd left the power cord to my laptop in the press box. With nightmare scenarios flashing through my head (I knew I'd be spending seven to eight hours the next day writing this column), I bolted back to the parking lot and hopped on I-10 in a mad dash back to Tiger Stadium, hoping like heck I'd be able to get back in.
The first good sign came when I found the stadium's closest parking lot wide open (only hours earlier, you probably needed a $10,000 annual donation to park there). So, too, was the press entrance. As I got on the elevator, a group of school employees were getting off. A woman who appeared to be in charge saw me and asked if I was going up to the press box. I shuddered.
"It's open," she said. "But I turned all the lights off."
Sure enough, I arrived to find the enormous press box -- which, when I'd left it 45 minutes earlier still had about 20 writers working -- dark and empty. So too, it appeared, was the entire stadium. I looked out into the bowl for any sign of clean-up workers or security guards and saw none. I was all alone inside previously jam-packed Tiger Stadium ... and, mercifully, reunited with my power cord.
All in all, it was a heck of a scare that made a late night even later, but I can't complain too much. It could have been much worse.
That's what they're calling it at Washington. With less than three minutes remaining, the Huskies'
That's my own self-dubbed name for UCLA linebacker
• Texas vs. Oklahoma, Saturday (Noon ET): Expect another aerial shootout between Bradford and
• USC at Notre Dame, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): There will be plenty of comparisons to the classic 2005 game in South Bend. The difference: That Trojans defense was by far the worst of Pete Carroll's reign. If
• Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, Saturday (6 p.m. ET): Having already beaten Miami, a win in Atlanta would put the Hokies firmly in the driver's seat in the ACC Coastal. A Jackets victory would set the stage for a potentially heated three-way race the rest of the way. (Or four-way if you include suddenly resurgent Virginia.)