Contrary to reports, there are in fact lots of stories in college football right now other than that football game in Tuscaloosa this Saturday. I'll get to some of them momentarily, but I fear someone might revoke my press pass or cancel my hotel reservation if I lead with anything but LSU-Alabama.
In your recent edition of College Football Overtime, you coined the upcoming Alabama vs. LSU game the "Game of the Century." How does this game compare to the 2006 Ohio State vs. Michigan game? That contest was the previous "Game of the Century."-- Will, Hoboken, N.J.
First of all, for those unfamiliar with the concept, it's completely normal for there to be two Games of the Century within the first 12 years of a century. According to Wikipedia (and most college football historians), eight Games of the Century were played between 1935 (Notre Dame-Ohio State) and 1993 (Florida State-Notre Dame), for an average of one every 7.3 years. So long as we don't get another one before 2015, we're right on schedule.
The '06 game had a little bit more buildup since it wasn't played until Nov. 18 and since it was the last regular-season game for both teams, but we've been salivating over LSU-Alabama since late September. The fact that the Buckeyes and Wolverines have such a celebrated rivalry to begin with enhanced the aura surrounding that matchup, but the fact that the SEC is the king of college football right now adds to the hysteria surrounding Tigers-Tide. And one thing that's not being discussed much is how these programs are so closely intertwined due to the Nick Saban connection. They've played some fantastic games since Saban returned to college five years ago, and that recent history serves as a nice backdrop to this contest.
But what really makes this game so special is the fact that people seem genuinely split down the middle as to which team is better. There is mass dissension even within the SI.com newsroom. That wasn't the case in '06, when host Ohio State entered the season as the consensus No. 1 team and was widely viewed as the favorite over Michigan. It wasn't even the case with the Florida-Alabama SEC title game two years ago, when both teams were undefeated but the Gators were still overwhelming favorites (wrongly so, it turned out). I have my hunches on this one, but I can see it going either way, and I can see the game playing out a million different ways. The only surprise would be if one team blows the other off the field.
Stewart, the upcoming Alabama-LSU game features defenses that are playing at an elite level. You could argue that the teams' starting defensive players will be all playing in the NFL. In your opinion has college football ever seen two better defenses square off? If so, what past matchup of defenses is similar to what we will see on November 5th?-- Jake Dawson, Reynolds, Ill.
We didn't realize it at the time, but the Ohio State-Miami national championship matchup in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl certainly fit the bill. By my unofficial count, 11 Ohio State and nine Miami defensive starters from that season were eventually drafted, including Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, Antrel Rolle, Chris Gamble and Mike Doss. In terms of regular-season games, this reminds me very much of those great Florida State-Miami games in the early '90s, when guys like Derrick Brooks, Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp were out there every year.
For much of the latter part of the 20th century, NFL teams gravitated to the Sunshine State for defensive talent. Right now the SEC is where it's at, and these two teams happen to be particularly loaded at present. I'm no NFL scout, but it would not surprise me if we look back in awe one day at the fact that guys like Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu were on the field at the same time.
Following the Buckeyes' incredible last-minute victory over Wisconsin, a game in which it appeared all hope was lost just seconds earlier, the sense of renewed hope and euphoria is quite strong. However, even as a lifelong Buckeyes fan, I feel a bit torn between the hope that this victory marks the turning point toward another Big Ten championship, and the fear that such success would lead to renewed contracts of the current coaching staff and AD. Is there any way that the Buckeyes would stick with the current staff if they end up in the Big Ten Championship game or BCS bowl?-- Ryan, Findlay, Ohio
I don't understand the conflict. Considering the mess he inherited and the hole he had to dig out of, Luke Fickell would have pulled off one of the most remarkable coaching jobs of the season if he wound up winning out and getting Ohio State to Indianapolis -- a feat that would require beating 8-1 Penn State and 7-1 Michigan. Why wouldn't you want to keep him?
I certainly understand the infatuation with Urban Meyer. But suppose Jim Tressel had just told someone about his players' tattoo friend and kept coaching for, say, another five years before handing the reins to Fickell. Buckeyes fans would have been completely cool with that. Instead Fickell unexpectedly got the job in May, had to coach a team whose three-year quarterback also left under dubious circumstances, had its best running back, receiver and tackle suspended, then -- shocker -- got off to a poor start. He certainly could have handled the quarterback situation better initially, though he couldn't control the fact that Braxton Miller got hurt against Nebraska. Now that Miller is progressing and Herron is back and shining, Fickell suddenly knows how to coach. Funny how that happens.
Ultimately, as with any Ohio State coach, it will probably come down to the Michigan game. There's no way Gene Smith keeps Fickell if he oversees the Buckeyes' first loss in eight years to the Wolverines (a real possibility this season). If however, he wins the Michigan game and beats Penn State as well, it's going to be a tough decision, because that would be one heck of a job audition.
Rich Rodriguez, Brian Kelly and Randy Edsall were the three best coaches in the Big East over the past several years. Now, RichRod is out of the Michigan job after three years, Kelly hasn't improved at Notre Dame and the Edsall hire seems to be a debacle at best. What does this say about the Big East? Maybe Greg Schiano knew what he was doing this whole time staying at Rutgers?-- Jay, College Park, Md.
The Big East has been very much like the Mountain West or MAC when it comes to coaches: a steppingstone league. Just like some mid-major coaches blossomed into successes (Urban Meyer, Gary Pinkel, Paul Johnson and Jim Grobe among others, with Brady Hoke showing potential), others flopped (Dan Hawkins, Dirk Koetter, Steve Kragthorpe). The jury's still out on Kelly, though he's certainly had a rougher second year than I expected. Rodriguez walked into a terrible situation, and though he shoulders much of the blame for his ill-fated tenure, I'd recommend reading the new book Three and Out for a good account of how so many people behind the scenes in Morgantown and Ann Arbor helped undermine him from Day 1. Edsall couldn't be off to a worse start, which is compounded by the fact that he was an unpopular hire to begin with. Maybe Schiano was indeed on to something.
But you also left two notable names off that list: Bobby Petrino and Mark Dantonio. Petrino coached Louisville to great success in both Conference USA and the Big East, and, after a brief detour with the Falcons, took Arkansas to a BCS bowl last year and is back in the Top 10 this year. And Dantonio, who laid the groundwork for Kelly at Cincinnati, is the best thing to happen to Michigan State football since Percy Snow. I think it shows that the ex-Big East coaches are no different than any others who take a step up: some succeed, some fail. It's not Big East specific.
I wrote you a few weeks before the season about the inevitable trending of phrases among analysts and announcers -- you suggested that "pushing the tempo" would become a common phrase and you nailed it. Now that we're in the thick of the season one that has caught my attention is various "pound for pound" comparisons. Are there any more that have risen to recognition in your eyes?-- Russell, Tallahassee, Fla.
It seems like we're hearing a lot more about "the edge." Pass-rushers are constantly pressuring quarterbacks from the edge. Explosive tailbacks are beating defensive backs to the edge. Once upon a time we referred to this as "turning the corner," but now it's all about the edge. You don't want to get beat on the edge ... or at the "point of attack."
When will the farce end? JoePa hasn't been a "coach" for years and performs no play-calling or coaching duties during a game. It can only be an ego drive to keep counting wins to his column rather than the true coaches. I await your apologist answer.-- Chris, Charleston, S.C.
Stewart, was the gratuitous JoePa shot really necessary? Do you really believe that he "may have less influence on the outcome than anyone in the stadium outside of the ushers and the sports writers?" Regardless of his current role, your statement is indefensible and he deserves better.-- Jon, State College, Pa.
Amazing how two different people can read the same column and come away with completely different impressions, isn't it? But that was kind of my point. JoePa deserves every morsel of praise and reflection when it comes to his sterling career and unparalleled impact on the sport. However, at some point we've got to stop tap dancing out of kindness and acknowledge a legitimate question: Should Paterno be fully recognized for breaking Eddie Robinson's record when he's been nothing more than a spectator like the rest of us for those eight wins this season? Yes, he's still involved in the day-to-day preparations, and he still holds the title of head coach, so anything Penn State does, good or bad, falls under his domain. But you have to be pretty detached from reality to believe he plays any active role in those Saturday wins by sipping hot chocolate in the press box.
I'm not saying there's a right or wrong answer. It's a touchy subject. But I think it's telling that, considering the magnitude, No. 409 didn't really garner that much coverage. It would seem disrespectful not to note the milestone, but a bit tone deaf to celebrate it as if Paterno were the driving force behind wins No. 401-409.
STOP predicting college football games. You are awful at it. How can you post 'Record last week: 4-6" and justify writing college football books. You of all people know it is near impossible to predict college football so STOP IT.-- Pavan, Guntur, India
It's unfortunate you chose to write this roughly 24 hours before I came within a Braxton Miller miracle of pitching a perfect game. I'm like the Georgia Tech of prognosticators. I'll lay an egg against Miami one week, then come back and knock off the No. 6 team in the country the next. You don't want me to stop. You want to see what happens next.
Stewart, we just finished week 9 of the season. What is the lowest ranking a team has had in the BCS poll at this point in a season and still played for the national title? I would think that the 10th on down would have no chance at this point, but just wondered what history has shown for those teams/fans still hanging on to hope.-- Andrew, Grantsville, Utah
Some seasons are 15 weeks, not 14, so I went by the sixth-to-last poll (usually Halloween weekend or Nov. 1 or 2). The lowest-ranked team at that juncture to reach the title game was No. 7 LSU in 2003, the last of six one-loss teams that sat behind undefeated Oklahoma. All but No. 2 USC lost again. So there's hope for you yet, current No. 7 Arkansas.
A lot has been made of Boise State's schedule this year (as always) but has anybody really addressed the issue of how well Boise State has scheduled in the nonconference (a.k.a., the games they actually chose to play)? Georgia (tied for first in the SEC East), Toledo (first place in the MAC), Nevada (first place in the WAC), Tulsa (tied for first in Conference USA) and Fresno State. Considering how hard it is for them to get BCS conference teams to play them on fair terms, is this pretty much the toughest schedule Boise State could have come up with?-- Alan Bushell, Belleville, Ontario
Because there are still so many other undefeated teams, and with all the attention right now on LSU-Alabama, I'm guessing few have even bothered to look at Boise State's schedule. We're so conditioned to bash it out of instinct. Many would be surprised to learn the Broncos have played a tougher schedule to date (according to both Sagarin and Jerry Palm's ratings) than Alabama and Stanford. Obviously that will soon change with the Tide playing LSU and the Cardinal playing Oregon. And one thing that really hurts Boise this year is the lack of a looming late-season game against a ranked opponent like it had last year with Nevada. Its three best remaining foes are TCU (6-2), San Diego State (4-3) and Wyoming (5-2), none of which are likely to be ranked come game time.
The Broncos are never going to win any strength of schedule arguments, but I do get annoyed when the critics insinuate they're voluntarily shying away from tougher competition. They only get to choose five of their opponents, and while there's obviously an element of luck involved, they did a pretty decent job this year. They played a respected SEC program in its backyard. There are no FCS teams on the slate. All five played in bowl games last year and at least four of them will again this year, several in better bowls.
A proposal: From now on, in lieu of overtime, a tie will be broken by a game of Chardee MacDennis.-- Brock, Spartanburg, S.C.
Proposal accepted. No puzzles, no puzzles, no puzzles, no ...
What does the BCS computer system see USC as? Since it cannot be ranked by the coaches or Harris polls, are they still put into the computer rankings? USC must have some sort of ranking because of Stanford's rise in the standings on Sunday.-- Cameron Palmer, Davis, Calif.
The Trojans are still included when calculating all six computer ratings used by the BCS so that their opponents get proper credit for playing them, but they are not included in the actual rankings. So, for example, if Massey or Billingsley determines that USC ranks 23rd this week and Texas 24th, then Stanford would be credited in their rankings with beating the No. 23 team. However, when compiling the overall BCS standings, USC is eliminated from those rankings, and Texas rises to No. 23 in its place.
What is your problem? The second sentence of your JoePa piece is so critical and condescending that it is downright rude. I read your asinine diatribes because they are out there and you do know how to write, but it is sad that you are such a smug little man. And you are a little man, both figuratively and physically. It is obvious that you've not played a down of football. You should be ashamed of yourself for the way that you have treated and are treating an icon of college football. Yes, he does need to step down, but he does not need back handed denigration from pissants such as you. By the way, start to work out a little and get rid of that gut, you out of shape little turd.-- J.P. Stoshak, Warrior Run, Pa.
Five minutes later...
My apologies. I was so angry after reading the first few sentences that I did not finish your piece. When I did, just now, I was pleasantly surprised to find that your closing statements very much mirror my own. Your compliments to Coach Paterno were on the money and quite fitting. Again, my apologies for jumping the gun.-- J.P. Stoshak, Warrior Run, Pa.
I love my job.