Simple science for a sweet Sugar Bowl

Wednesday November 16th, 2011

Stewart Mandel's latest bowl projections presuppose LSU and Oklahoma State winning out and producing a BCS national championship game with great potential for intrigue. Set the Bayou Bengals' elite defense against the Cowboys' score-anywhere offense to see which cracks first and worst, and discover whether the LSU offense or Oklahoma State defense winds up being a game-breaking liability. Altogether, an entirely pleasing prospect.

But he projected another matchup that I can't get out of my head: A bizarro Sugar Bowl collision between current No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Houston. It's haves and have-nots. The SEC powerhouse and the upstart from Conference USA. But more crucially: It's the statistical No. 1 defense and No. 1 offense. And I really, really want to see this game.

It's very important that you not interpret this as a personal slight to the team you want to see in the Sugar Bowl instead, even though this is the internet. I'm not shilling for either side as an SEC homer or tireless trumpeter of non-AQ teams. It's just that the crudest science experiments can produce the most entertaining results. The baking soda-and-vinegar volcano, overfilled. The Diet Coke-and-Mentos bottle spray. The shaken ant farm. No. 1 and No. 1. It's elementally enticing.

We've seen this game before, sort of, and it didn't end well for the plucky team. On New Year's Day 2008, Georgia and Hawaii met in New Orleans, and it ended in a 41-10 Warriors shellacking. Colt Brennan was sacked eight times and committed five turnovers. There are size and speed mismatches along the Houston offensive and Alabama defensive lines. But don't you want to see what Case Keenum looks like under pressure? Or Alabama's secondary facing a quarterback used to having his way? The best competition they've faced, respectively, has been Louisiana Tech and Tyler Wilson.

A look at the national rankings of the offenses faced by Alabama: 119 (Kent State), 88 (Penn State),  101 (North Texas), 26 (Arkansas), 98 (Florida), 99 (Vanderbilt), 113 (Ole Miss), 96 (Tennessee), 79 (LSU) and 76 (Mississippi State). And then at the defenses bested by Houston: 87 (UCLA), 102 (North Texas, again), 57 (Louisiana Tech), 98 (UTEP), 58 (East Carolina), 97 (Marshall), T-115 (Rice), the other 115 (UAB) and 89 (Tulane). You say Houston has a terrible schedule? You're right. Alabama would be a quality opponent! You make Ralph Russo's point that the SEC's having a down year on offense and it's making the league's storied defenses look better? You might have a point. Try the Tide against Houston. Let's dial it up, and watch what happens. It's a ready-made storyline for twinkly pregame television pieces. Red Team plays football like this! Other Red Team plays football like that! This wouldn't cost the loser like scheduling a home-and-home would. But really, in the spirit of the kid who shook the class ant farm, in the most simplified terms, with no agenda, I just want to know. Don't you, even a little bit? Isn't that why they play the games? I thought this was America That is all.

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