Poor Execution Costs Alabama a Possible 3rd Straight National Title Bid, and Low Victory Margins Emphasize Parity – Now Florida State, Ohio State and Auburn Top the BCS Standings

For Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban, today was over yesterday. In an absolute pitiful finish, his #1 ranked Crimson Tide managed to lose a game they could have won 3 times in the last 6 minutes and 23 seconds. Picture this:

At 10:42 left and the score tied at 21-all, Alabama has a 1st-and-10 on their 1-yard line. Rather than run on first down for some space to operate, AJ McCarron is able to pass to Amari Cooper for 99 yards as an Auburn cornerback is taken to school on a stop-and-go play. So ‘Bama is now up by 7, 28-21.

The first missed opportunity happens with 6:23 left and Alabama on Auburn’s 13-yard line with a 3rd-and-1 as T. J. Yeldon is stopped dead in his tracks for no gain. This is because the Alabama offensive line gets no push off the ball. Now it’s 4th-and-1 and they go to Yeldon again and, to Auburn’s credit, they stop him again for no gain. Now the Tigers are thinking, hell, we can win this game.

The second opportunity comes at 2:32 as Alabama’s Cade Foster misses a 44-yard field goal attempt that would have put the Crimson Tide up, 31-21, making it a two possession game. By missing Foster achieves a perfect, negative trifecta for the day. His 3rd attempt is his 3rd failure after missing earlier attempts at 44 and 33 yards. With the miss, Auburn players have mixed feelings between being overjoyed or ecstatic.

With the door open, a blown coverage leads to a Nick Marshall-to-Sammie Coates 39-yard touchdown with a nary an Alabama player in sight and daylight ahead. Even the safety is a step short in making the stop on an angle. Now it’s tied at 28-all.

The third opportunity comes after the kickoff. Alabama has 25 seconds to win the game. When Yeldon runs for 24 yards and out of bounds at the Auburn 39-yard line, there is 1 second left. Nick Saban, realizing that Cade Foster couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn on this day, brings in redshirt freshman Adam Griffin to try a 57-yard field goal.

Griffin is game, but way short on the try and, Auburn’s Chris Davis is in the end zone. He catches the failed kick 9 yards deep in the end zone and promptly returns it for a 109-yard touchdown and the 34-28 victory with no time left on the clock.

And where were the Alabama players looking while Davis was running? Probably at the failed field goal attempt, and feeling like they were hit by a stun gun. Who was awake and wanted this game more? It sure as hell wasn’t Alabama. Hence three chances to win and three missed opportunities. 

To sum it up: Nick Saban did not lose this game for Alabama. It is squarely on the backs of the players, who managed to get penalties at inopportune times, to spend time in the end zone trading punches with an Auburn player, and generally not giving 100% through an egregious lack of focus.

The Crimson Tide players didn’t lose much. Just a chance at 3 consecutive national titles, and 4 national titles in 5 years. They may have gone down as one the greatest teams in college football history. But not now. Now they will be watching the national championship game on television, or doing what they did in this game, which is screwing off when they should have been paying attention, being focused and getting the job done when they could.

Parity among top-ranked and unranked teams coupled with easy strength of schedules make it clear that there is no clearly dominate team this season, including Florida State. Even the Seminoles have run up a perfect 12-0 record playing the 66th easiest strength of schedule among the top 23 teams in Sagarin’s Ratings.

Louisville (10-1) is rated 24th by Sagarin and has played the 116th easiest schedule among 124 major college teams. It’s really not much to text or email about.

So here is what the rest of the 14th week looks like:

No less than 14 AP Top 25 teams suffered lame victories as ranked teams that could not beat unranked teams by at least 21 points, or ranked opponents by at least 14 points. They included:

–6 #1 Alabama (now 11-1) ended up beating itself at Auburn (11-1) as the Tigers upset the Crimson Tide, 34-28, to ruin Alabama’s shot at a 3rd consecutive national title, and 4th possible title in 5 years.

+1 #3 Ohio State (now a perfect 12-0 and only 1 of 3 undefeated teams left) needed a final play stop on a 2-point, attempt-to-win conversion by Michigan to slide by the 7-5 Wolverines, 42-41. What an undefeated team that could well play against Florida State for the national championship is doing giving up 41 points to a 7-5, not-so-good Michigan team is really questionable. It simply demonstrates how much parity between 1-A teams exists this year.

+7 #5 Missouri (11-1 and at home) put together a 14-zip 3rd quarter to get by Johnny Manziel and the #19 Texas A&M Aggies (8-4), 28-21. Johnny Football is no longer running wild; the Tigers held him to one touchdown pass and 21 yards rushing on 11 carries (or less than 2 yards a carry). You can be good for awhile and then teams begin to figure out how to stop your game. Amen.  

–14 #6 Clemson (10-2) on-the-road was upset by #10 South Carolina (10-2), 31-17. This was not an upset as the Gamecocks wish they were better, and the Tigers think they are better. The real deal is the Tigers are not better, and South Carolina isn’t either. Four of the Gamecocks 10 wins were by a total of 18 points.

+7 #8 Stanford (10-2 and at home) managed to get by an 8-4 Notre Dame team, 27-20. The Cardinal will need to do better when they face the #13 Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe in an attempt for Stanford to win its second straight Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth. Arizona State (10-2) has recently been kicking butt and taking names. 

+3 #9 Baylor (10-1 and overrated all year) looked a whole lot less like a wunderkind in beating a 4-8 TCU (Texas Christian University) team, 41-38. If you think for a minute that Baylor being the #1 scoring offense and the #1 total offense in the country is an accurate representation of the Bears, you know very little about major college football. Any team that gives up 38 points to a 4-8 team is not really that good. Eventually, Baylor will prove it when they play a team with a defense. 

+11 #11 Michigan State (now 11-1 with the nation’s best total defense and 4th best scoring defense) held Minnesota (8-4) to a field goal, but could only put 14 points on the board in winning, 14-3. That’s the Spartans: a lot of defense and not much offense.

+1 #12 Oregon (now 10-2 and falling faster than a 100-pound sack of flour thrown off a 100-foot silo) at home in Duckville had to hang on for dear life to defeat in-state rival Oregon State, 36-35. Say what you want, but when Chip Kelly and his 33-3 Pac-12 Conference record left Oregon last year to coach the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League, his Duck mystique may have left with him.

–7 #14 Wisconsin (now 9-3 and at home) managed to get upset by a 7-5 Penn State team, 31-24. The Badgers have looked good and bad all season, and end the campaign with an unexpected defeat. Penn State came out and won the 3rd quarter, 10-0, and that WAS the game.

+4 #15 LSU (a not-as-competitive 9-3 at home) could only beat a 3-9 Arkansas team by 4 points, 31-27. At LSU this year, the Tiger is tougher than the team.

–10 #16 Fresno State on-the-road (who had been undefeated and overrated all season at 10-0 going into this game) finally had its easy schedule catch up to it, being upset 62-52 by a 6-6 San Jose State team. This game also qualified as the best No-Defense Game of the Week (114 total points of excitement and lousy football similar to gym-rat, no-defense basketball by wannabe Michael Jordans).

+3 #17 Central Florida (another 10-1 wannabe wonder at home) could only beat a 2-9 South Florida team by 3, 23-20. Hardly impressive at best, and clearly indicative that Central Florida’s record is better than its team.

+19 #18 Northern Illinois (1 of only 3 unbeaten teams left at 12-0) could only beat an extremely lousy 1-11 Western Michigan team by 19 points.

+2  #24 Duke (a surprising 10-2 this season) needed a 4th-quarter field goal to down a 6-6 North Carolina tam, 27-25. Duke’s reward for compiling a 10-2 mark this year will be to play undefeated Florida State (12-0) for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) title. My guess it this will not be a slam dunk for the Blue Devils. The Seminoles are just a little bit better in football than basketball, well, maybe a LOT better.

Only 3 teams among the AP Top 25 registered strong victories by ranked teams over another ranked opponent by at least 14 points, or strong victories by ranked teams over unranked opponents by at least 21 points.

+30 #2 Florida State on-the-road won the last 3 quarters 34-7 and the game 37-7 to easily beat in-state rival Florida (4-8). The Seminoles (12-0) will now play the Duke Blue Devils (10-2) for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship and a berth in the national championship game.

+37 #13 Arizona State (10-2 and at home) made short work of in-state rival Arizona (7-5), winning 58-21. The Sun Devils will now face Stanford (also 10-2) for the Pac-12 championship.

+21 #22 UCLA (9-3) on-the-road crushed in-state rival #23 Southern California (9-4), 35-14. 

A tip of the hat this week to poor Southern Mississippi, who was winless at 0-11 and behind a 1-10 University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) team 21-13 at the half, but decided that enough was enough, and came roaring back NASCAR style to win the 2nd half, 49-6, and the game, 62-27. Now that’s the RIGHT way to end a disastrous season.

A second tip of the hat to the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors who were winless at 0-11 and held on to beat Army (3-8), 49-42, for their first win of the season. They now start next season with a 1-game winning streak.

With the wins by Southern Mississippi and Hawaii, only two teams—Miami of Ohio in the Mid-American Conference, and Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference—were winless at 0-12 for the season.

A runner-up for the No-Defense Game of Week was the Iowa State Cyclones (3-9 and gusting) over the West Virginia Mountaineers (4-8 and rumored to be minus a few teeth), 52-44 (a total of 96 points).

In a final note, Washington’s Head Coach Steve Sarkisian will not be answering questions about why his team has gone 7-6 four years in-a-row. That would be because the Huskies beat in-state rival Washington State 27-17 in the Apple Cup in Seattle. Washington finished the year at 8-4; Washington State was 6-6 under Head Coach Mike Leach after going 3-9 last year.

Washington’s Bishop Sankey, 1 of the top 3 running backs in the nation, ran for 200 yards on 34 carries (5.88 yards per carry) for 1,775 yards for the season, breaking Corey Dillon’s 17-year-old, single-season rushing record. Sankey also notched his 35th career touchdown in the process, breaking Napoleon Kaufman’s single-season record of 34. Sankey has yet to play in this year’s bowl game, which will likely increase the records he now holds. 

This weekend we learn who wins conference championship games and has dibs on the best of the BCS bowls after the national championship contestants. D-Day will be Sunday, December 8. That is when assignments for all 31 bowl games will be decided.

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