Bulldogs Push the Tide in the Trenches

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We’ve had a few surprises of late in college football, and they point to bigger surprises to come.  Stanford upset Oregon at home after many thought the Ducks would play Alabama for the national title.  Then came Southern Cal’s shocker over the Cardinal, leaving the Ducks as the favorite to win the Pac-12.

The power struggle on the West Coast has opened a window for other unbeatens such as Ohio State and Baylor.

Meanwhile, No. 1 Alabama continues undefeated but far from unchallenged.

Last weekend the Tide traveled to Starkville to play Mississippi State.  What most thought would be an easy win became a four-quarter struggle that ended 20-7.  A.J. McCarron threw two interceptions and posted his second-lowest QBR of the season.  If it weren’t for Mississippi State turnovers in the red zone, the Tide might have folded.

State exposed a weakness that few thought Alabama had.  Conventional wisdom is that Bama can be beaten only by vertical passing to exploit an average secondary.  Texas A&M came close with that approach.  LSU tried, with less success.

But the Bulldogs forced the issue in the trenches, battling Alabama’s offensive line and pressuring McCarron to make bad decisions.  Mississippi State trailed 10-7 midway through the third quarter.  The Bulldogs were bidding for an upset into the fourth quarter, until QB Tyler Russell left with a shoulder injury.

“They played very physical,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.  “We couldn’t control the line of scrimmage.”

This brand of smash-mouth football, combined with an accurate passing game, could be the perfect recipe for the Tide’s undoing.  Auburn has the essential ingredients to mix into the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30.

Alabama will have its hands full with deep-throwing Nick Marshall and the Tigers on the road.  Yes, Auburn escaped on a miracle play last weekend, but the Tigers’ potent rushing attack coupled with the spread offense will be a nightmare for Saban and Alabama.

I have Auburn upsetting the Tide in the best college football game of the regular season.

Now let’s take a look at the Ohio State Buckeyes.  They have won 22 straight games but are likely to see the streak end in the Big 10 championship game.

The Michigan State Spartans, one of the few college teams that can play defense, will overcome QB Braxton Miller, who has been off his game all season, after most assumed he would contend for the Heisman Trophy.  Ohio State has overused running back Carlos Hyde.  His fatigue will show against a strong defensive front.  Sparty rolls to the Rose Bowl.

Last, my national championship dark horse, the Baylor Bears.  They have a tough game this weekend in Stillwater, but they will be up to the task.

Baylor, which runs as well as it passes, lost its No. 1 runner, Lache Seastrunk, against Oklahoma.  So Shock Linwood rushed 29 times for 187 yards against Texas Tech.  Players like these will keep Baylor unbeaten through the regular season.

Florida State plays no one on its way to the ACC title.  After Duke’s win over Miami last weekend, the Blue Devils will likely face FSU in the ACC championship game.  The Seminoles should go unbeaten and into the national title game.

While Baylor’s offense is the best in the nation, Florida State is the most complete football team in all the land.  My crystal ball has Florida State beating out Baylor for the real Crystal Football.



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