Never has the need for a playoff at college football’s highest level seemed as dire as in this season, the last before we’ll finally get one. A week into November, each of the country’s five most powerful conferences still fields one undefeated team. These squads range in pedigree from the bluest blood in existence to the gaudiest of new money.1 Each has at least a plausible shot at finishing the regular season with a perfect record. And in Week 11, three have plausible shots at being knocked out of the race with a loss to a high-caliber conference opponent — which brings us to our question: How would you rather miss out on the title game?
Whether the BCS is gifted with two undefeated automatic-qualifying teams by early December or has to sort out who among Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, Ohio State, or Baylor most deserves the chance to play for the final crystal football, we’re moving on to the playoff system next year. No amount of chaotic tangling or orderly final solutions will speed that up or stop it from happening. But if it were your team, and it might be, get ghoulish for a minute and wonder: Would you rather lose a game and be out of it, or have the door shut on your beloved program’s 12-0, 13-0, whatever-and-0 season? Which could you live with the least?
All times Eastern.
On Your Marquee: No. 13 LSU at no. 1 Alabama
The Crimson Tide’s annual game against the team Nick Saban was coaching when he won his first national title is a yearly rite of hollering in the SEC West. It’s being eclipsed somewhat in the run-up to Week 11 by Oregon’s and Baylor’s Thursday-night games, but Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, the Tide and Tigers will have the 8 p.m. slot largely to themselves (CBS). The Bayou Bengals carry two losses into Tuscaloosa, both by field goal margins, one to Georgia in September, one to Ole Miss in October. The Tigers’ oft-feared defense was low on returning starters and hasn’t been the customary sure-thing shutdown threat this season; Alabama’s defense, meanwhile, has casually swatted away all comers from teams that don’t have Johnny Manziel on the roster. The Tide are favored by a little less than two touchdowns.
So why are we flying straight home from Oregon-Stanford and making fast tracks to the Yellowhammer State? Since Saban’s return to the SEC, this rivalry has established itself well enough that “because it’s LSU-Bama” is a valid reason in itself.
Other mostly reasonable reasons: Because these games run close, and we can’t stomach the thought of missing out. Because we want to see how far John Chavis has progressed with his charges since they got lit up in Athens. Because we want to see how the Tide’s latest permutation in the secondary handles LSU’s fine receivers. Because we want to see what happens to the first guy who asks Saban whether he’d rather coach the Texas Longhorns or the Dallas Cowboys, no reason, just hypothesizin’. Because Les Miles remains the only coach who’s beaten a Saban-led Bama squad more than once, and because sooner or later Miles will coach a game that ends in a score of octopus to armadillo. Because this doesn’t look like a world-beating LSU team, and given what we know of LSU, that probably means this is the time when one ought to be on one’s guard the very most. Beating Alabama at this point is akin to circumventing natural law, to fighting gravity or the onset of winter or (forgive us) the pull of the tides. And who has a better chance, who is a more entertaining foil for Saban than this guy?
Or the Tigers will get road-graded, world without end, amen. Alabama hasn’t played an undefeated regular season since the Tide’s first BCS title under Saban rule, in 2009 (this is a uniquely Alabamian problem), but needs only to best LSU, Mississippi State,2 Auburn, and whichever three-limbed SEC East team drags its carcass to Atlanta in order to march into a third consecutive national title game.
Now please enjoy this video of driving violations featuring Miles and Kaylee Hartung.
But First …
Y’all remember that there are two (2) top-10 games happening TONIGHT (Thursday), right? Go read up on those, then come back and get ready for Saturday. If you click away before the part about the Friday games of unknowable sadness, that’s perfectly understandable.
Q&A: Tony Levine
In his second full season at the helm,3 Tony Levine’s Houston Cougars have bounced back from a 5-7 campaign in 2012 to begin 2013 at 7-1. With their only loss coming to BYU in mid-October, the Cougars are currently tied with Central Florida atop the AAC standings — and are about to meet the Knights in Orlando for a game that’ll play a major part in shaping the new conference’s first title race.
So, one of our favorite questions in this series is to ask guys just how unprepared they were for the onslaught of administrative work when they took their first head coaching gigs.
There’s things that come up that you were prepared for, and there’s certainly things that arise that can be a first for you. I’ve said this a couple times: To do what we do, you can’t go to college and get a degree in head football coaching. You’re trying to kind of form your philosophy, but in Year 2, things have slowed down, if you will. I’ve reorganized some things behind the scenes within our program, made a couple of changes among our assistant coaches, and really like the direction of our program at this point. It’s certainly more comfortable as a head coach in Year 2.
One of the best stories we got out of this question was Mark Helfrich having to pick out paint colors for Oregon’s new facility. Have you been that heavily involved with the process as Houston goes about getting a new stadium?
Yes. And when I look back on Year 1, I remember one of the first months that I became the head football coach here, our director of operations came into my office one morning and said, “Coach, I need to ask you a question. Next year on Saturday mornings for breakfast, do we want oatmeal or cold cereal?” I’m not making that up. A year from now, they’re not asking me those questions, if that makes sense. For the most part, they know the answers to those questions because they received them a year ago. The transition, I think, getting the assistant coaches and the support staff and everybody on the same page, takes a lot of time, and really takes up more of your time in Year 1 than you can anticipate. And when you look at a new stadium, absolutely. They’re asking me for my input, and I’ve never built a stadium before. But when we’re talking about locker-room design and different types of material for the lockers, and things like that, they are asking me for my input.
Is it too early to ask for some comparisons between John O’Korn and some of Houston’s previous quarterbacks?
Well, I think he’s certainly got some qualities that I’ll say Case Keenum had, and has. I don’t like to compare student-athletes. I don’t think it can be fair at times. John O’Korn, what a lot of people probably forget, what some people nationally don’t even know, is that as a junior in high school, he was the backup quarterback at St. Thomas Aquinas. So this is the middle of his second year as a starting quarterback at any level. But we knew he had a chance to be special when we recruited him, and I would say he’s probably exceeded our expectations to this point, in terms of how well he’s playing so soon.
But he has. Obviously he’s got the size, at 6-4, 205 pounds. He’s got the arm. But he’s got the intangibles that you see in successful quarterbacks. The leadership qualities, the poise, the work ethic. So when you talk about those type of intangibles, Case Keenum has those. [O'Korn is] comparable in those respects, and he’s going to be fun to watch. In his career here, he’s still going to have somewhere between 45 and 50 games left at the University of Houston. So as quickly as he’s improved to this point, it’ll be fun to watch him develop over the next three and a half years as well.
What’s been the biggest difference for Houston on defense since last year? The Cougars had a rough go of it defensively last season, and so far this year it looks like they’ve really turned it around.
Well, we’ve got a new defensive coordinator this year in David Gibbs, and I give a lot of credit to Coach Gibbs and our defensive staff. We’ve simplified what we did defensively last season. We’re still aggressive, but we’re doing the little things, I think, as good as we ever have, and in terms of tackling and creating turnovers. So the kids, I think because we’ve simplified, certainly have a greater understanding of what they’re supposed to do, in terms of alignment, gap responsibility, coverage responsibility, which is allowing them to play faster. We’ve got great speed on our team, and defensively at times we could be a little bit undersized, but we make up for that in our ability to tackle and our ability to run.
Have you made any more saxophone appearances this year?
I have not this year. I didn’t know they were filming it. It was just a spontaneous action as I went over to encourage our marching band, and then I asked somebody to borrow a saxophone. But no, I have not. That may change, though, come December.
Houston and no. 21 UCF kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.
• Most potential intradivision weirdness in one place: No. 11 Miami is coming off a walloping in Tallahassee, while Virginia Tech is riding a two-game losing streak against Duke and Boston College. Miami still leads the ACC Coastal by one game for the privilege of having to play Florida State again. We see no way this could end disastrously. (7 p.m., ESPN)
• Most guys named Kyle in one place: You know how that one Wolverine movie, the one with Liev Schreiber, was 80 percent composed of shots of him and Hugh Jackman running toward one another in slow motion and then leaping, mouths foaming and arms outstretched? Right. That’s BYU at no. 24 Wisconsin, only everybody is named Kyle. (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
• Worst spread of an SEC trend: Expect to see redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong start again for Nebraska at Michigan in place of Taylor Martinez, who is reportedly suffering from an abdominal strain this week along with a couple dozen other injuries. Meanwhile, Michigan’s Devin Gardner still has mobility in all four limbs and professes to be ready to face the Huskers, which is moderately amazing after the hurt Michigan State put on the Wolverines last week. It’s November, and it’s a punishing game, and this is a suggestion he himself would surely not welcome, but we kinda want to see Gardner take it easy and maybe watch this one from a comfortable lawn chair with an umbrella drink. He won’t. But we’d understand if he did. (3:30 p.m., ABC)
• Most welcome odds: Lookit that! Minnesota’s finally favored, and it’s about time, even if it’s only by a field goal at most. The Golden Gophers host Penn State this weekend; head coach Jerry Kill will attend the game, but will continue to monitor the action from the booth. (Noon, ESPN2)
• Best chance for a streak snapping: Southern Miss (0-8) has lost 20 in a row and Louisiana Tech (3-5) is pretty bad. Maybe? Are you suggesting we watch this? Upon further review, maybe this doesn’t belong in a viewing guide. (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, not for the squeamish)
• Best nightcap: No. 16 Fresno State’s November schedule is overrun with potential pointsplosions, and this week’s trip to Wyoming may prove the pointiest of the bunch. (10:15 p.m., ESPN2)
• Who blinks first, no. 19 UCLA’s linebackers or Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey? We’ll give an edge to the Bruins’ marauding band of tackling horrors, if only because there are more of them than there are of him? Seriously: Carey’s averaging more than 150 yards per game, and there are about to be some very mean people chasing after him. Along with the Fresno game, this contest is the best Week 11 argument for staying up till Sunday. (10 p.m., ESPN)
• Where’s Johnny? Making what’s likely to be his final start at Kyle Field, against Mississippi State. Following a Week 12 bye, the currently 15th-ranked Aggies will close out the regular season on the road at LSU in Week 13 and at Missouri in Week 14. (3:30 p.m., CBS)
• Where’s Jameis? Winston-Salem! But that means … Oh, yes. No. 2 Florida State and Wake Forest at the crack of noon on ABC, y’all. Oh, dear. What are the Demon Deacons’ chances of scoring an offensive touchdown?
• Wait. What? Hmm? Boston College is playing at New Mexico State. Hey, neato. (3:30 p.m., ESPN3)
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When asked what Baylor would miss from Seastrunk, Briles says “about 130 yards a game.”
— Ben Kercheval (@BenKercheval) November 4, 2013