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The Week That Was

Eric Francis/Getty Images Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead

Can LSU Run the Table?

Plus other scenarios for BCS chaos

Hunk of the Week (Double-Date Edition)

Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez — Backfield, University of Nebraska

Height: 5-11 (Rex) / 6-1 (Taylor)
Weight: 210 (Rex) / 200 (Taylor)
Hair: Gets in the way when ramming things with his head (Rex) / Aerodynamic (Taylor) Eyes: If you see the whites, you’re about to get hit (Rex) / Squinting against wind
shear (Taylor)
Hometown: Plano, Texas (Rex) / Corona, Calif. (Taylor)
Style of Offense: Well, running.
Personal Style: Dopey blue-jeaned politeness (Rex) / East L.A. sneaky-fast (Taylor)
Next Opponent: Michigan

BFFs of Lincoln,

You gals don’t agree on anything, but you’ve been attached at the hip since middle school, when only one of you made the cheerleading squad and the other quit without a second thought. And then in high school, when only one of you had a date for Homecoming, she ditched Jimmy Susterin and you gals went with each other. You huddled together in the stands Friday night, and then Saturday got your picture taken at the Marriott in dresses that couldn’t have been more different. (Remember the photographer’s face?) You have hair down your back, and she has a pixie cut. She likes curry and pho, and give you a good ol’ cheeseburger. You’re a finance major, and she’s into Milton and Donne. You’re a Pilates fiend, and she’s never been to a gym a day in her life. What an afternoon, when you both learned you were accepted to University of Nebraska. And it’s been everything you’d hoped for — except for the guys. Both of you have had your flings since arriving on campus, but where are the guys you would want to call your boyfriend? I hear you, ladies, and I’m here to help. I’ve got a one-two punch sure to result in manageable third downs and unmanageable ear-to-ear grins. Taylor is tall and dark, and though his ball handling is deceptive, his heart is plain and true. Rex is salt-of-the-earth and rugged, and as sure as he’ll always follow his blockers he’ll never cut out on you. (That rhymed! I’m a poet! Like William Shakespeare or Tupac!) You girls combine style and substance, and these boys are bringing speed and power. You and Rex will keep her and Taylor grounded, and she and Taylor will keep you and Rex trying new things. Fancy passing attacks don’t work in the Midwestern cold, and neither does being single. So how about a road trip to Ann Arbor? Better start packing right this minute, you with your five-piece Gucci set, one piece practically just for makeup, and she with that same old beat-up duffel bag.

Unnamed Portion of the Post, During Which the Outlook Concerning My Hope That Somebody New Is Invited to the National Title Game Is Assessed

Stanford — Ah, well. What I’d like to do here is give Oregon a genuine compliment or three. It’s always ready to play in big games and has a boatload of weapons and makes offensive mastery look easy. Chip Kelly should be Coach of the Year each year he remains a head coach, just for putting that offense on the field. We’ve all seen a no-huddle, a hurry-up, or what have you — what Oklahoma can do, for instance — but the rate at which Oregon can get off the next play is something different. The camera folks can’t even keep up. It’s hardly enough time for guys to get on their feet. That’s coaching. And how about that nutso two-point conversion in the first quarter? Watching Oregon pull that particular prank made me, an SEC guy, sympathetic to the complaints of unimaginative offense that rang out from certain corners of the country after a Game of the Century in which no touchdowns were scored. It’s no secret how boring — how, I don’t know, cynical — I find Nick Saban’s offense this season, and it makes me sad that the one time he and Jim McElwain got creative (the famous Eric Reid interception) it bit them in the asses. Now they’ll never ever do anything surprising again. At least not this season. The fact is that watching Oregon take apart Stanford at The Farm made me that much more impressed with what LSU has done this season. It played the best defense in the country at Alabama — and according to the home team’s preferred style — and it won. The Tigers faced the best spread running offense in the country — the game wound up a wild, Ducks-style melee — and LSU won that, too.

This Oregon-Stanford game muddied the BCS pond for sure. Balancing above the pond on a tightrope is Oklahoma State, and if it loses concentration during Bedlam and falls in with the rest of the sullied masses … man. I have no bone-deep problem with a rematch for the BCS title, but the question is, a rematch with who? Or whom? Alabama lost AT HOME. It’s true the Tide have a dominant defense, but also true that if they can’t push you around on the line of scrimmage, their offense is going mostly nowhere. LSU may be the only team that can stand up to them in the trenches, but LSU, at present, is the team they’d be playing. Oregon lost to the Tigers in a virtual road game, and scored on them. Touchdowns. Oregon could have won that game, and it could’ve beaten Auburn last year. (Of course, what us SEC homers say is that SEC teams do so well in the Big One because they’ve already played a bunch of games like that during the regular season.)

I’ve come to accept the flawed system that rules college football. If it’s a rematch, it’s a rematch. My biggest trouble with that scenario is that I find it unfair to the team that won during the season, but hey, bringing home the Big Ornament ain’t supposed to be easy or fair. If you got to beat a team twice, you got to beat a team twice. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve mellowed in my old age, but I’m hoping Oklahoma State and LSU win out and keep everything simple. A decade ago, I would’ve been rooting for chaos, but the fact is that chaos has happened before and nothing major changed, and if it happens this year, nothing will change. The sobering thought is that this rematch-with-who-or-is-it-whom chaos is relatively simple compared to other breeds of chaos that are still highly possible. One more compliment for Oregon, though possibly a backhanded one: That safety John Boyett is the real deal, a joy to watch, and he’s the difference between Oregon’s defense being pretty good and really good.

Oklahoma State — All systems go. If having a mature quarterback is important as late-season pressure builds, OSU should be OK. Brandon Weeden is the same age as the guy who hired me for my current teaching job. The rest of the team is listening to the Cool Kids and Brandon’s still on Busta Rhymes. He’s like a coach on the field. And he’s like a coach off the field in that he can credibly discuss 401(k)s and lower-back pain.

Boise State — Got clipped by TCU. This was a hell of a game, and a welcome alternative to the curb-stomping Georgia inflicted on Auburn. As we all know, Boise never truly belonged on this list, because it’s never going to the Big Game. Probably even less chance once it’s in the Big East, which I just got word is going after University of Hanoi next. I can’t believe Boise didn’t go with the camo against the Horned Frogs. I don’t mean military camo, I mean when they wear socks and pants and jerseys and helmets and wristbands the exact blue of the turf and their defensive backs blend in with the background. Could’ve gotten three picks instead of one. What are you guys trying to prove? If you have an advantage like that, use it for all big home games.

Arkansas — Developing situation. Let’s assume the Razorbacks beat Mississippi State in Little Rock this weekend. Let’s assume that. Where will that leave us? We all want Oklahoma State to play LSU because the Cowboys can spread the Tigers out and gain some yards on them, like West Virginia and Oregon did. If you don’t spread those guys out, you’re bashing a softer brick against a harder brick. I agree with that. So does that mean we think Arkansas has a chance against the Bayou Bengals next weekend? The Hogs can spread ’em out with the best. They don’t have an individual pass-catcher in Justin Blackmon’s league, but aside from the Detroit Lions, who does?

What Arkansas does have is an extremely dangerous overall receiving corps and a heck of a quarterback. And its defense has seemed less bad than Oklahoma State’s for much of the season. I’m not wanting to cast aspersions on the Razorbacks’ and Cowboys’ defenses right after they allowed only seven and six points, respectively, but it’s common knowledge their defenses aren’t real good. Arkansas shut down a team in Tennessee that attempts a straightforward running attack, which seems more relevant in terms of playing LSU than Oklahoma State’s stifling the Red Raiders. Neither of them will be able to stop LSU from pounding the ball down their throats, so what it comes down to (and what it came down to for Oregon) is can you match LSU score for score without turning the ball over? The Tigers are going to plow a tailback into the end zone a time or two, and Rueben Randle’s going to score. Now, Arkansas, can you play the kind of high-risk ball it’ll take to outscore those purple and yellow bullies without turning the ball over or getting important skill people hurt?

An LSU loss, either in next week’s game or in the Georgia Dome (it’s safe this week: Ole Miss) against a Georgia squad that finally played well last weekend and finally looks to be putting the talent together, and any chaos already discussed in this post becomes minor. As I’ve heard it explained, if Arkansas somehow defeats LSU, Alabama likely goes to the SEC championship game. Watch GameDay. They’ll explain. And hopefully they can shed some light on what happens if the no. 1 team (LSU) suddenly becomes a one-loss team that has defeated the two best-looking other one-loss teams (Alabama and Oregon), while one of those one-loss teams (Alabama) beat head-to-head the team (Arkansas) that beat the original no. 1 team (LSU) and caused it to be a one-loss team in the first place. And then Oklahoma State could lose to Oklahoma and that would make them all one-loss teams, and the only team that wouldn’t have lost to one of the other teams in the aforementioned mix would be the Sooners, because they lost to freaking Texas Tech at home. And then there are Clemson and Virginia Tech, and no one wants to talk about them. Gracious.


Nebraska at Michigan — This is a late-season tilt between storied programs both in the midst of rebuilding processes that are going pretty damn well, and it’s also a break from the BCS Championship mess, and it’s also something to focus on in the Big Ten besides a recent scandal at once-thought-to-be-squeaky-clean Penn State that makes the less-recent scandal at never-thought-to-be-squeaky-clean Ohio State not even worth mentioning. Neither Pelini nor Hoke want to get out-toughed in this one. It’s going to be cold. I don’t need to check the forecast. I’m from Florida; whatever the weather’s like, it’ll be cold to me. The pads are going to be popping. Big Ten football, plus the speed of Denard. Denard makes me happy, and I’m declaring him a one-namer, like Cher. Watching him play makes me happy in the simplest and purest way, until I remember that he’s from Florida and start thinking about the ones who got away and how awful the Gator offense is. Denard.

Mississippi State at Arkansas — Look-ahead game for the Razorbacks, as evidenced by the content farther up this page. Tricky, tricky game.

SMU at Houston — Just thought it would be polite to acknowledge Case Keenum, who’s going to wind up with at least 150 career touchdown passes and hasn’t lost a game this year. Politeness is the fabric that holds together our society. Politeness, and also pre-worn denim.

Books for dudes (and non-dudes?) who are smart but don’t have the time and/or inclination to sift through the offerings of literary fiction and who could use a solid recommendation or two and who, if they ignore that recommendation, will feel guilty and think a little less of themselves because they know that quality reading improves the quality of the individual

The Book: Revenge (It’s one-third of the novella collection Legends of the Fall)
The Author: Jim Harrison
The Sport: Doing it with exotic women, and cold-blooded killing. Oh, and tennis.
The Dope: Wouldn’t it be awesome if a respected literary national treasure wrote an over-the-top airport-bookshop yarn? It happened, and it is awesome. You can keep Legends of the Fall. I’ll take Revenge. Harrison employs all the techniques us youngsters had beaten out of us in undergraduate creative writing classes, tricks that are supposed to be hackneyed, like having illicit lovers driving through a valley in a pickup, enjoying one another’s flirty repartee, and then saying “meanwhile” and cutting to a hired killer up on a cliff looking down at said pickup. This book was recommended to me as a romance novel for men, and I can’t sell it any more accurately than that. They made it into a Kevin Costner movie, but we won’t hold that against the book.

Of course, it’s Harrison, so lots of the writing is stunning and deft, the characters fully imagined, the setting shimmering and mysterious. It takes place mostly in Mexico. And it starts with a drawn-out recovery sequence, which I’m a real sucker for. Have you ever seen the James Woods movie Another Day in Paradise? They get shot up and shit-kicked, and they go to this remote compound and just, you know, recover. Maybe it’s because I have an 18-month-old and a novel to edit and a class to teach and a post to write and grants and fellowships to apply for and cars breaking down and the Apple Store losing all my photos during a data transfer and a bunch of my wife’s family coming into town this weekend, but somehow I find the stretch of this novella during which the main character is laid up in a Mexican church, bandaged and gazing out a window at peaceful hills and relearning how to smoke, far more wish-fulfilling than the longer stretches of the novella during which he’s having affairs and hunting dudes down to administer justice. This is a satisfying read. No reservations or concessions. If you can’t get no satisfaction, you will now.

John Brandon is the acclaimed author of Citrus County. He is writing weekly on college football for Grantland.

Previously from John Brandon:
The Pac-12 Matters! Well … This Week.
Who’s No. 1? LSU or Alabama?
USC vs. Notre Dame and Seven Unlikely National Championship Contenders
Oklahoma vs. Texas, a Letter to Les Miles, and a Hard-To-Get Hunk
Tide vs. Gators, the Problem With UVA, and a Nice Steak in Tucson
Hunks, Books, and Clemson vs. Florida State
Open Season

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Filed Under: Art, College Football, General topics, LSU, Sports, Stanford, Teams