Monday, November 29, 2010

Almost in the Rear View

This weekend, there are a handful of huge games to be played before college football's "pre-bowl season" will be behind us. I say pre-bowl instead of "regular season" because a few of this weekend's contests -- namely, the conference championship games -- are really post-season affairs. But while the athletes must keep their eyes on what's in front of them if they are to achieve their goal, the fans should pause for a moment to remember all the great battles that played out in the "Rivalry Weekend" that just ended.

The biggest and best was the Auburn-Alabama showdown on Black Friday, also known as the Iron Bowl. You might say I am biased because I am an Auburn grad, but I dare you to deny that the Tigers' unfathomable comeback from a 24-0 deficit, on Bama's field, in front of an ear-shatteringly hostile crowd, was the game of the year in all of football. Considering how disastrous the first quarter was, it is incredible that the players remained on an even-enough keel to turn things around.

It speaks volumes about Auburn's coaches that they were able to keep the team grounded while making key adjustments. Defensive alignments were switched up, and Bama was held to zero third-down conversions during the last three quarters. The offense began to utilize a not-so-obvious unbalanced line, and to shift both its running and passing attacks to the perimeter, and suddenly it looked unstoppable in the second half.

So much for all that MSM crap about Nick Saban's indomitable genius. One year ago, after the Tide had won only two consecutive games in the series after losing the previous six, all the media could talk about was how Bama owned the series and owned the state and how they would remain on top for as far into the future as anyone could see. However, after Saturday's smackdown the reality is that Auburn has won seven of the last nine Iron Bowls and Bama is reeling.

About those 24 points that were overcome, it must be noted that never in history had Auburn won a game after trailing by that many and never before had Bama lost after leading by that many. Because some Bama bloggers have whined that the Tide gave the game away more than the Tigers took it away, allow me to remind them of some things: 1) one of Bama's scoring drives was kept alive by an outrageously bogus "excessive celebration" flag; 2) one of Auburn's first half drives ended after Darvin Adams was called out of bounds on a catch, although replays showed he was inbounds; 3) two of Auburn's defensive linemen had to sit out the first half; and 4) Mark Ingram's second quarter fumble was not an inexplicable case of Ingram getting butterfingers, but a result of Antoine Carter punching the ball out of his grasp from behind.

I have rambled on and on about that game and I promise I am about to stop, but first I have to mention a few other things which speak to the character of my alma matter's team. It has to count for something that they converted two fourth downs in the final quarter; that they have beaten five teams currently ranked in the BCS Top 25; that they are 12-0 despite trailing in eight of their games; and that four of their comebacks have been from deficits of 13 or more points.

But of course, college football is a grand thing all across the fruited plain, not just in the Southeast, so I must admit that there were other games this past weekend that were every bit as exciting as the Iron Bowl. Nevada's upset of Boise State on a frigid night in Reno, in which they pulled off their own massive comeback to force overtime, was one for the ages. And while Boise State fans are disappointed that their Broncos went so quickly from being in contention for the national title to being relegated to an afterthought bowl, they should be happy that QB Kellen Moore proved he is one of he nation's elite. His 53-yard pass to Titus Young right before the end of regulation, to set up what would have been a game-winning field goal, was a model of perfection. So was Young's catch. Unfortunately for the Broncos, their kicker just wasn't up to the challenge.

Meanwhile, watching the Bedlam game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State was as fun as it gets, especially that wild stretch when the teams combined for four touchdowns in a span of 92 seconds during the fourth quarter. The only downside is that the 47-41 final may serve only to prove that these teams play no defense, just like their detractors have been saying for months.

Here is another observation: Wisconsin might be the hottest team in the land. They are a running team but have put up 70+ points on three occasions, and did not miss a beat when their best RB was lost to injury a month ago. Plus, they have one of America's best all-around tight ends and best defensive linemen.

In closing, a final thought about Auburn: As awesome as their regular season was, and as epic as their Iron Bowl win was, the SEC Championship Game against South Carolina will be their biggest challenge so far. South Carolina is playing much better, and with much more confidence, than when Auburn beat them in Week Four. It is extremely difficult to beat the same team twice in one year, and in fact, that feat has never been accomplished against a team coached by Steve Spurrier. On top of that, after the kind of win Auburn just pulled off in the Iron Bowl, it is legitimate to worry about them experiencing a let-down as they prepare to face a three-loss team they previously defeated. But despite my jitters, I believe this team has the necessary maturity to pull through.

Finally, here is the Stanton's Space Top Twenty:

1. Oregon

2. Auburn

3. TCU

4. Wisconsin

5. Ohio State

6. Stanford

7. Michigan State

8. Arkansas

9. Nebraska

10. LSU

11. Texas A&M

12. Alabama

13. Virginia Tech

14. Nevada

15. Oklahoma

16. South Carolina

17. Boise State

18. Missouri

19. Oklahoma State

20. Mississippi State

The picture at the beginning of this post, showing the scene at famous Toomer's Corner a few hours after the Iron Bowl, is courtesy of my good friend and fellow alum Rendi Hall.

1 comment:

rendi said...

excellent article!