College Football: LSU-Alabama a dandy in Dixie

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Scripps Howard News
The college football worldís eyes turn toward Tuscaloosa, Ala., this week for the appropriately hyped Deep South showdown between Les Milesí No. 1-ranked LSU and Nick Sabanís No. 2 Alabama.
And if I may tap into the folksy, down-home charm of longtime broadcaster Keith Jackson: ěWhoa, Nellie, weíve got a dandy in Dixie.î
Weíve got the two best teams in the land going toe to toe on one of the sportís great stages, with the victor likely headed for the Southeastern Conference title bout and, probably, the BCS national championship game.
The unbeaten combatants, the prime-time setting, the all-or-nothing stakes ó all of them make this game must-see TV.
Itís THAT big.
The calendar has just turned to November. Most teams are seven or eight games into their seasons. Already, too much of whatís left will have no real impact on the championship chase.
ěThe reality is: There are four or five teams that are just better than everybody else,î former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, who led the Crimson Tide to the 1992 national championship, said this week during a teleconference set up by the Scripps Howard News Service.
ěI think Alabama has the best football team in the country, and LSU is just behind. Theyíre both having an exceptionally good years.î
LSU and Alabama are 8-0. So are No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Stanford. Those four are the only undefeated teams from the six BCS conferences.
They are, barring a run of unexpected outcomes, the only contenders for the national championship, although No. 5 Boise State (7-0) of the Mountain West Conference still has an chance if the Broncos win out and a couple of higher-ranked teams lose.
And the reason?
There arenít that many championship-caliber teams this season. Or to be more precise: Thereís not much depth in the BCS conferences.
Three of them ó the Big Ten, ACC and Big East ó donít have a team in the top eight of this weekís BCS rankings. None has more than two teams worthy of inclusion among the nationís elite.
Think about it.
The best team in the Big Ten? Nebraska? Michigan? Or is it Wisconsin, which plummeted in the polls after losing back-to-back games on last-second passes?
The best team in the ACC? Clemson? Virginia Tech? Or Georgia Tech, which just clobbered Clemson 31-17?
The best team in the Big East? West Virginia. By far. And the Mountaineers have two losses.
The Big 12 has Oklahoma State, but nobody will be surprised if the Cowboys lose to rival Oklahoma, or even Kansas State on Saturday night in Stillwater.
The Pacific 12 has Stanford, which needed three overtimes to get past Southern California and will play No. 8 Oregon next week. But Oregon got crushed by LSU, 40-27.
Even the SEC, despite the strength of LSU and Alabama at the top, is weaker than usual ó especially in the Eastern Division.
ěTop to bottom, the SEC is not as good as weíre used to seeing,î Stallings said. ěAuburn has struggled some. Florida is rebuilding. Tennessee is way down. South Carolina is ranked relatively high, but they barely beat Vanderbilt. Itís an unusual year.î
Bobby Ross, who guided Georgia Tech to a share of the national championship in 1990, said the ACC doesnít appear to have a team that deserves to be placed in the upper tier with LSU and Alabama.
ěThe top teams in the ACC are probably in Category 3,î Ross said during the teleconference. ěThereís not a team of the same quality as Alabama and LSU, or even on that second level with Oklahoma State and Stanford. I do have some questions about Oklahoma State and Stanford, but, from what Iíve seen, those top two are just better than the rest.î
Those top two will meet Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.