OLE MISS REVIEW
LSU won a very close game against Ole Miss. That was not too unexpected. However, the manner in which they won was quite a surprise. LSU's offense carried the defense and, and they answered the call time and time again late in the game. They rolled up 43 points and 470 yards behind an outstanding performance from Jordan Jefferson, who played like the guy we were all hoping to see prior to this season.
So what happened to the defense? LSU's usually dominant group gave up a ton of big plays and could not get a stop when they needed to. Ole Miss converted several critical third and fourth downs. I was pretty surprised to look at the stat sheet after the game and see that the Rebels only converted on 4 of 15 third downs. However, they were four of five on fourth downs.
LSU's defense has played poorly in exactly two games this season (Auburn and Ole Miss), and both of those teams run similar offenses. Both have mobile quarterbacks and both employ a ton of misdirection and ball fakes. LSU's defense has been very aggressive all year, but that aggressiveness has worked against them in both of these games. Rather than staying disciplined and playing assignment football, LSU's defenders often lost contain or overran plays, and Ole Miss did a good job of taking advantage of this.
This was not all bad, believe it or not. LSU did cause two turnovers on good plays by the defense (three if you count Patrick Peterson's interception on the last play of the game). They also made nine tackles for loss and forced four punts. LSU punted just twice in the game.
It looked to me that LSU's cornerbacks played softer than they have most of the season. With young safeties such as Eric Reid and Craig Loston playing a lot and with Karnell Hatcher being much better in run support than coverage, it seems that the scheme called for a little safer play from Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne. Ole Miss took advantage of this and hit a number of stop and hitch routes along the sideline for easy completions.
I'm not trying to say the defense actually played well. They did not. They were unable to adjust what they normally do against Ole Miss, and they turned in their worst performance of the season. But I don't see too much reason to worry moving forward. They match up much better with Arkansas, whose quarterback is not mobile, and who runs a more traditional offense.
Mike Ford had an outstanding game and seems to have really taken over the #2 running back spot on this team. He rushed for 58 yards in 9 carries and had a touchdown catch for 27 yards. That catch was really a running play where Ford took a forward pitch from Jordan Jefferson. So let's call it 10 carries for 85 yards and a score. He also had another 40 yards or so wiped out when he barely stepped out of bounds on a long touchdown run. I really like how Frank Wilson (assuming he makes those calls) stuck with Ford when he was hot in the third quarter. Then, Stevan Ridley came back in for the fourth quarter, and he was fresh. That was critical on LSU's final drive when Ridley had runs of six, seven, and seven yards to ice the game.
How about that option play? Has LSU finally figured out how to run it? Is Ole Miss just that bad at defending it? Regardless, Jefferson and Ford KILLED Ole Miss on that play. They executed it well. Jefferson made the defender commit and pitched at the right time, springing Ford for several big gainers. Arkansas is going to have to devote a lot of time to defending that play as they prepare for LSU, and I'd be willing to bet they'll try to prevent Ford from repeating his performance against Ole Miss. Jefferson may have some running lanes on option keepers in Little Rock.
Has LSU's offense come alive? It would seem odd that things would finally come together after two thirds of the season is complete, but it's possible that is the case. In LSU's last two SEC games, the offense has produced:
67 points (33.5 per game)
903 yards (451.5 per game)
435 rushing yards (218.5 per game)
That offensive explosion is a direct result of the improved play of quarterback Jordan Jefferson. His numbers in the last two conference games are:
23 of 30 (76.6%) 395 yards 2 TDs 1 INT
16 carries 72 yards 1 TD
Jefferson has also run for a two point conversion and passed for a two point conversion.
Why does the offense suddenly look so much better? The big difference I have noticed recently versus the first part of the season is that the staff is calling more pass plays down the field for Jordan Jefferson. Previously, Jefferson almost exclusively threw very short pass routes such as receiver screens. Maybe he really started clicking at practice. Or maybe the coaches figured they had nothing to lose. But at the start of the second half of the Alabama game, they showed more confidence in him and started throwing more vertical and less horizontal. LSU's receivers excel with more room to work, and the results have been obvious. It has also opened things up a bit for the running game, which was starting to get bottled up a bit since nobody respected Jefferson as a passer.
The big question is whether Jefferson has established himself enough to be the full-time quarterback? This idea seemed laughable after the Tennessee, Florida, and McNeese games when it seemed obvious that Lee should have been the full time guy because Jefferson was so ineffective. I think that you keep using both guys. It keeps both guys involved at practice, and it gives the coaches the chance to go with the "hot hand" during a game.
AROUND COLLEGE FOOTBALL
As is customary on Sunday evenings, I'll go around college football to look at the conference races and the BCS bowl games.
Nothing new here. We know that Auburn and South Carolina will meet in the SEC Championship Game.
Virginia Tech clinched the Coastal Division with a win over Miami on Saturday. In the Atlantic division, Florida State finished their conference schedule with a 6-2 mark. NC State has a 5-2 record and plays Maryland this weekend. If NC State wins, they will win the division sine they defeated Florida State head to head. If they lose, then Florida State wins the division.
Pitt still leads the Big East with a 4-1 conference record. However, things are not as simple as they once seemed. UCONN and West Virginia both have 3-2 record. Pitt and West Virginia square off this weekend in the "Backyard Brawl." If Pitt wins the game, they will still control their own destiny. However if West Virginia wins, we will have a three way tie at the top of the conference. UCONN has already defeated both Pitt and West Virginia and would then be in the driver's seat. However, they still have to play Cincinnati and South Florida. I like West Virginia's chances if they can beat Pitt this weekend.
In the Big-12 North, Nebraska can clinch the division with a win over Colorado. If they lose AND Missouri defeats Kansas, then Missouri would win the division.
The South is pretty simple too...kind of. Oklahoma State is at 6-1 in the conference while Oklahoma and Texas A&M are both at 5-2. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State play this weekend in Stillwater. If Oklahoma State wins, they obviously win the division. If Oklahoma wins, they could create a three way tie at 6-2. Texas A&M would also have to beat Texas. If that scenario occurs, the tie-breaker would go to the team who is ranked the highest in the BCS rankings. Currently, Oklahoma State is ranked #9 and Oklahoma is ranked #13. So it's reasonable to think that Oklahoma would pass Oklahoma State if they win this weekend.
Oregon would have to lose both of their remaining games in order to not win the PAC-10. They have games against Arizona and Oregon State remaining. Stanford is next in line.
Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State all have identical 6-1 conference records. Wisconsin hosts Northwestern. Ohio State hosts Michigan. Michigan State travels to Penn State. If all three win and there is a three way tie, the BCS rankings will be used to determine the champion. If that ends up being the case, Wisconsin looks like they're going to make it. If one of the teams lose, things get a bit more complicated.
If Wisconsin loses, then Ohio State and Michigan State are tied. Ohio State and Michigan State did not play this year so the BCS rankings would be used to determine the winner. Ohio State would then almost certainly get the nod.
If Ohio State loses, then Michigan State and Wisconsin are tied. Michigan State beat Wisconsin earlier this season and would be the conference champion. So oddly enough, Wisconsin NEEDS Ohio State to win this weekend.
If Michigan State loses, then Wisconsin and Ohio State are tied. Wisconsin beat Ohio State this year and would be the conference champion.
Things look very good for Wisconsin right now if they can take care of business against a banged up Northwestern team this weekend.
So now that we've looked around each conference, let's go through the motions of the BCS bowl selections. We'll assume that the teams leading their conference will ultimately win their conference.
First, Oregon and Auburn would be selected to play in the BCS Championship Game.
Next, the conference champions with automatic bowl tie-ins would go to those bowls. Therefore, we would see:
Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl
Virginia Tech to the Orange Bowl
Oklahoma State to the Fiesta Bowl
Next, the bowls that lost their automatic tie-in to the BCS Championship get to pick a replacement. So the Rose and Sugar get to replace Oregon and Auburn respectively. Since Oregon is ranked first in the BCS rankings, the Rose Bowl gets the first pick. While they would LOVE to take Stanford, there is a BCS rule that mandates the Rose Bowl select one of the teams from a non BCS conference if they are eligible. Since TCU is ranked third in the BCS rankings, they would be the selection. So TCU goes to the Rose.
The Sugar would then love to have another SEC team to replace Auburn. With LSU sitting there at #5 in the BCS, they are the easy choice. LSU to the Sugar.
Now, the bowls select in a pre-determined order. This year, that order is Sugar, Orange, Fiesta.
So the Sugar picks again, and I think they'll look to the Big-10. Ohio State would look very attractive at 11-1 and ranked in the Top 10, and I think the Sugar takes them.
The Orange picks next. Undefeated Boise State is sitting there at #4 in the BCS rankings; however, I think the Orange would prefer Stanford to face Virginia Tech.
The Fiesta then gets stuck with Pitt.
So the bowls look like:
BCS Title Game: Oregon (PAC-10 Champ) vs. Auburn (SEC Champ)
Rose Bowl: TCU (at large) vs. Wisconsin (Big-10 Champ)
Sugar Bowl: LSU (at large) vs. Ohio State (at large)
Orange Bowl: Stanford (at large) vs. Virginia Tech (ACC Champ)
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State (Big-12 Champ) vs. Pitt (Big East Champ)
LSU BOWL SCENARIOS
Now I wanted to zero in on LSU's scenarios. Everyone is wondering about LSU's bowl scenarios if LSU beats Arkansas. So I'll focus on that first. Here are the different scenarios:
1) LSU defeats Arkansas; Auburn plays in BCS Championship Game - LSU is 99% going to the Sugar Bowl
2) LSU defeats Arkansas; Auburn loses to Alabama but wins SEC - In this case, Auburn will likely go to the Sugar Bowl. However, LSU will still be 11-1 and ranked very high in the BCS rankings. In this case, they would be a near lock to be selected by the Orange Bowl to face the ACC Champion.
3) LSU defeats Arkansas; Auburn defeats Alabama but loses SEC Championship Game - This scenario is the most interesting. South Carolina would go the Sugar as the SEC Champion. The Orange Bowl would then be looking at a decision between a 12-1 Auburn team and an 11-1 LSU team. Auburn would be coming off a loss while LSU would have won four straight. However, Auburn beat LSU head to head and may have the Heisman Trophy winner. But their fan base would be disappointed to be going to Miami while LSU's fan base would be ecstatic. One thing to consider here: If LSU were able to hold onto the #5 spot in the BCS rankings and then pass Auburn after they lost in the SEC Championship game, LSU would be #4. BCS rules state that an at large team ranked #4 or higher is guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl. So if Auburn did lose to South Carolina, the BCS rankings would become vitally important.
Another big question is trying to figure out what the Sugar Bowl would do if LSU loses to Arkansas (assuming Auburn is in the BCSCG)? Arkansas is currently #12 in the BCS and LSU is #5. How far would Arkansas rise? How far would LSU drop? The Sugar could be looking at selecting a 10-2 Arkansas team or a 10-2 LSU team with both of them ranked around #10. Arkansas would obviously own the head to head meeting and would have won six straight. However, the Sugar Bowl and LSU have a great relationship and they would guarantee a sellout. Or....does the Sugar go away from the SEC and consider a one-loss Stanford team or an undefeated Boise State team. I do believe the Sugar will absolutely look to the Big-10 for one of their teams, assuming at least one 11-1 Big-10 team is available.
If the Sugar passes on an SEC team for say, Stanford....then would the Orange then bite on one of the SEC teams?
So what about if LSU loses and the Sugar does not choose them? In that case, It really depends. Is Arkansas in the Sugar? If so, then I think LSU is a lock for the Cotton Bowl. If not, then I think the Cotton Bowl will be choosing between the two teams. Arkansas has already played a game in Cowboys Stadium (home of the Cotton Bowl game) this year against Texas A&M, so they may not be as attractive from a ticket sales standpoint. At the same time, LSU is scheduled to play in that stadium to open the 2011 season. Would LSU fans sit out the Cotton Bowl with plans to go see their team play Oregon next year? I think the Capital One Bowl has their sights set on Alabama, whether they beat Auburn or not. And I think the Outback Bowl is looking at South Carolina (if they lose in Atlanta) or Florida. It's not totally out of the question for LSU to fall all the way to the Chick-Fil-Al Bowl, but I think that's unlikely.
The most likely scenarios are:
Beat Arkansas - Sugar Bowl
Lose to Arkansas - Cotton Bowl
OLE MISS REVIEW