October 1, 2012
We exit September with the understanding that Alabama, in football, is first and fundamentally foremost.
It's almost universal.
The Crimson Tide picked up all 60 first-place votes in Sunday's Associated Press poll and all but two in the USA Today coaches' weekly mystery-misery index.
One coach thinks Florida State is No. 1 and another, incredibly, is still punching Louisiana State's card.
Apparently this coach found impressive a 38-22 win against sub-division Towson in front of a home Louisiana State crowd that left early in droves.
Maybe it was LSU's five fumbles (three lost) that impressed the coach, or Les Miles' postgame comments, "I thought we played down to our opponent … I must not have prepared them well."
The USA Today coaches just can't shake LSU — it's like breaking up with a girlfriend. Last week they penned a "Dear Les" letter only when it was obvious Oregon had to be jumped to No. 2. The Ducks defeated Arizona, 49-0, on the same day LSU only outlasted Auburn, 12-10.
This week was equally obvious to AP voters, who dropped LSU to No. 4 behind Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.
The USA Today coaches, though, just can't quit LSU.
So the Tigers are still No. 3.
The situation is this: Alabama is clearly No. 1 and probably in the market for a title-game partner.
Alabama continues to play a style unfamiliar to the current college game: run, stop the run, don't make mistakes and soundly defeat your opponents.
Alabama's top-ranked scoring defense has allowed 35 points in five games. The offensive line already looks NFL-ready.
There was panic attack in Tuscaloosa when Mississippi took a 7-6 lead because it marked the first time Alabama had trailed in regulation since last year against Tennessee.
It took the Crimson Tide 15 seconds to reclaim the lead, on the ensuing kickoff return for a score, and order was restored in a 33-14 win.
Other game boxes around the country gushed yards. West Virginia and Baylor hemorrhaged for more than 1,500, Oklahoma State and Texas combined for 1,016 while Fresno State and San Diego State totaled 994.
Alabama held Ole Miss to a tidy 218.
Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban is always going to nitpick. He told people Ole Miss would come ready to play. "Nobody really listens to me until after the fact," Saban said after the fact.
The challengers to Alabama all have pros and cons.
Oregon is the obvious No. 2, with more playmakers than Alabama but lacking heft along both fronts.
Oregon struggled early in its first away test, leading Washington State by only four points at the half. The Ducks won easily, 51-26, but flew back to Eugene as possibly the second best team its state.
Oregon State's Beavers scored a wild win at Arizona, 38-35, to improve to 3-0. Mike Riley's team moved up to No. 14 in the AP poll and boasts the much better portfolio.
Oregon State has two wins over ranked opponents: Wisconsin and UCLA.
Oregon State let a 17-0 lead slip away in Tucson before grabbing it back with 1 minute 9 seconds left on a nine-yard scoring pass from Sean Mannion to tight end Connor Hamlett.
"We are just growing immensely as a team," receiver Markus Wheaton, who had 10 catches for 166 yards, said of the team that finished 3-9 last year.
If Oregon State is truly back, we offer a program reminder that this year's Civil War is Nov. 24 in Corvallis.
Florida State struggled Saturday at South Florida but might have the best chance to go undefeated. The trouble ahead is at Miami and Virginia Tech and the season-ender at home against Florida.
LSU continues to baffle. The Tigers entered the season with perhaps more returning talent than anyone. Two straight subpar performances, though, are seemingly no way to prepare for this week's showdown at Florida.
LSU obviously didn't take Towson seriously.
"I think we were viewed as a little high school team," Towson defensive end Frank Beltre said after the game. "They called us Towsen, Towson State. They called us everything but what we are."
Towson's resiliency forced LSU to keep its starters in the game until the end, and that still didn't stop the visitors from marching down field for a touchdown like some power-formation team from the SEC East.
The Southeastern Conference still has half the teams in this week's top 10.
No. 5 Georgia struggled to hold off Tennessee in Athens and allowed the Volunteers 478 total yards. No. 6 South Carolina spotted crummy Kentucky a 17-7 lead before outscoring the Wildcats 31-0 in the second half.
Georgia plays at South Carolina in a big bake-off in the SEC East.
Florida sits at No. 10 and is well rested as it awaits LSU.
No. 7 Kansas State, cuddly as can be, still must be considered a longshot contender.
It's hard to take seriously a team that gives up 63 points at home … and still wins.
Notre Dame, Texas?
The ninth-ranked Irish have the schedule strength to make a run to the top, with defining games left against Miami, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC.
Texas is 4-0 but lucky to get out of Stillwater, 41-36, on Saturday. The Longhorns are getting better offensively as sophomore David Ash continues to mature. His signature moment so far was Saturday's fourth-down pass to D.J. Grant on Texas' game-winning drive.
Texas' defense, though, has not lived up to expectations. The Longhorns finished No. 11 nationally last year but are No. 63 this week after Oklahoma State gouged the unit for 576 yards.
"Lord knows we didn't do everything right," Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.
The Lord's Prayer may be in order this week: West Virginia coming to town.