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Friday, November 15, 2013
SEC streak best ended by outsider

By Chris Low
ESPN.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- As I sit here in the middle of Pac-12 country, the lovely San Gabriel Mountains towering in the distance, it hit me.

What would be worse for the rest of the college football world than to see the SEC extend its national championship streak this season to eight straight seasons?

No, not SEC commissioner Mike Slive suddenly taking over as lifetime chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

And, no, not SEC schools being granted a special exemption going forward allowing them to sign as many players in a class as they wanted, taking "roster management" to a whole new level.

Nope, not even Les Miles starting up his own reality TV show that would precede this season's Vizio BCS National Championship, although I suspect it would be a smashing success in the ratings department.

The ultimate downer for the rest of the college football world would be if the SEC is the one to end the SEC's streak.

In this case, that would require Alabama going down in one of these next three weeks, either to Mississippi State on the road Saturday, Auburn on the road to close the regular season or potentially in the SEC championship game to either Georgia, Missouri or South Carolina.

Nick Saban
Teams that want that crystal football are going to have to take it from Nick Saban and Alabama.

Given the way Alabama mauled LSU in the second half last week, the No. 1 Crimson Tide look anything but vulnerable right now. But this is November, and we all know how those unpredictable November winds can spread utter mayhem across the college football landscape.

It's not completely out of the realm that No. 7 Auburn or No. 9 Missouri could make a mad dash here at the end and grab one of those top two spots in the final BCS standings. Auburn is guaranteed to get a shot at Alabama in two weeks, and Missouri could in the SEC championship game on Dec. 7.

But even with a win over the Tide, Auburn and Missouri would both need a lot of help to get to a national championship game. Ohio State, Stanford and Baylor would all have to lose, not to mention that Oregon and Clemson are also ranked higher at this point in the BCS standings.

So the reality is that the SEC's hopes of making it eight straight national championships rest squarely on Alabama's shoulders.

Within the SEC's own parameters, the thought of Alabama winning a third consecutive national championship is hardly being celebrated in Baton Rouge, La., Athens, Ga., Auburn, Ala., Knoxville, Tenn., or any of the other SEC locales for that matter.

Let's face it: A crimson plague has gripped this league. Good luck in escaping it. Since losing 9-6 in overtime to LSU during the 2011 regular season, Alabama has gone 26-1 with a pair of national titles.

So while they love to beat their chest in SEC country and boast about the streak, very few people outside the 205 area code will be shedding any tears if the Tide stumble on their way to Pasadena this season.

There's an even greater desire around the rest of the country, though, to see the SEC go down on the big stage.

The only time an SEC team has lost in a BCS title game was to another SEC team. Alabama beat LSU 21-0 to capture the 2011 title. Otherwise, the SEC is a perfect 8-0 in BCS title games.

Come to think of it, is it possible to play a BCS championship game without an SEC team on one of the sidelines?

OK, no more sarcasm, I promise. Besides, the Texas-USC game in 2005 was pretty decent (one of the best college football games I've ever seen). It's just been awhile.

Alabama versus Florida State has a pretty appealing ring to it, and when you survey the two rosters, the Seminoles might have the better personnel across the board.

I've seen too many weird things happen the past few weeks of the season to predict that's the game we're definitely going to get here in Pasadena on Jan. 6.

What I will predict, though, is that the collective groan around the country will be thunderous if the SEC ends the SEC's streak as opposed to somebody else.

They want to see the SEC drop its belt on the field.

And with this being the final season of the BCS, an era dominated by the SEC, that's probably the way it should be.

• • •

Lynch deserves acclaim, to be in Heisman conversation

Good for Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey pointing out Wednesday night what should have already been painfully obvious to all of us. Jordan Lynch is the epitome of a Heisman Trophy candidate. He's not going to win it, but he absolutely deserves to be in the conversation about the most outstanding player in college football. His numbers in Northern Illinois' 48-27 victory over Ball State were outstanding (a season-high 345 passing yards, 468 yards of total offense and four touchdowns), but even more impressive were all of the key plays Lynch made to lead his team to its biggest win yet.

The most refreshing thing about Lynch is that the only thing on his radar is doing his part to keep Northern Illinois unbeaten and getting the Huskies back to a BCS bowl. They'd love a shot at redemption after losing 31-10 to Florida State last season in the Discover Orange Bowl. That's the destination of choice for Lynch and not so much New York City and the Heisman Trophy festivities.

• • •

Ohio State's bulletin-board material meant as a joke?

It doesn't sound like Ohio State receiver Evan Spencer will be speaking to the media any time soon after his comments that the Buckeyes would "wipe the field" with either Alabama or Florida State. Understandably, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was peeved. Coaches like bulletin-board material the way vampires do sunning on the beach. But after seeing the video of Spencer saying what he said, he's getting a raw deal. He was laughing and having a good time with the whole thing. It's amazing how comments always look different in print. Plus, I'm sure he was only saying what everybody on that team already felt.

• • •

Foley strongly backing Muschamp at Florida

Will Muschamp
All indications are that Will Muschamp will get a chance to work out the Gators' issues.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has spoken. He says third-year coach Will Muschamp will be the one to fix the Gators' problems as they stare down the barrel of their first losing season since 1979. For some, Foley's statement this week might come off as the dreaded vote of confidence. But in this case, Foley is genuinely committed to Muschamp, and, just as importantly, so are other key power brokers at Florida. There have been a lot of comparisons between Ron Zook's three seasons at Florida and Muschamp's first three seasons. Zook had a better SEC record. He was 16-8, while Muschamp is 13-10 with Saturday's trip to South Carolina looming. If the Gators lose in Columbia, S.C., it would be Muschamp's second losing record in the SEC in three seasons. Zook never had a losing SEC record.

But here's the difference: Foley didn't feel like Zook could get the Gators back to winning championships and pulled the plug on Zook midseason following a loss to Mississippi State. Zook coached the remainder of that regular season. With Muschamp, Foley is still in his corner "1,000 percent" and also understands that Florida has been ravaged by injuries this season. Still, while Muschamp will be back for a fourth season, he will almost certainly have to shake up his offensive staff.

• • •

Alabama's recruiting prowess extends to engineering halls

When you hear Alabama's recruiting operation referred to as a recruiting machine, there's a reason. Nick Saban leaves no stone unturned, and he's been masterful at getting everyone on that campus onboard and pointed in the same direction. Even when you're winning national championships at the rate Saban is, that's easier said than done when you take into account all the different tentacles and moving parts at a university. But in landing a commitment Thursday from top-rated defensive end prospect Da'Shawn Hand, the Tide received a huge assist from the university engineering department.

Hand cited Charles Karr, the dean of Alabama's College of Engineering, as being instrumental in his decision to pick Alabama. Michigan was thought to be the favorite for Hand, who's from Woodbridge, Va., and ranked No. 6 overall in the ESPN 300. Hand called Karr a "football guy." Talk about teamwork.

• • •

Michigan State deserves credit for rare defensive prowess

Ed Davis, Denzel Drone, Joel Heath
Michigan State's defense has made life difficult for opponents.

This season in college football has been so much about offense that we probably haven't given enough props to Michigan State for its stifling run on defense. The Spartans can all but wrap up the Big Ten Legends division title Saturday by winning at Nebraska, and they've done it the old-fashioned way -- with defense. They're the only FBS team in the country that's held every opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards this season and have given up more than 17 points just once, a 42-28 win against Indiana. Nobody has been stingier against the run than Michigan State, which makes the matchup with Nebraska so appealing.

The Spartans are allowing just 1.6 yards per rush, which is on track to be the lowest by an FBS defense since North Texas allowed 1.3 in 1966. The Huskers, meanwhile, are averaging 247 rushing yards per game and have been especially effective at running outside the tackles.

• • •

Freshman make big impact at Duke, UCLA

So much for easing freshmen into things. Duke safety DeVon Edwards scored three touchdowns in the Blue Devils' 38-20 win over North Carolina State last week. He had a 100-yard kickoff return and back-to-back interception returns of 25 and 45 yards. He became the first FBS player to score three non-offensive touchdowns in a single game in the past 10 seasons. He also had 10 tackles, his second straight double-digit tackle game. UCLA freshman linebacker Myles Jack is making waves on the West Coast. He filled in at running back last week for the injury-riddled Bruins in their 31-26 win at Arizona and rushed for 120 yards on his first six carries, including a 66-yard touchdown run. He also had eight tackles -- including one for loss -- two pass breakups and recovered a fumble in the end zone.

• • •

Best coaches never to win a conference title

Who are the best coaches in college football who've never won a conference championship as a head coach? Some of my names would include Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, UCLA's Jim Mora Jr., Duke's David Cutcliffe, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Washington State's Mike Leach. Texas' Mack Brown has won two, but his first didn't come until 2005, when the Longhorns won the national championship. He also won the Big 12 title in 2009.