Northwestern were not the only ones to be upset this Saturday. Lots of teams lose every weekend and that is a reality of sports. No team may take losing as hard as Nick Saban and Alabama. They just do not do it very often. Alabama has had only one regular season loss in two of the last three seasons — and the other one the Tide had no losses. Again, Saban and the player son this Crimson Tide team are not used to losing very much.
So when Johnny Manziel came to Tuscaloosa and started running wild on the Alabama defense, it was shocking. This just does not happen. And it certainly does not happen in consecutive weeks as LSU did much of the same despite losing at home to Alabama last week. Manziel racked up 253 passing yards and 92 yards rushing, running circles around the Alabama defense. This did not look like a national championship team.
What was even more surprising were the mental errors. The Crimson Tide made several critical miscues that are completely uncharacteristic of a Nick Saban-coached team. A.J. McCarron threw his first two interceptions of the season, including a critical fourth-down pick at the goalline with a chance to take the lead. That mistake was compounded when on fourth and four, the Crimson Tide jumped offsides and lost the game from there without any timeouts.
Alabama will not fall too far down. The Aggies are a good team and the Crimson Tide have accomplished a lot this game notwithstanding. Alabama though no longer controls its own destiny for the national championship. And the SEC is in danger of missing out on playing for the Crystal Football.
With that, here is my BlogPoll ballot for the week. As always leave your thoughts and suggestions and I may add them to future edits:
Last Week: defeated California 59-17. This Week: vs. No. 18 Stanford (7 p.m. CT/ABC)
The Buzz: The Ducks have not had to play a fourth quarter this year, I don’t think. Oregon is winning by an average margin of 32.5 points per game. The closest game the Ducks have played was an 11-point win over the Trojans last week. We are waiting for Oregon to be challenged, but someone on their schedule has to do it! Stanford and Oregon State await. That challenge might be coming.
2. Notre Dame
Last Week: defeated Boston College 21-6. This Week: vs. Wake Forest (2:30 p.m. CT/NBC)
The Buzz: The Fighting Irish defense has been this team’s strength all season. Notre Dame gave up only 300 total yards to Boston College this week and conceded only six points. That is what you expect from Notre Dame this year. Manti Te’o continues to make his push for the Heisman, picking up his sixth interception of the year. Te’o continues to be the defensive heart and soul and everything Notre Dame does seems to revolve around him. In this game though Everett Golson stepped up with 200 yards passing and few mistakes. That is more of what Notre Dame needs.
3. Kansas State
Last Week: defeated TCU 23-10. This Week: at Baylor (7 p.m. CT/ESPN)
The Buzz: The Wildcats are a very very good team. Colin Klein remains the favorite to win the Heisman after a gutsy 145-yard, 12-for-21 passing performance and 50-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance in a 23-10 win over TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. That may not be full Heisman stat levels, but Klein continues to do it all for the offense. The defense though is what stepped up against TCU. The Horned Frogs gained only 260 yards, which is nothing for a Big 12 team it seems. TCU was nearly shut out if not for some garbage time scores.
4. Ohio State
Last Week: Bye Week. This Week: at No. 17 Wisconsin (2:30 p.m. CT/ABC)
The Buzz: The Buckeyes sit at 10-0 and would have a shot at the national championship game even in this watered-down Big Ten if they were bowl-eligible. Give credit to Urban Meyer and this Buckeyes team. They continue to play hard even without the carrot of a bowl bid in their future. That takes a lot of heart. And like Penn State, the players being punished for something they had nothing to do with are showing us what can be great about college football.
Last Week: Lost to No. 11 Texas A&M; This Week: vs. Western Carolina (11:21 a.m. CT/SEC Network)
The Buzz: Well, as I wrote above the streak and the dream came to a temporary end. A.J. McCarron, the vaunted Crimson Tide defense and Nick Saban are not unbeatable. The pass defense is a little lax as LSU proved and can be beaten because of their over-aggression. That does not mean things are easy. The Tide erased a 20-point deficit and did not allow the Aggies to score after the first quarter until the fourth quarter. That was obviously enough and the Tide could not climb out of this hole this time.
Last Week: defeated Penn State 32-23. This Week: vs. Minnesota (2:30 p.m. CT/BTN)
The Buzz: The Cornhuskers stayed in control of the Legends Division with a somewhat controversial win over the Nittany Lions. Was Matt Lehman in the end zone? Did he break the plane? The video replay was inconclusive and so the call on the field stood and the Huskers survived. What goes unnoticed because of that play is the second half mastery Nebraska has shown all year. Comeback wins over Wisconsin, Northwestern and Penn State mark a strong team eyeing a trip to Pasadena.
Last Week: defeated Indiana 62-14. This Week: vs. No. 4 Ohio State (2:30 p.m. CT/ABC)
The Buzz: The Badgers just about wrapped up the watered-down Leaders Division with the victory at Bloomington this weekend. Montee Ball has regained his form as he rushed for 198 yards and three touchdowns. James White also added 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Wisconsin scored at least 10 points in each quarter as Indiana’s defense is… porous at best.
Last Week: defeated Northwestern 38-31 (overtime). This Week: vs. Iowa (11 a.m. CT/ESPN)
The Buzz: The Wolverines pulled one out of their hat with that Hail Mary throw to Roy Roundtree that set up the game-tying field goal. Devin Gardner has stepped in and played the quarterback position well in Denard Robinson’s absence and is beginning to raise questions about whether Gardner is the right guy all along. The Wildcats have a decent defense and so his 286 passing yards and 47 rushing yards do look impressive. Iowa should be another game where he can prove his worth all before the big showdown with Ohio State.
Why No Northwestern: See above. The Wildcats had another second-half 10-point lead and let it slip away. An amazing Hail Mary pass did them in, but it was lack of fourth quarter execution once again. If Brandon Williams makes a good punt, things are different. If Daniel Jones takes the pass interference or jumps a second later, things are different. If Kain Colter is 100 percent at the end of the game, things may be different. The theme of this season is those little plays late. Right now, Northwestern is not making them. And so they lose when the spotlight and pressure is on.
We are beginning to see bowl pecking orders sort themselves out at this stage of the season. The Michigan-Northwestern game may very well end up being a play-in game for the Capital One Bowl. This week’s game against Michigan State could very well be a play-in game for the Gator Bowl, as Rick Pizzo of BTN reports:
Bowl projections always shift though. If Wisconsin falters down the stretch, it could become likely that Northwestern gets to the Outback Bowl. Many of the same bowls are still very much in play. The likely landing spots remain Gator, Outback and Buffalo Wild Wings. A win this week clears up a lot for NU.