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Win or Lose Tonight, LSU Still Deserves A National Championship

The Honey Badger gets all the attention, but Morris Claiborne has been LSU’s best defender this season.

A lot will be at stake tonight when LSU and Alabama face off in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans. Legacy, pride, the aforementioned BCS Championship, the No. 1 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, and of course, all the Allstate Insurance.

One thing that should not be decided tonight is the AP National Championship. Win or lose, the Bayou Bengals deserve a share of the national championship.

Why? Because the Tigers would still own the best resume in college football.

LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa back on Nov. 5th in “The Game of the Century.” To me, that victory is more impressive than a hypothetical Alabama victory in the BCS Championship Game. Not only did LSU manage to win on the road, they did so in the middle of the regular season, not after a 36 day layoff.

And as so many proponents of the silly BCS system like to preach, the college football regular season is sacred. So shouldn’t a regular season victory hold more weight than a bowl victory?

But LSU’s season was a whole lot more than that one game, even if it was “the game of the century.” As of right now, Les Miles’ team has earned victories over the champions of two BCS bowls (Oregon, Rose and West Virgina, Orange). And if Alabama wins the BCS Championship Game, it means LSU would have beaten three of the five 2012 BCS bowl winners. LSU also beat Arkansas, the champion of the Cotton Bowl, which this year was of higher quality (No. 6 Arkansas vs No. 8 Kansas State) than the Sugar Bowl (No. 11 Virginia Tech vs No. 13 Michigan).

LSU managed to beat eight bowl teams during the regular season, and six of those teams went on to win their bowl games (Alabama is still TBD, of course). The Tigers’ success wasn’t the product of home cooking. They beat Big East Champion West Virginia and National Semifinalist Alabama on the road, and PAC-12 Champion Oregon at a neutral site (albeit, Dallas is much closer to Louisiana than it is Oregon).

While a victory over LSU would obviously boost their resume, Alabama’s credentials would still be lacking in comparison to LSU. Nick Saban’s squad’s best regular season win was a 38-14 home victory against Arkansas (LSU beat the Razorbacks at home 42-17). The Crimson Tide’s best non-conference win a 27-11 road victory against Penn State, a team with an embarrassing offense. I’m honestly surprised the Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and the Nittany Lions managed 11 points against the outstanding Alabama defense.

There has been some debate over whether Oklahoma State could earn a split of the National Championship should LSU trip up tonight. While Oklahoma State had a great season, I have no idea how the Cowboys could earn a split title over LSU. Oklahoma State has some impressive victories (Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor), but they lost on the road to unranked Iowa State. LSU’s one loss would be to No. 2 Alabama, a team they also beat.

A No. 1 AP vote for the Cowboys would be illogical, but as we all know by now, there’s not much logic in college football, so who knows what will happen.

With a win tonight, LSU will wrap up one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football, and we’ll all be spared another silly debate bred by the illogical BCS system.

But even if LSU can’t get their hands on all the Allstate Insurance tonight, the Bayou Bengals should still be recognized for their outstanding achievements in the regular season.

EPILOGUE:

I. Was. Wrong.

Alabama totally dominated LSU tonight. A 21-0 loss looks bad, but in all honesty, it was worse than that. LSU was never close to scoring. The offensive play calling was pathetic. Those screen passes were not going to work tonight. Neither was the speed option. LSU didn’t get the memo, they kept running them into the fourth quarter.

Alabama’s defense put on one hell of performance, and the Crimson Tide offense and special teams should be commended for not allowing LSU to score. The only way the Tigers were going to reach the end zone tonight was through a turnover or punt/kick return.

I just did not expect LSU to get dominated like they did tonight. I figured if they lost it’d be by a touchdown or less. But, as the game turned out, there is really no way LSU can say they deserve a share of the National Championship. The Tigers had the opportunity to prove to everybody that they were the best team in the country and they couldn’t deliver.

Congratulations to Alabama for being CONSENSUS National Champions. You guys earned it.

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The Heisman Case For Montee Ball

Montee Ball strikes the pose against UNLV in week one

In a year where there is no clear cut favorite for the Heisman Trophy with only two weeks left in the college football regular season, it baffles me that Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is not a serious contender for the prestigious honor. Ball plays for a ranked team in a major conference and is on pace to finish the season with over 1750 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. Yet, Ball is not on most voters’ radars.

This is partly due to the hype quarterback Russell Wilson has been receiving all season. Don’t get me wrong, Wilson definitely deserves the hype. He’s thrown for 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions and is on pace to shatter the NCAA record for pass efficiency rating (he currently sits at 199.3, the current record held by Hawaii’s Colt Brennan is 186.0). The athletic department has been hyping Wilson for the Heisman since the Badgers defeated Nebraska in early October. The @RussellManiaXVI twitter feed was created just hours after the Badgers 48-17 victory. Wilson has also had some classic Heisman moments spoiled by shoddy defense and special teams. The senior engineered fourth quarter comebacks on the road against Michigan State and Ohio State, only to have his defense blow the games in the final seconds.

However, as great as Wilson has been the season, I believe Montee Ball is having a more special season and is more important to the success of the Badgers offense. Ball got knocked out of the game against Michigan State after he took a helmet to helmet hit in the second quarter. The offense faltered without him, and didn’t get back on track until Ball returned in the second half. The Badgers had a hard time getting anything going against Ohio State until Ball starting running free in the fourth quarter. Also, don’t forget about Ball’s spectacular touchdown grab in the first quarter that saved Wilson. Ball snatched a poor throw from Wilson, it should have been picked off, and ran into the end zone for the game’s first score.

Ball has reached the end zone 30 times this season, and scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season. He is just the fifth player in FBS history to score at least 30 touchdowns in a season. The junior has already broken the Wisconsin and Big Ten records for most rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns in a season, and with possibly three games left, Ball still has an outside chance to break Barry Sanders’ outrageous record of 39 total touchdowns. Ball is averaging a touchdown every 8.0 times he touches the ball

Ball ranks first in the NCAA in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and total scoring. Ball has accounted for 182 points this season, 32 more than Kansas State quarterback Colin Klein, who sits in second. Ball is second in the NCAA in rushing yards, just two yards behind Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey.

Wisconsin two losses hurts Ball’s chances, but it’s important to remember that the Badgers didn’t lose those games because of Ball, and both of those losses came on hail mary passes. Ball has played well in every one of Wisconsin’s toughest tests.

48-17 win vs Nebraska: 30 carries, 151 yards, 4 TDs

37-31 loss at Michigan St: 18 carries, 115 yards, TD; 2 rec, 24 yards, TD

33-29 loss at Ohio St: 17 carries, 84 yards, TD; 3 rec, 30 yards, TD

28-17 win vs Illinois: 38 carries, 224 yards, 2 TDs; 1 rec TD

According to the UW athletic department, in three games against teams ranked among the top 16 in the country in total defense (Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois), he has averaged 141.3 rushing yards, 159.0 all-purpose yards and scored seven touchdowns (four rushing, three receiving).

Alabama running back Trent Richardson is considered by most to be a serious contender for the Heisman. Heisman Pundit believes that if the vote were held right now, Richardson would finish third, behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. However, Ball has better numbers than Richardson across the board. Ball has more rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and has a higher yards per carry average.

Richardson had a chance to have a Heisman moment on the biggest stage possible, last month’s “Game of the Century” between Alabama and LSU. The junior didn’t have a poor performance, he ran for 89 yards and had 5 catches for 80 yards, but he didn’t reach the end zone as his team lost 9-6 in overtime.

At this point, there are only a few reasons why someone would vote for Richardson over Ball. Richardson is considered to be the more talented player and have the higher draft stock. Most pundits have Richardson being a top five or top ten pick in next year’s NFL draft if he opts to leave early. Richardson plays for Alabama, a high profile team that plays in the most high profile conference, the SEC. Alabama is also ranked #2 in the nation, and if the season ended today, the Crimson Tide would be playing in the BCS National Championship Game. To me, none of those reasons should matter when it comes to the Heisman, the trophy supposedly given to college football’s most outstanding player.

Now, if people have Baylor’s Griffin over Ball, fine, that’s a different story. Griffin has had an outstanding season. He’s putting up video game numbers (33 TDs, only 5 INTs and over 4000 total yards) and he’s exciting as hell to watch. But if you’re going to punish Ball for playing on a two-loss team, then Griffin should be as well. Baylor has lost three times, and needed overtime to beat Kansas, one of the worst BCS teams.

Ball has possibly two more chances to shine on a big stage before Heisman voters turn in their ballots. The Badgers play Penn State this Saturday in a de facto Big Ten Leaders Division title game, and with a victory, UW will face Michigan State in the first ever Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 3. Perhaps, Ball still has a chance to capture the nation’s attention.

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It’s Game Week!

Camp Randall; Madison, WI, Sept. 2007

It’s game week. I’ll be at Camp Randall this Thursday for the kickoff of the season. These are some of the things I’m most pumped to find out about the 2011 season:

1. How will Russell Wilson look in the Badger offense? Will his speed threat lead to dynamite play-action game? Can he be as efficient as Scott Tolzien this season? How often will he run? Which receiver will be his favorite target?

2. How will the defense, specifically the defensive line, look without J.J. Watt? Most people are saying the UW D-line is very deep, but which lineman will step up? Will Louis Nzegwu finally turn into a legit pass rusher? Nzegwu was pretty unspectacular last season, and that was when J.J. Watt was constantly drawing double teams on the other side of the line.

3. Can Chris Borland and Mike Taylor stay on the field this season. Both are very talented line backers, but they’ve had their share of injuries. The Badgers don’t have a deep stable at LB, and would have a hard time replacing either in the lineup (along with Kevin Claxton, the third starting LB).

4. How will the receiving corp be? Can Nick Toon stay healthy? Who behind Toon and Abbrederis will see significant playing time? Doe, Duckworth, Frederick, Garner (if he gets healthy)?

5. How dominant will the new three headed monster at running back be (Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon)? The word out of camp is the Ball and White both look improved from last season and that Gordon is a beast that can’t be kept of the field. With Ball and White improved, and the addition of Gordon and Wilson to the team, can the running game actual be better in 2011?

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