"In the East, college football is a cultural exercise. On the West Coast, it is a tourist attraction. In the Midwest, it is cannibalism. But in the South, college football is a religion, and every Saturday is a holy day." – Marino Casem, Alcorn State University
Well, I'm heading about as far away from the South as I can get and isn't it strangely fitting for the year that the closer I get to the West Coast, the bigger the football game becomes. No disrespect for LSU-Alabama or Michigan-Michigan State, but I will be at the most important game in the country Saturday and it will be played at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
No. 6 Arizona State will travel to play the fourth-ranked Ducks in a game that very well could decide not only the Pac-10 champion, but quite possibly who will play in the national championship. In what has become the norm and not the exception, neither of these top-10 teams were ranked in the preseason poll.
This will be the tale of two top quarterbacks. Dennis Dixon of Oregon is a dual threat phenom in the new-style shotgun option offense. ASU's Rudy Carpenter is a more traditional, classic drop-back passer. Regardless, they lead the two best offenses in the conference.
Keys to the game
Watch the matchup between the Arizona State defense (seventh in the country in scoring defense, ninth in rushing defense) vs. the Oregon offense (third in scoring offense, fourth in total offense). Something has got to give.
The homefield advantage at Autzen Stadium will be key. The intimidation of a stadium is not just about the size (official capacity is 54,000 – and size doesn’t always matter) but the craziness of the fans. They are right on top of you and they know how to be a factor.
I like the versatile style of the Ducks' offense over the ASU defense and I like Autzen Stadium … Ducks in a high-scoring close one.
LSU at Alabama
The coaches keep telling us this is not about the coaches, but it is. Nick Saban won the national championship at LSU, and Les Miles will never be considered successful there by his own fans until he wins one, too. If Saban beats him with a lesser team in his first year at Alabama, I promise you, they will be all over Miles. It is about the players though. LSU wins.
Michigan at Michigan State
Hard to believe this is the same Michigan team that started out 0-2. But we ranked the Wolverines a preseason No. 2 for a reason. The talent is still there, and it is still better than the talent at Michigan State. The only way Michigan can really salvage this season is to run the table, beat Ohio State and get to the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines will get one step closer to Pasadena on Saturday.
Florida State at Boston College
Boston College is not that much more talented than FSU. Except, of course, at the QB position. The real difference between these two teams is that BC is a smart football team and FSU is not. Boston College will have less penalties, less missed assignments and less breakdowns than FSU. In the end, they will have more points. FSU will be all over Matt Ryan, but when it is over, Boston College will be 9-0.
Wisconsin at Ohio State
The only category Wisconsin ranks in the top 25 nationally is rushing offense (21). The Badgers' No. 1 running back P.J. Hill suffered a bad bruise on his lower leg after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter last week against Indiana. Whether he plays or not, Ohio State's defense dominates the nation in stats (No. 1 in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense) and will dominate this game.
The Prevent Defense
I have been getting emails from fans around the country – practically every week – questioning, complaining, and vilifying the "Prevent Defense." The consensus seems to be, "The Prevent Defense prevents only one thing – winning!" Let me try to shed some light on this misunderstood, and possibly misnamed, end of the game defense.
• First, what you see is probably not actually "The Prevent," it is probably just the loosening up of the defense. Every time we see the defense play soft and force the offense to take the underneath rout at the end of a game, we call it "The Prevent" – most of the time it isn't.
• Second, the object is only to win the game. If you've got the lead, the most important thing is to not give up the big play and just allow the opposing offense to die a slow death. Haven't you seen all the upsets this year? Smart coaches don't worry about winning the last five plays between the 20s, or how much extra yardage their defense gives up, just as long as they win the game. All you have to do is coach one game where you give up a deep ball for a score in the final minute to lose a game and you will realize that all you want is a "W."
• Finally, if all the best minds in football use it, there must be a good reason.
- Alcorn State University