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NATIONAL REPORT: Alabama sitting pretty for another national-title run

Alabamrunning back JalstFowler dives inend zone for touchdown second half Saturday against LSU. | Dave Martin/AP

Alabama running back Jalston Fowler dives into the end zone for a touchdown in the second half Saturday against LSU. | Dave Martin/AP

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Updated: December 11, 2013 6:52AM



LSU’s offense was fairly dominant in the first half Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Tigers’ pro-style passing attack generated more than 200 yards. Total yardage, first downs and even momentum favored the visitors from Baton Rouge, who tied the score at 17 with a field goal on their first possession of the second half.

That’s when Alabama did its thing. That’s when the best coach in the land, the Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban, did his thing.

Saban out-hatted the Mad Hatter, LSU coach Les Miles, on the ensuing possession with a fake punt on fourth down from Alabama’s 41-yard line. It was the perfect call at the perfect time by the perfect coach. Maybe it was a not-so-subtle tweak, too, of Miles, who tried every trick play in the book during a 21-17 loss to the Tide last season.

It changed the game, changed a game Alabama might have lost had Saban punted away to quarterback Zach Mettenberger and NFL-bound receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Certainly, it changed the moods of ESPN viewers in Tallahassee, Fla.; Columbus, Ohio; Waco, Texas; and pretty much everywhere else.

‘‘Our guys didn’t play great in the first half,’’ Saban said on the field afterward. ‘‘They played great in the second half, and I’m proud of them.’’

Does anyone outside of Alabama root for the Tide anymore? Saban’s team has won three national championships in the last four seasons, including the last two. It has won enough to suit most everyone’s needs.

But Alabama probably isn’t done. By the end of its 38-17 victory, the Tide had demoralized LSU — which somehow had won five of its last six games in Tuscaloosa — and probably dispirited, at least a bit, the other contenders for the national title.

Mettenberger was being flung around like a rag doll. The Tide was rolling — frighteningly — with a ground game that would make NFL defensive coordinators wince. Same old stuff for Saban’s machine.

‘‘Any time you can control the line of scrimmage, you control the game,’’ quarterback AJ McCarron said.

There’s a date hanging out there like a sore thumb: Nov. 30. It’s the Iron Bowl, when Alabama must roll its machine into Auburn to face the other Tigers — the 9-1 Tigers.

Auburn generally takes a back seat to Alabama and LSU in the SEC West, but this season is different. First-year coach Gus Malzahn, who was Cam Newton’s offensive coordinator in Auburn’s 2010 BCS title season before taking his first head job at Arkansas State, has a bead on national-coach-of-the-year honors.

Alabama gets to beat up on Mississippi State and Chattanooga before the Iron Bowl. It’ll roll into Auburn 11-0, still ranked No. 1 and two victories from yet another appearance on the biggest stage in the sport.

On that day, the other title contenders will sit and watch and root like crazy for an upset. Florida State still might be unbeaten. Same for Ohio State and Baylor. They’ll sit and watch and hope for the best.

And — who are we kidding? — they’ll be disappointed. Demoralized. Dispirited.

The Tide rolls on. What else is new?

HEISMAN WATCH

My top five if I were voting today:

1. QB Jameis Winston, Florida State. His defense intercepted Wake Forest six times Saturday. He’ll have to say thank you from the dais in New York.

2. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor. Someone has to get the credit for the Bears’ massive success. Of course, it’s going to be the pretty-boy quarterback.

3. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Where did he get off mixing in three interceptions with his five touchdown passes against Mississippi State?

4. QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. Check back with us on . . . Wednesday night? Life in the MAC.

5. QB AJ McCarron, Alabama. So what if he was better last season? He was just right against LSU. No one wins like this guy.

GAME BALL

WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri

No one ever said living up to the ‘‘No. 1 recruit in the country’’ tag would be easy, and Green-Beckham — once so highly touted he was known far and wide simply as DGB — has had his share of downs in two seasons at Mizzou. On Saturday at Kentucky, the 6-6, 230-pound sophomore was up, up and away, catching a school-record four touchdown passes in a 48-17 victory.

GAMES OF THE WEEK/WEAK

Week: Texas 47, West Virginia 40 (OT). The Longhorns trailed all night — 9-0, 16-10, 26-16 and again 40-37 late in the fourth quarter — but they kept coming back. This refusal to lose for one of the Big 12’s two unbeaten teams in league play (Baylor is the other) just might save coach Mack Brown’s job. Or maybe the Brown hot-seat business is water under the bridge already.

Weak: USC 62, California 28. In 2012, Sonny Dykes’ Louisiana Tech team led the nation in scoring, averaging 51.5 points. Has unstoppable offense, will travel? Not Dykes. His first season at Cal has been a nightmare. The Bears are 1-9 overall and 0-7 in Pac-12 play. The 28 points they scored Saturday matched their high in any conference game.

POLLING

Up: No. 5 Baylor. Oregon likely will be the only team the Bears jump, but still. Baylor in the top four? Wild.

Down: No. 14 Miami. The Hurricanes apparently couldn’t recover from a blowout loss last week to Florida State. A bad Hokies offense rolled them for 549 yards.

In: Minnesota. The Gophers are a truly shocking 8-2 (4-2 Big Ten) after a 24-10 victory against Penn State. One of the stories of the year.

Out: No. 25 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have lost three consecutive games after a 7-0 start. They could beat the Dallas Cowboys next weekend and not get back in.

EXTRA POINTS

• A guy named DeVon Edwards became the first FBS player in 10 years to score three non-offensive touchdowns in a game — one on a 100-yard kickoff return, the other two on pick-sixes. You’ve never heard of Edwards because he plays for Duke, which beat North Carolina State to move to 7-2 (3-2 ACC) and guarantee its first winning season since 1994. If the Blue Devils can do this sort of thing, it must mean pretty much anyone can.

• Quarterback Kevin Hogan attempted all of 13 passes in Stanford’s epic victory Thursday against Oregon, but he put the ball in running back Tyler Gaffney’s gut an amazing 45 times. It was a resounding reminder that, no matter how fancy offenses get in college football, no matter how much teams spread formations, no matter how much misdirection they throw at opponents, there is nothing so powerful in the sport than an effective straight-on ground game. Have to wonder if any team can win a national title without one.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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