Columnist

 

Analysts made me root for Stanford


LITTLE ROCK — Warned weekly about no cheering in the pressbox, the role of aloof observer transfers seamlessly to the recliner.

On Saturday night, safe from NCAA watchdogs, the prohibition was ignored and Stanford was rooted on.

Taking a stand was more anti-Oregon than pro-Cardinal and had nothing to do with the Southeastern Conference possibly being shut out of the BCS title game or the hideous wing-adorned uniforms. For weeks, the word has been that Oregon’s rapid-fire offense is unstoppable, that the lack of strength in the Pac-12 should not prevent the Ducks from playing in the title game, and how it was a shame that Alabama had lost because the Crimson Tide defense vs. the Ducks’ offense would have been epic.

The love affair with the Ducks was too much. Years ago, dominance of the Yankees provoked a similar distaste.

Stanford’s victory was old fashioned, predicated on splendid defense, controlling the ball more with a solid running game, generally good decisions at quarterback, and an edge in the kicking game.

The ultimate offense failed on 13-of-17 third downs and twice on fourth down. Hitting .210 on conversions won’t get it.

The way Stanford played defense says football smart and smart in general are not mutually exclusive. Not long ago, the theory was that Notre Dame (11-0) can’t win because of academic standards and that Vanderbilt (7-4) and Northwestern (8-3) were in a similar bind.

Once Baylor’s rout of previous No. 1 Kansas State was final, we were told folks in Tuscaloosa were glued to the Oregon telecast. Eventually, somebody realized that Georgia is also in line for the BCS title game.

Alabama won’t lose to Auburn this week and Georgia shouldn’t lose to Georgia Tech. If both come through, the SEC champion will be 12-1 and headed for the Jan. 7 game in Miami. The only way the winner in Atlanta is excluded is if Georgia loses to its in-state rival and then defeats Alabama — unlikely, but not impossible.

Last weekend, the SEC went from being an outsider to being one upset away from providing both teams in the title game for the second year in a row.

This week, Notre Dame is No. 1, followed by Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Unlikely, but say the Fighting Irish cave under the pressure. From there, Alabama over Auburn and Georgia, combined with Florida over Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State, adds up to the Crimson Tide No. 1 and the Gators No. 2.

By the same token, it wouldn’t take much for No. 7 LSU, which should beat up on Arkansas on Friday in Fayetteville, to wind up in the BCS Sugar Bowl. At 10-2, the Tigers would likely jump the loser of the SEC title game and a Florida that loses to Florida State even though the Gators beat LSU 14-6 in early October.

Meanwhile, it’s feast or famine for bowls with SEC tie-ins. Let’s say that Florida and South Carolina beat the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best, Florida State and Clemson, this week. From there, Alabama and Florida meet the per-conference max of two teams in the BCS.

That leaves Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina with 10 wins each. The Aggies are the most attractive with gee-whiz quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was likely to get invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony even before leading candidate Collin Klein threw three interceptions against Baylor.

With first choice, the Capital One Bowl would go for A&M and Aggie fans would flock to Orlando.

The Cotton Bowl has first preference from the Western Division so LSU plays in Arlington. Georgia and South Carolina fill up Tampa and Atlanta. The SEC has five other bowl ties and only Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are eligible.

The Sun Belt will be among the conferences happy to fill in the blanks.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.