Step aside Big 12 vs. SEC, BCS format vs. playoffs, and "your bail bondsman or mine?" College football has a new hot-button debate.
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Alabama or Texas? Who should be No. 1?
It's what an older generation might've called the $64,000 question, and, what, adjusted for the dollar's tumble, is probably still an expensive enough proposition to fill half your gas tank or pick up the tip on a Michael Phelps and John Daly table for two.
But here's a better question: Who wants to be No. 1?College football's upset streak started in Week 5 with Oregon State's Thursday night stunner over then-No. 1 Southern Cal and has stopped about as often as Bobby Bowden checks his e-mail. Since then, No. 1-ranked teams are 1-2 while top-five teams are a middling 7-6. Thus far, being near the top of the polls has done nothing but spark Maalox sales and get your team an early start on BCS dream crushing.
Take over the No. 1 mantle and you'll get a bull's eye on your back even Dick Cheney couldn't miss and an EZ pass to wait-till-next-year.
But Texas made its play for the top spot Saturday in a game in which the scoreboard operator probably logged enough overtime to bail out a bank or two, slugging back and forth with the Sooners until only the Longhorns' bank of the Red River was still cheering.
"Usually in a college game like this," head coach Mack Brown said, "somebody gives up."
That wasn't happening even if the Earth shook at Texas State Fair or someone held up the Sooners with every weapon in Tank Johnson's arsenal.
So the Longhorns finished them off with as strong a fourth quarter as any team has played this season. (Conventional wisdom says everyone on the field puts their pants on one leg at a time, but with the hurting Texas put on the Oklahoma defense in the final stanza, you'd be forgiven for concluding that the Sooner defense must wear some sort of kilt.) The offense marched down the field while Oklahoma's Sam Bradford was scrambling like Phil Fulmer dodging a summons.
Meanwhile, Alabama watched it all unfold from the comfort of the bye week.
So which team should inherit the most dangerous chunk of real estate in college football?
The answer is so clear even a Big 12 replay official should be able to see it from Sarah Palin's house.
Hook 'em Horns.
It's not that the Tide didn't play in Week 7. Getting ahead without doing anything is what we here like to call the American Dream. And Alabama's resurgence through six games is both earlier than expected and better than advertised.
But it's nowhere as impressive as the wins Texas has racked up.
The Tide beat a Georgia team that's been shaky even in its best moments and only turned in a truly spectacular half against the 'Dawgs; Georgia outscored Alabama 30-10 in the second half. Meanwhile, the formerly No. 9 Clemson Tigers have staged a collapse Lehman Brothers would be proud of, adding losses to Wake Forest and Maryland to go with the Alabama clobbering.
While Texas has confidently racked up win after win, Alabama has played out the axiom that you coach a different team every week. Thus far, Saban has led two Bear Bryant Alabamas and two that might make make Vince Lombardi re-consider his career choice on his best days.
Around their high profile wins, the Tide has strung together a series of wins that won't exactly knock your crimson socks off. An uninspired effort against Tulane seemed like a one-time event until Kentucky held the Tide to 10 offensive points.
The Longhorns, meanwhile, are majoring in consistency, and unlike Vince Young on a Wonderlic, they're acing it. They scored 52 points in three of their first four wins and have scored between 38 and 45 points in their other three. An impressive road win over Colorado last week hinted at Texas' potential, a Texas-sized statement at the State Fair was the icing on the fried Twinkie.
Through five games, Mack Brown's team prided itself on remaining outside of he mainstream chatter. Flying under the radar now would be like sneaking the Death Star past NORAD.
But whichever team takes the top ranking should strap itself in for a bumpy ride.
For the Longhorns, beating Oklahoma is like winning the first stage of the Tour de France only to be told you'll have to race the rest on a tricycle.
They've taken down the Sooners, but formerly No. 3 Missouri awaits. And so does the Oklahoma State team that toppled the Tigers in Columbia. Then there's Texas Tech's air assault, Baylor's standout freshman quarterback Robert Griffin, then last year's Orange Bowl champ Kansas and finally Texas A&M in what could be one heck of a trap game.
Then there's the matter of the Big 12 title game, almost certainly a make-or-break proposition for the BCS title game.
And while the Longhorns have reveled in the fact that their high-talent, low-star power lineup probably couldn't get picked out of a lineup even if they were wearing Texas uniforms and tackling the guy next to them, their impact players could fit comfortably in the back seat of a Hummer with room to spare for a helmet or two.
The Longhorns' passing game relies almost entirely on Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley. The duo accounts for 54.2 percent of Texas' receptions and 62 percent of receiving yardage, both numbers easily the highest among the Big 12's top-nine passing offenses. Tailback Chris Ogbonnaya has developed into a third passing threat, but managed just 24 yards against Oklahoma and has just 271 on the season, 65 of which came in a single play against Colorado. And unfortunately for the Longhorns, JerMichael Finley replacment Blaine Irby is injured.
And the ground game that became the top storyline of the Red River Rivalry is still a work in progress itself. Ogbonnaya netted minus-three yards in the first half against Oklahoma and more than doubled his entire season's output in the second half. The eventual return of Foswhitt Whittaker may help lift some of the burden off Ogbonnaya and quarterback Colt McCoy, and if the Longhorns imposed their will so thoroughly on Oklahoma's defense, it's hard to believe anyone else will have an easier time with the 'Horns.
But in this season of upsets, the only thing riskier than facing Texas is betting on the ranked team against the field.
For Alabama, the problem continues to be depth as in Lindsey Lohan's political musings might be deeper than some points of the Tide's roster. While Saban has drastically increased the talent level in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is still at risk for a collapse like last season in the grind of the SEC schedule. And quarterback John Parker Wilson has been what Barack Obama might call erratic. The three-year starter has oscillated from a Rolex accurate 13-of-16 against Georgia and 22-of-25 against Clemson to seven-of-17 against Kentucky and 11-of-23 against Tulane.
So savor the time on top, Texas and Alabama. Just don't be surprised if there's not enough time to kick your shoes off and enjoy the view.
One of you will be No. 1. If you're brave enough to take it.
The Big 16
Find out who the nation's top teams are each week as we rank the best 16 and set up something heretofore unheard of in college football, a play...wait for it...off. At season's end, the top 16 will compete in two brackets -- the Fairburn, Ga. division, ancestral home of Hangover mancrush Eric Berry, and the erstwhile Fort Myers, Fla. division, ancestral home of the pizza bagel.
- 1. Texas Longhorns: The Hangover gladly admits its past errors in underrating the Longhorns. Still, it's hard not to notice Sam Bradford's 378 yards and five touchdowns and a pass defense now ranked 109th in yardage allowed.
- 2. Alabama Crimson Tide: The Tide has a favorable schedule coming up, with only a road trip to Death Valley for Saban Bowl II standing out as a possible upset. The remainder of the Tide's opponents are 12-16 against FCS schools this season.
- 3. Penn State Nittany Lions: Joe Paterno's team doesn't have a marquee win like Texas or Alabama, which is the risk of scheduling Coastal Carolina, Oregon State, Temple and Syracuse as non-conference opponents.
- 4. Texas Tech Red Raiders: The Red Raiders work overtime to knock off Nebraska after blowing a 24-10 third-quarter lead, but have now topped the 100-yard rushing mark in every game this season. That's practically a Navy moment for a team that averaged just 59 yards a game last year.
- 5. Oklahoma Sooners: Even with the loss, the Sooners proved they're a top-five caliber team. But running back DeMarco Murray still isn't up to speed after offseason surgery.
- 6. Florida Gators: With enough talent to make the Lions look good, it always seemed like a matter of time until the Gators figured out exactly how the puzzle pieces fit together. LSU just ran into a whole lot of angry.
- 7. USC Trojans: The Trojans committed five second-half turnovers and still shut out Arizona State, underscoring just how good their defense is and how much they still need to figure out on Mark Sanchez's unit.
- 8. Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs laid a statistical whitewash on the Vols, even if it didn't quite feel that way. Matt Stafford threw for a career high 310 yards, the Bulldogs more than doubled the Vols in yardage, and Georgia held Tennessee to just over 17 minutes in time of possession.
- 9. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy is a man. He's 41 years old, and after leading his team to a surprisingly low-scoring 23-21 win over Missouri, he's the mid-point favorite for Big 12 coach of the year honors.
- 10. Brigham Young Cougars: The Cougars' offense gets the headlines, but it's the BYU defense that gets the win this week in an ugly 21-3 affair against New Mexico.
- 11. Missouri Tigers: Chase Daniel might've cracked 400 yards passing if it weren't for a controversial late interception (he finished with 390 yards), but the loss to Oklahoma State puts a heckuva dent in his Heisman candidacy.
- 12.LSU Tigers: Watch out Tiger Woods, the Detroit Tigers and legendary hockey enforcer David "Tiger" Williams, it's a terrible week to be a feline. All five FBS Tiger teams (LSU, Auburn, Memphis, Clemson and Missouri) went down this week, but none more spectacularly than LSU, who gave up just 17 fewer points to Florida (51) than it had allowed all season prior to Saturday (68).
- 13. Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes didn't manage a single offensive touchdown against Big Ten also-ran Purdue, which is an ominous sign with Penn State on the schedule in two weeks.
- 14. Kansas: Quarterback Todd Reesing and converted quarterback-turned-wide receiver Kerry Meier have done their job to keep the offense rolling, but the Jayhawks just don't have the same bite on defense as the unit that led the nation in turnover margin last year.
- 15. Utah: Another win and another week closer to the most important 'Holy War' of all time.
- 16. Michigan State: Javon Ringer cracks the 1,000-yard mark halfway through the season and could only make a better case for the Heisman if he painted himself bronze and worked on his stiff-arm.