NUGGETS

What a difference a year makes. Saturday’s game between (AP) No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama was the biggest in this series since 2011, but last year’s was pretty big, too. Alabama was No. 1, LSU was No. 3, under the lights in Death Valley. As we know, Alabama won, 29-0. Ed Orgeron coached in that game. Joe Burrow (184 yards, a pick) played in that game. So did Clyde Edwards-Helaire (14 rushing yards), Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall, Jr. (1 catch) and J’Marr Chase (no catches).

Imagine walking out of that game — where LSU was shut out, gained 13 first downs and failed to gain 200 total yards — and thinking LSU will do, well, everything LSU just did to Alabama’s defense over the course of their 46-41 win.

Burrow threw for 393 yards and three touchdowns on 39 attempts, while rushing for 64 more. Edwards-Helaire rushed for 103 yards and three scores, and caught nine passes for 77 yards and a score. Chase caught six passes for 140 yards and a score. As a team, LSU rolled up 559 yards on 7.08 a snap.

You knew that LSU hadn’t beaten Alabama since the 2011 Game of the Century, but the Tigers hadn’t held a lead over Alabama since the very end of the 2014 game. That’s four full games. LSU averaged 9.13 points over the course of its 8-game losing streak, and hadn’t topped 20 points on the Crimson Tide since 2010.

On Saturday, LSU had 10 points just over 10 minutes into the game and scored 33 by halftime. They never trailed for a single, solitary second.

Yes, Joe Brady’s hiring has a lot to do with that, but one assistant coach can’t turn 0 points into 46 and 196 yards into 559 on his own. It takes maturity, it takes maturity, it takes culture.

LSU looks like a team of destiny, and what a destiny it is. LSU is now 9-0, with four of those wins coming against opponents ranked in the AP Top 10 at kickoff. They won in Austin and they won in Tuscaloosa. Only two other teams have done that in the AP poll era, per ESPN Stats & Information: Arkansas in 2003 and TCU in 1955.

At 9-0 and 5-0 in the SEC, with wins over Alabama and Auburn in their back pocket, the Tigers are now in total control of the SEC West. Up next: at Ole Miss, vs. Arkansas, vs. Texas A&M. They’ll be heavily favored in all three, and only two will be required to reach the program’s first SEC Championship since 2011. Win all three and they won’t even need to win in Atlanta to make the program’s first College Football Playoff trip. Beat (presumably) Georgia for the SEC title and LSU will likely be the No. 1 seed in the Playoff, which means they’ll be back in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl. Win that and LSU will play for the national championship, in New Orleans.

Point being: LSU is in the midst of the type of season that programs spend half a century dreaming of. It’s Team of Destiny stuff. If LSU wins this title, in this fashion, it’ll be the type of season the people of Louisiana spend 50 years celebrating as if the championship was won just two weeks before.

And destiny is a funny thing, isn’t it? Because if it was up to him, Ed Orgeron wouldn’t even be in purple and gold right now. He’s only in purple and gold because he didn’t get the job he thought he wanted, USC. Joe Burrow is only at LSU because he lost a quarterback derby at Ohio State. Their perfect offense is led by the partnership 61-year-old who made his name as a tight ends coach and last coordinated an offense in 1998, and a 30-year-old who was William & Mary’s linebackers coach in 2014. The only reason Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady are even running LSU’s offense in the first place is because Orgeron tried to hire Lane Kiffin and couldn’t, and instead hired Matt Canada and it failed.

Whether you believe in fate, in destiny or in a higher power, oftentimes life’s greatest gifts only come after we’re denied what we think we want, and LSU’s 2019 season is living proof.

And now, let the arguing commence. Unless LSU somehow loses twice in its final three games, Alabama is headed for an 11-1 season in which it didn’t win its conference or its division. Twice in five years the committee has put an 11-1 non-champion in the field of four — Ohio State in 2016 and Alabama in 2017.

Those Buckeyes beat eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma in Norman in non-conference, and in conference play they scored victories over No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 3 Michigan. A year later, Alabama beat a Florida State team ranked No. 3 in the opener, then beat No. 18 LSU and No. 19 Mississippi State to overcome an Iron Bowl loss to Auburn.

This year? If chalk holds, Alabama’s 11 wins will come over an 8-4 Auburn, a 7-5 Texas A&M… and not much else. Arkansas may be the worst Power 5 team in the country (more on them later). Ole Miss will likely miss a bowl game, and Mississippi State will have to win the Egg Bowl or join the Rebels on the couch. South Carolina, Tennessee and Duke are all on the bowl bubble, and Alabama’s three remaining wins are over 6-3 Southern Miss, 0-9 New Mexico State and FCS Western Carolina.

Then again, Alabama was ranked No. 3 heading into Saturday despite that schedule. The committee alternates between “resume” and “eye test” when it suits them. We’ll get a good idea which lens the committee views Alabama through on Tuesday night.

Row the Damn Boat. Minnesota has been one of the stories of the season thus far, but that story was supposed to stop at kickoff. There was no way Minnesota — which beat South Dakota State by seven, Fresno State and Georgia Southern by three and Purdue by seven — could compete with big, bad Penn State.

In reality, Minnesota never trailed Penn State en route to a 31-26 win. A team that squeaked by a soft non-conference schedule now hasn’t faced a deficit since the 11:23 mark of the second quarter of its 40-17 win over Illinois… on Oct. 5. That’s 281 minutes and 23 seconds of game action.

The Gophers intercepted Penn State’s Sean Clifford on the Nittany Lions’ opening drive, then went 95 yards to take a 7-0 lead. When Penn State answered, the Gophers went 87 yards to take a lead they would not relinquish.

Minnesota lead 24-10 at the half and 31-19 midway through the fourth, but a 6-yard Journey Brown run pulled Penn State within five with 3:49 to play, and a three-and-out gave Penn State the ball at its own 28 with chance to win the game and 2:39 to work with. The Lions moved to Minnesota’s 25, but Clifford was intercepted a second time, securing Minnesota’s first win over an AP Top 5 team since… a 24-23 win over No. 2 Penn State in 1999.

Minnesota is now 9-0 for the first time since 1904 — that’s just five years removed from the 1800s — and owns a 2-game Big Ten West lead with three to play.

PJ Fleck positioned himself to be Minnesota’s version of Hayden Fry and Barry Alvarez when he signed his 7-year extension this week, and next up is a trip to No. 18 Iowa, with No. 13 Wisconsin coming to the Twin Cities two weeks after that. Minnesota hasn’t beaten the Hawkeyes and the Badgers in the same season since 1990, and winning those games will send the Gophers to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten championship, where the worst Minnesota could do is make its first Rose Bowl trip since 1961. One more victory gives Minnesota 10 regular-season wins for the first time since 1905.

Baylor just keeps on winning. In 2011, the year LSU beat Alabama 9-6 on all field goals, and everyone told themselves it was the result of Big Boy Defense, Baylor opened the year with a 50-48 defeat of TCU, a game that sparked Robert Griffin III’s Heisman run and the rise of Bear football under Art Briles.

Eight years later, on a day when LSU beat Alabama 46-41, Baylor and TCU played a game that was 9-9, on all field goals, at the end of regulation.

In one of college football’s most heated, underrated rivalries, Baylor snapped a 4-game losing streak to TCU with a 29-23 triple-overtime victory, as Bears quarterback Charlie Brewer hit Denzel Mims for a 20-yard touchdown on 4th-and-5 to send the game to double OT, then intercepted TCU’s Max Duggan in the bottom of the third frame to secure the win.

Two years after going 1-11, Baylor is now 9-0 for the second time in program history. Five of those have come by one score. GameDay and ABC’s “Saturday Night Football” come to Waco next week, as does Oklahoma.

Even if the Bears don’t win that one, wins over Texas and Kansas would complete a 1-11 to 11-1 two-year turnaround and send the Bears to Dallas for their first Big 12 Championship appearance.


FRIES

The Super 16. The Nuggets is once again honored to vote in this year’s NFF-FWAA Super 16 poll. Here’s this week’s ballot.

  1. Ohio State
  2. LSU
  3. Clemson
  4. Oregon
  5. Georgia
  6. Minnesota
  7. Utah
  8. Alabama
  9. Baylor
  10. Oklahoma
  11. Florida
  12. Penn State
  13. Auburn
  14. Wisconsin
  15. Michigan
  16. Cincinnati

Odds and Ends

a. Appalachian State has beaten North Carolina and South Carolina in the same season for the first time ever. The Mountaineers gained 202 total yards, somehow led 20-9 with three minutes to go and hung on for dear life as Ryan Hilinski overshot a w-i-d-e open receiver at the final horn. This is the margin between winning and losing in college football.

b. South Carolina is now 4-6. Its final two games: at South Carolina, vs. Texas A&M.

c. Western Kentucky went to Fayetteville and stomped Arkansas, 45-19, which, barring a miracle, will go 2-10 and 0-fer in the SEC in Years 1 and 2 under Chad Morris. Morris was 29 minutes late to his post-game press conference, leading to buzz that Morris had been fired. He had not. I am the guy. There’s no question,” Morris said afterward.

d. On the positive side, Tennessee may be the most improved team in the country. 0-2 and left for dead to open the year, the Vols are now 5-5 and look to be bowl bound after a 17-13 win at Kentucky. The Vols trailed 13-0 after one quarter and pitched a shutout thereafter.

e. A walk-off winner: Colorado over Stanford.

f. A walk-off winner: Purdue over Northwestern.

g. A walk-off winner: Utah State over Fresno State.

h. A walk-off winner: Texas over Kansas State.

i. The last one was interesting. Tied at 24, Texas gained a first-and-goal at 2 with 1:32 to play, with K-State still in possession of one timeout. Rather than go for the end zone, Tom Herman sent Sam Ehlinger barreling into the line of scrimmage on first down, exhausting Chris Klieman’s final timeout, and then again on second down. Ehlinger actually scored on third down with 39 seconds left, but the play was called back for illegal formation. Pushed back to the 8, Ehlinger essentially took a knee on third down. Herman ran the clock down to three seconds, called timeout and then kicked a 26-yard field goal as time expired. Herman would have been barbecued if the snap went wild or the kick pushed wide but, after K-State tied the game with 6:45 to play, Herman’s strategy ensured the Wildcat offense did not step on the field again.

j. Since beating North Carolina 21-20 on Sept. 28, Clemson has won by scores of 45-14, 45-10, 59-7, 59-14 and 55-10. The Tigers will get their one and only CFP Top 25 opponent before the Playoff actually arrives on Saturday in No. 19 Wake Forest. Actually, scratch that. Wake lost 36-17 to Virginia Tech, so Clemson likely won’t play a single CFP ranked team all season.

k. Ohio State dropped 705 yards on Maryland in a 73-14 win. It’s the second time this season the Buckeyes have scored more than 70 points, and the eighth straight game they’ve allowed 14 or fewer.

l. On the flip side of that coin, Oklahoma. The Sooners led Iowa State 42-21 entering the fourth quarter, and a fumble, a punt and an interception later, found themselves defending a 2-point pass with 24 seconds left to hang on for dear life, escaping with a 42-41 win. After allowing 19.4 points per game and an even five yards a play in their first seven games, OU has given up 44.5 points a game and 6.36 a play over their last two.

m. Don’t look now, but Louisiana Tech is now 8-1 after drubbing North Texas, 52-17.

n. Florida Atlantic beat Florida International 37-7 to win the Shula Bowl for the third straight time under Lane Kiffin.

o. Michigan State led Illinois 28-3 with 11:24 to go in the second quarter. Final score: Illini 37, Spartans 34. Illinois, which started 2-4 and lost to Eastern Michigan, is now 6-4 and bowl bound, while Michigan State is 4-5 with a trip to Ann Arbor waiting on Saturday.

p. Oh.

q. Final score: Southern Miss 37, UAB 2.

r. Miami is bowl bound after a 52-27 blowout of Louisville. Manny Diaz’s crew has won three straight and has a great chance to stretch that to five with FIU and Duke next up.

s. Kedon Slovis threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns in the first quarter, giving USC a 28-7 lead. He threw for 135 the rest of the game, and USC won 31-26. Go figure.

t. UTSA scored 14 unanswered in the fourth quarter to beat Old Dominion, 24-23.

u. Charlotte rallied from 21-7 down to beat UTEP, 28-21. Will Healy needs to beat Marshall or ODU to reach a bowl in Year 1


DESSERT

Because you’ve earned it, here’s some more O. I’d apologize for the language, but, well, what do you really expect?

 

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National columnist - Zach joined the staff in 2012...and has been attempting to improve Doug and Scott's writing ability ever since (to little avail). Outside of football season, you can find him watching the San Antonio Spurs reading Game of Thrones fan theories.