Throw The Ducks A Bone

The Pac-10 vs. SEC debate rages on in the fight for No. 2

College Football Preview: Week 11

> The Red Zone  |  Tape It Up  |  Strike The Pose  |  Breaking The Code
> B.J.: Heisman Hosses  |  Amsinger: Weekly Picks  |  Sorenson: 10 Qs  |   Braff: Ducks Should Be No. 2
> Trev: Pac-10 No Disappointment  |  National Title Matchups   |  Palm: Jockeying For Other BCS Bowls
> Hart: Woe Is A Missouri Fan  |  Roland: BC Better Beware of Turtle  |  Blackburn: Fiery Perspective
> Caparell: Soft Schedule Could Have Hawai'i BCS Bound  |  Crystal Ball: Weekend Predictions

Nov. 6, 2007

By Carolyn Braff


Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for
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The heart-thumping excitement of LSU's comeback routine has lost its pulse.


While Oregon is walloping higher-ranked teams with dominating performances, the team the Ducks trail in the polls continues to just get by. That what-an-amazing-finish euphoria has officially morphed into why-was-that-game-so-close skepticism, and the poll voters are running out of time to realize it.




Each of LSU's last four games has been a down-to-the-wire affair in which the Tigers have waged a final-drive comeback bid. The 5-for-5 fourth-down conversion binge against Florida gave way to a skin-of-their-teeth win over Auburn, a triple-overtime loss to Kentucky and last week against Alabama, a two-touchdowns-in-three-minutes comeback spree that eclipsed 57 minutes of mistake-prone play.


"If we improve and play well, everything that we need to play for is right in front of us," head coach Les Miles said. "We just have to get better and see how much better we can be."


While LSU needed all 60 minutes to beat a No. 17 team that was playing without two starting linemen and its top running back, the Ducks were swimming circles around a top-10 contender, Arizona State. Handing the Sun Devils a 35-23 loss that was not nearly that close, Oregon somehow came out behind the Tigers, sitting at No. 3 while LSU is back up at No. 2.


Convincing wins over Top 10 teams should trump last-second comebacks over Top 20s, so why is LSU still No. 2?


The nation has been taken with the Tigers ever since they were pronounced to have the greatest defense in recent memory, but after the sloppiness of the Saban Bowl I, it's time to end the love affair.


While LSU was almost losing to a team whose quarterback completed 14-of-40 pass attempts, Oregon was putting on a football clinic for the nation's No. 7. The Ducks did not play perfect football, getting slammed with eight penalties for 70 yards, but the Tigers were worse.


Racking up 14 flags for 130 yards, including false start and unsportsmanlike conduct calls on fourth-and-inches in the fourth quarter, LSU played some of the sloppiest football this side of the Manwich factory.


"I've never seen that many mistakes in a game," Miles said. "We'll never play that poorly again."


Good choice. Quarterback Matt Flynn finished the day 24-of-44 passing with three touchdowns, but threw three interceptions on three consecutive drives in the second quarter. That vaunted LSU defense, statistically No. 2 in the nation, gave up 34 points while Oregon's 73rd-ranked unit held Arizona State's superior scoring offense to 23.


"[We] still haven't played our best football," Miles said. "We would like to put together four quality quarters of football and not make mistakes."


While LSU is still attempting to string together four good quarters, Oregon is playing like a No. 2.


Two weeks ago, while the Tigers were allowing Auburn (then ranked No. 18) to score 24 points, the Ducks limited then-No. 9 USC to 17 and forced the coveted Trojan offense into three turnovers. Against Arizona State, a game in which Oregon never trailed, the Ducks came up with two turnovers in the final quarter and sacked Rudy Carpenter nine times.


"When our backs are against the wall, we play our best," LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey said. "When we need to make plays, we make them."


And apparently, not a minute earlier.


Oregon made plays before it had to on Saturday, and did so without its starting middle linebacker, as John Bacon tore his ACL during the game. The Ducks are also playing without their second- and fourth-leading running backs from a year ago, both of whom are out for the season with knee injuries.


Which is not to say that LSU has been injury-free - Flynn missed a game with a high-ankle sprain, leading wide receiver Early Doucet was out for four weeks with a groin injury, and Dorsey has been playing through a knee sprain.


But the parallels end with the quarterback. Oregon's Dennis Dixon looks like the disciplined signal-caller Flynn wants to be. Flynn's touchdown-to-interception ratio is 11:8, while Dixon's is an eye-popping 20:3. Flynn completes 55 percent of his passes, while Dixon's percentage is just shy of 68.


The quarterback's discipline seems to have a trickle-down effect, as Saturday's penalty margin was no fluke. LSU has been penalized 83 times for 639 yards this season, an average of 71 yards per game. Oregon is no perfectionist, with 49 penalties backing the Ducks up 443 yards, but their 49 yard-per-game average is two-thirds that of LSU's.


So when exactly does that what-a-comeback awe turn into why-aren't-they-playing-better uncertainty?


Oregon is one fumble-turned-touchback away from a perfect season, while LSU is three plays away from BCS irrelevance. And yet it is the Tigers who are sitting pretty while the Ducks sweat out a ticket to the national title game.


LSU currently holds a .9411 BCS average, just ahead of Oregon's .9180. The Tigers have a 50-point edge in the Harris poll and a 17-point lead with the coaches, and while the computers are split on the Ducks, LSU is getting first-place recognition from two of them.


"There's nothing for us to worry about," Oregon tailback Jonathan Stewart said. "We've just got to take care of ourselves."


That's a lovely thought, but not in the calculatingly cold world of the BCS.


The Pac-10's lack of a championship game may shoot down the Ducks. Both teams have three middle-of-the-road opponents remaining, but the SEC championship game gives LSU gets an additional chance for strength-of-schedule points and the coveted fresh-in-the-memory edge. Remember that in the BCS, a bye week can be almost as devastating as a loss.


While the Pac-10 vs. SEC war for top-conference status continues to wage, 2007 may be a decisive battle. Should a one-loss Pac-10 team that has soundly defeated its opponents upstage a one-loss SEC team that has used comeback heroics week after week?


Unless LSU can choreograph a new routine to finish out the season, the Ducks should still be in the water on Jan. 7.