If Les Miles truly wants to exemplify his genius, he will accidentally leave the lock off Mike the Tiger’s cage for when Alabama takes the field in Death Valley on Saturday.
Now, this isn’t Miles’ only shot at victory – the Tigers surely have an opportunity at home to dethrone Nick Saban’s Tide – but it would alleviate matters if Mike could take a Gladiator-type swipe at stars C.J. Mosley or AJ McCarron on their way out. Because, well, they’re pretty good.
If there’s one thing that’s held constant this college football season, it’s that Alabama is the best team in the country. Balanced, fast, terrifying … that’s the Tide in 2012. Hell, they’re all pretty good.
Their former coach does that to them. Just like a spurned lover, all those insecurities come flooding back until curse words and petty pranks streak to the forefront. What heartbroken person/crowd hasn’t wanted to uncage a tiger on the heartbreaker? At times, it just feels like the only option for personal victory.
However, there’s always the hope that Miles’ magic is sufficiently potent.
Since Saban returned to the college game in 2007, Miles has split the Alabama-LSU series with him. Before January’s BCS Championship, the average margin of victory between the two coaches hovered just under six points. SIX POINTS.
The general consensus is that No.1 Alabama exists on a different plane this season, coupling a newfound offensive explosiveness with its familiar defensive prowess. No team has come close. But if there were someone to bet on, despite his overwhelmingly mediocre offense, it is Les Miles. He finds avenues to success.
Saban may have been born on Halloween, but Miles has his oft-rumored deal with the Devil to fall back on. And who knows? Perhaps, as part of that deal, Mike gets out of his cage.
At this point, with this much anticipation, nothing short of Alabama being blown out will provide shock and awe.
STIFF ARM SUSPECTS
The Suspects does not acknowledge name recognition, positional bias, team affiliation or media favorites for its weekly Heisman update. Players earn a spot based on production – and production alone – against quality opponents. This week two linebackers threaten the stronghold of a Wildcat legend.
Collin Klein, Kansas State, QB: Accounting for 65 percent of an undefeated team's offense is one thing, but doing it against quality competition is another. Klein's 28 total touchdowns rank fourth nationally, too. The next two weeks will be crucial for Klein's candidacy, as he faces two top-40 defenses for the last time this regular season. If he escapes with even average numbers, he'll make the trip to New York (hurricanes notwithstanding). Next game: Oklahoma State
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, LB: Defensive players normally run into human bias, but Te'o's name has been (appropriately) tossed around so much that his performance, team and backstory are now household information. After another dominating effort — this time against Oklahoma — he remains a top Suspect. His 80 tackles and five interceptions both rank in the top-20 nationally. But it's the way he has the Irish believing in something special that has set him apart. Next game: Pittsburgh
Kenjon Barner, Oregon, RB: This Duck's numbers aren't flying south. As Oregon continues to demolish opponents, it is the steady force of Barner that has anchored the effort. With four-consecutive 100-yard games, Barner ranks 12th in rushing and eighth in rushing touchdowns. If he posts a similar effort against USC — the country's 28th-best run defense — in the Pac-12's most enticing matchup, his stock will fly. Next game: USC
Raising Suspicion: Braxton Miller (Ohio State); Jarvis Jones (Georgia); Geno Smith (West Virginia); AJ McCarron (Alabama); Demontre Moore (Texas A&M); Terrance Williams (Baylor); Stefphon Jefferson (Nevada); Matt Scott (Arizona); Giovani Bernard (UNC); Marqise Lee (USC)
THE FIFTH WATCH
The Watch is your weekly slate of top games, plus one highly-ranked team that needs to be on high alert. This week sees the game every college football fan has been waiting for. Any questions?
Alabama at LSU: This game will be discussed from every possible football angle throughout the week, but the crowd will play a factor in Death Valley. Alabama is hyped as a machine — and for all we know, there's no contradictory evidence to that claim — but even machines can be rattled. Expect a low-scoring affair, with Alabama toying with Zach Mettenberger and LSU's defensive line getting enough heat on AJ McCarron to force a mistake or two. Saban's squad is better, but this one should be closer than the BCS title game. Pick: Alabama
Oregon at USC: The Spoiler of the Weekend Award goes to Lane Kiffin, whose team lost to both Stanford (again) and Arizona to tarnish this matchup's luster. Both teams can score — they're averaging 88.4 points per game combined — but can either stop each other? Conventional wisdom says this will be turn into a shootout with the Ducks holding the upper hand. USC could not stop Arizona's spread with a concussed quarterback, so what's the answer for Chip Kelly's squad? Pick: Oregon
Texas at Texas Tech: A perfect example of why make-it-take-it rules are not utilized in football. While the Red Raiders were the country's No. 1 scoring defense at one point (maybe the season's strangest statistic), they've fallen off in recent weeks, allowing 50 or more points in back-to-back games. Texas' offense has sputtered as well, even needing Case McCoy to stage a comeback against Kansas, so something has to give. In Lubbock, bank on Tuberville. Pick: Texas Tech
Texas A&M at Mississippi State: Johnny Manziel vs. Johnthan Banks — book it. The Mississippi State defense has forced 20 turnovers this season (13th nationally), but it struggled to stop AJ McCarron and Alabama's balanced attack. Now comes Manziel, the freshman sensation who has personally accounted for 3,009 yards of offense, and an explosive, but turnover-prone Aggies attack. Mississippi State finds just enough balance at home to bounce back. Pick: Mississippi State
ON WATCH: Careful, Wildcats. Mike Gundy lost a lot of talent off his 2011 Oklahoma State team, notably Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden, but there’s enough to challenge No. 2 Kansas State here. The Cowboys have not been pushovers. They’ve taken down TCU and Iowa State in back-to-back weeks, and this starts a four-game stretch versus ranked opponents. Collin Klein will need to be sharp to make sure Gundy’s squad doesn’t get off on the right foot.
THIS IS WHY…
Multi-million dollar coaching contracts are completely worth the money… when everything is running smoothly.
Some high-profile programs – and the men leading them – are learning that the hard way this season, with losses often outnumbering the votes of confidence in the stands. Texas, Auburn and Iowa find themselves among the list of fan bases discontented, or downright pissed off, with their coaching staffs.
Consider this: Mack Brown (Texas), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) and Gene Chizik (Auburn) have, collectively, won fewer games versus FBS opponents than they will “earn” in millions this season. As three of the 10 highest-paid college football coaches in the country, they will earn around $12.3 million combined in 2012.
They have accounted for just 11 wins.
It’s the risk athletic departments run in modern times (save for Texas, which inexplicably signed Brown through the 2020 season this offseason). Either fork out more cash immediately for your hot coaching candidate, or watch the vultures descend. That often leads to outside factors being ignored: inherited recruiting classes, exiting superstars or standout assistants.
Ferentz signed his extension through 2020 two years ago, when he was piecing together 9- and 11-win seasons. Chizik locked up his pay raise as quickly as he could after Cam Newton bolted for the NFL. These days, those quick decisions must feel like a regrettable Vegas marriage: Flashing lights, sparks, compatibility, commitment, wake up and then, “Tell me that didn’t happen…”
Ferentz received his “vote of confidence” this week, a fickle obligation for athletic directors if ever there was one. This is why he can’t feel comfortable.
Chizik has floundered in the absence of Newton and former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who is already rumored to be his successor. This is why he can’t be comfortable.
But the most uncomfortable parties remaining in this conversation are the athletic departments involved, which face pivotal – and cash-strapped – decisions as the season winds down. To fire or not to fire? To bite the bullet on millions in buyout compensation or simply pray for improvement?
And this is why the coaching carousel, albeit reluctantly, begins to spin.