- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fourteen weeks produced an unquestioned No. 1.

As for No. 2? Not so much.

Louisiana State was already in excellent shape to reach the national title game even before throttling Georgia in the second half of a 42-10 victory in the SEC championship game. The 13-0 Tigers’ place in the BCS title game was well-earned thanks to victories over Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oregon and West Virginia, with only one of those coming in Baton Rouge.

Next comes the debate between Alabama and Oklahoma State, a pair of 11-1 teams whose accomplishments are effectively equal.

Alabama possesses the most impressive victory of the two teams, a rout of Arkansas back in September. The total quality of Oklahoma State’s victories, which included Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma , is greater than the Crimson Tide’s accomplishments in a top-heavy SEC.

The Cowboys’ lone loss, though, is a puzzler. Oklahoma State dropped an overtime contest Nov. 18 at Iowa State, a team en route to a 6-6 finish. Alabama’s only setback was 9-6 field goal fest against Louisiana State at home. That game, too, needed overtime.

There are sound arguments for both. The Crimson Tide were truly superior in their 11 victories, leading by double digits for every second of the fourth quarters of those games. Oklahoma State did not lose at home, a significant item with such a limited sample size of games.

Alabama ranks No. 1 in total defense and scoring defense. Oklahoma State is No. 2 in scoring offense and No. 3 in total offense. It would make for a fascinating national semifinal, if such a thing existed.

There are also invalid arguments, all of which were spouted endlessly late Saturday and into Sunday. Alabama’s membership in the SEC does not constitute a birthright to play for a championship.

And the fact that Oklahoma State has yet to play Louisiana State while Alabama lost to the Tigers at home does not mean the Cowboys “deserve a shot.”

Either way, both teams have a case to be No. 2, and someone is certain to repeat theirs for a long time to come as a result of being excluded from next month’s title game.

Weekend risers

Clemson. The Tigers are ACC champions for the first time in two decades after thrashing Virginia Tech for the second time this season. So much for Clemson’s late-season fade; it shrugged off a 1-3 to slide to earn an Orange Bowl berth. And for those counting in the Palmetto State, that’s one BCS berth for the Tigers and none for South Carolina.

Brad Nortman. The Wisconsin punter won’t need to buy a drink in Madison for a long time to come. Nortman drew a running into the kicker penalty in the closing minutes of the Big Ten title game, negating a long Michigan State return and giving the Badgers a first down. Wisconsin then ran out the clock to book passage to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year.

Robert Griffin III. The Baylor quarterback completed a masterful regular season, throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns as the Bears routed Texas to secure their first nine-win season since 1986. Griffin is ranked first nationally in pass efficiency and second in total offense, and accounted for 45 touchdowns (36 passing, nine rushing) against six interceptions.

Weekend decliners

Conference USA. So much for getting a representative in a BCS contest. Previously unbeaten Houston put its skimpy resume on the line in the league title game against Southern Mississippi and was smoked 49-28.

Howard Schnellenberger fans. Florida Atlantic’s 26-0 loss to UL Monroe brought an end to the career of the retiring Owls coach. Other coaches accomplished more, but the colorful Schnellenberger won a national title in 1983, built Miami and Louisville into relevant programs, established a program at Florida Atlantic and did nearly everything with ample showmanship.

Oklahoma. Injuries to wideout Ryan Broyles and tailback Dominique Whaley hurt the Sooners down the stretch, and their absence was especially painful in Saturday’s 44-10 loss to Oklahoma State. It was Oklahoma’s largest margin of defeat against the Cowboys since 1945, and capped a 9-3 regular season that began with hopes of a national title.

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