- Associated Press - Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fourth-and-inches for Alabama. Make it and win. Don’t and Arkansas has less than half the field and about 50 seconds to score a game-winning and possibly season-changing touchdown.

Nick Saban needed a little goading from his players, but he did the right thing. Get a few inches, take a knee, celebrate.


There is universal agreement among those who analyze football statistics that teams should go on fourth down far more often than they do.

Still, there were no doubt plenty of Crimson Tide fans were screaming “Punt, ‘Bama, punt!” when Saban decided to go on fourth-and-less-than-a-yard from its own 44 with 54 seconds left and the Tide leading 24-20 lead against Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks on Saturday.

It took two timeouts and a failed attempt to draw the Hogs offside by the Tide for Saban to decide to try to win the game instead of trying to avoid losing it.

Alabama guard Barrett Jones after the game said the players were lobbying the coach during the second timeout.

“Coach,” Jones told reporters he said to Saban, “just trust us. We can get this 1 yard.”

“OK, let’s do it,” was Saban’s response, Jones said.

Of course, players always want to go for it. And since you don’t win two national championships by being easily swayed into calling plays you don’t believe in, it’s safe to say Saban was at least seriously considering trying for the first down.

Maybe he was thinking about this: What were the chances an Alabama offense that averages 6.5 yards per rush, would NOT get about a foot? Maybe 5 percent? Even that seems high.

What were the chances that if Alabama punted and buried Arkansas inside its own 20, that Mallett would have driven the length of the field for a TD. Well, put it this way, there’s a lot more that could go wrong in that situation.

Going for it was far less risky, but it was still great theater in Fayetteville.

There was probably more praying going on inside War Memorial Stadium on Saturday than in all the churches in town on Sunday when the Tide lined up to go for it.

Set, hike, quarterback sneak for 2 yards. Game over. Alabama stays undefeated.

There was another thing going on that play.

Great teams, physically superior teams, should always play without fear.

Florida has generally played that way under Urban Meyer and Pete Carroll’s USC teams did the same.

Right now, no team in college football should be playing more fearlessly than Alabama.



In one of the more surprising results of the weekend, Mississippi and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli routed Fresno State 55-38.

The Oregon transfer went 8 for 12 for 153 yards passing and ran eight times for 59 yards. The Rebels’ finished with 425 yards rushing, 228 from Robert Bolden.

Fresno State won its first two games, Meanwhile, Ole Miss started the season losing two of three, including home losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt. The Rebels scored only 14 points against the Commodores.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Ole Miss in Southeastern Conference play, but Masoli could make the Rebels a tricky opponent for their West Division rivals.



A couple of FCS teams that have already beaten FBS teams squared off Saturday.

North Dakota State, which began the season by winning 6-3 at Kansas, beat South Dakota 38-16 in Fargo, N.D.

South Dakota has a 41-38 victory against Minnesota,



_After another lost weekend that included Pitt getting pounded by Miami and depleted North Carolina winning at Rutgers, the Big East is now 1-10 against opponents from other conferences with BCS automatic bids. For the first time since Oct. 15, 1995, an AP regular season poll did not include a Big East team.

_Army and Air Force both improved to 3-1 Saturday and idle Navy is 2-1. The last time all three academies finished the season .500 or better was 1996, according to STATS, LLC. That was also the last time Army had a winning season.

_With a 34-23 loss to Northern Illinois, Minnesota fell to 1-3. The clock is ticking on fourth-year coach Tim Brewster and there’s already talk among Gophers fans about whether the schools should make a run at former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.



It’s become the most important rivalry in the SEC. Florida vs. Alabama. They’ve played in the last two SEC title games and they very well could make in three in a row.

But on the way to Atlanta, the seventh-ranked Gators and top-ranked Crimson Tide have to get together in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. It’s their first regular-season meeting since 2006.

The other big game is in the Pac-10, a late-night affair for most of the country, when No. 9 Stanford visits No. 4 Oregon. Kickoff is 11:15 p.m. Eastern.

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