- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2011

It’s time for a tip of the hat to the Mad Hatter.

Seriously, Louisiana State coach Les Miles earned it this month.

Without suspended quarterback Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers are 4-0 and a legitimate national title contender thanks to stifling defense teeming with pro prospects.

Yet Miles‘ work isn’t impressive because of the raw record. Instead, LSU took on a bruising September slate and passed each test with aplomb.

There was a 40-27 neutral-field manhandling of Oregon, a team fresh off an appearance in the national title game. The Tigers later limited Mississippi State to 193 total yards in a road victory to open Southeastern Conference play.

It wasn’t quite so easy Saturday at West Virginia, where Miles and Co. emerged with a 47-21 victory. It became especially raucous when the Mountaineers closed within 27-21 and created the hint of an upset. The Tigers’ Morris Claiborne then simply bounced off tacklers to return the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a score, and that was that.

It wasn’t quite classic Miles — the sort of how-did-that-happen moment his time in Baton Rouge is littered with — but it was an appropriate punctuation mark to the Tigers’ superb September,

“I like the position we’re in, but I don’t think we’re the best team in college football today,” Miles told reporters.

Maybe not, but LSU has done more than anyone else this season. The Tigers would be a deserving No. 1, at least for now.

Weekend Risers

Oklahoma State. Meet the biggest threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12. The Cowboys erased a 17-point deficit at Texas A&M, rallying for a 30-29 victory to cement themselves as a top-10 team a third of the way through the season. Yes, the Aggies imploded, but quarterback Brandon Weeden’s school-record 438 yards passing could be a hint of more fireworks to come later this season.

Sammy Watkins. Clemson’s fabulous freshman was at it again, hauling in eight catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 35-30 defeat of Florida State. Watkins has 29 receptions and six touchdowns, and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is smart enough to get him carries as well. One other thing: He’ll be a nightmare for ACC defenses for two years after this season.

Arizona State. A week after stumbling at Illinois, football mercenary Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils throttled Southern California to improve to 3-1 and seize early control of the Pac-12 South. The lackluster division’s only other credible threat is Utah, which will play host to Arizona State in two weeks.

Weekend Decliners

ACC also-rans. The bigger the geographic footprint becomes, the harder John Swofford’s conference falls. It was a miserable weekend for the ACC in non-league play, with N.C. State’s blowout loss at Cincinnati on Thursday serving as a prelude. Temple thrashed Maryland, Virginia fell to Southern Mississippi and Kansas State edged Miami. Those last three games? All on ACC home fields. Yikes.

Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ opportunity to emphatically vault themselves into the national title picture went wrong in every imaginable way at Alabama. Arkansas rushed for 19 yards on 17 carries, managed 226 total yards and allowed touchdowns on a punt return, interception return and a fake field goal. It is tough to be high on the Hogs after such a performance.

Mike Locksley. The former Maryland assistant was already 2-25 in two-plus seasons at New Mexico. Then came a 48-45 overtime loss to Sam Houston State, along with the arrest of a 19-year-old for aggravated DWI in a car police say belongs to Locksley. New Mexico issued a statement the car is registered to Locksley’s son. Either way, it’s one extra headache for a man whose job security is tenuous at best.

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