This week, college football takes care of the unfinished business of September 15, the Saturday games which were to have been played following the September 11 attack in New York and Washington, D.C.
In some ways, Saturday's action will complete the yet-unfinished business of 2001. In other ways it will re-open a wound, which may never completely heal. But perhaps the best aspect of re-scheduling these games at all is the demonstration of a desire on the part of most Americans to keep our chin up and carry on as we always have, undaunted by the past, and looking forward to the future.
Guy Morriss travels north Saturday to make his last statement as the wannabee coach of Kentucky as his 2-8 Wildcats take on Cam Cameron's red-hot Indiana Hoosiers, winners of three of their last four. In terms of ability, IU quarterback Antwaan Randle-El may be the Big 10's worthiest Heisman Candidate, but for some reason, nobody mentions him in the mix. Must be the team he plays for. Aiding Randle El is All-Big 10 candidate TB Levron Williams, also a senior, who contributes mightily to the Hoosiers' 413 yards of offense a game, averaging 6.9 per carry and scoring 17 TDs. Williams has already rushed for more than 1,300 yards this season.
The trouble for 4-6 Indiana is the defense, which also yields more than 400 yards per game. But hey, Kentucky gives up 482 to go along with a snappy offense that compiles 270 passing yards a game behind big sophomore QB Jared Lorenzen. This will be a numbers game. KENTUCKY 41, INDIANA 38.
Rejuvenated Georgia, behind the live-action pounding of newly-converted tailback Verron Haynes, re-emerged among college football's elite last Saturday with a nationally televised pummeling of hated rival Georgia Tech. This is a team now to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, the season is almost over, and the Dawgs will not be allowed to take their show any further than Orlando or Tampa by season's end. Still, new Coach Mark Richt has imbued the Bulldogs with a sense of optimism not felt in more than a decade. So don't expect Saturday's Conference USA opponent, Houston, to stand against that kind of momentum. GEORGIA 51, Houston 10.
This game would have dawn national attention earlier in the season when the Bulldogs of Jackie Sherrill were still considered a threat to win the SEC. At this late hour, however, Mississippi State (3-7) is set to conclude its most disappointing season in years.
BYU, on the other hand, is one of two undefeated major college teams and has seen its national ranking climb up into the Top 10 in nearly every poll except the BCS. Hmmm. Sounds like a recipe for redemption in Starkville Saturday afternoon. MISSISSIPPI STATE 34, BYU 30.
Alabama is on the verge of completing its dream season under first-year head coach Dennis Franchione. The Tide threw off five games in the process of playing possum with cat's paw quarterback Tyler Watts, bluffing, year-long than Alabama would run the option in Auburn at season's end. The secret almost got out of the bag against Mississippi State when Watts got injured and Zow was forced into action against the druthers of the head coach. Still, a quick deception about who would start against the Tigers, and it was smooth sailing in Jordan Hare on November 17.
The mastermind behind the scheme has guided the Tide ship into position to claim its first winning season in two years, despite the embarrassing fact that win-conscious Alabama fans have now endured 14 losses in their last 22 games. Could Franchione really accomplish a Tide turnaround on the basis of beating Auburn alone? Would the fans go for that? Would they buy in to Coach Fran even if Bama lost to Southern Miss this Thursday night in Birmingham? Or is it time for this man among boys to come out of the closet and produce a winning season right here, right now? ALABAMA 20, Southern Miss 17.
Speaking of disappointing, the 2-8 Commodores of Woody Widenhofer stagger into Oxford for one last final exam in a season fraught with failure from start to finish. The Dores have beaten only Duke and Richmond close calls with Auburn and Alabama, in the final analysis, are nothing other than more losses.
The Rebel report card, meanwhile, has rendered some failing grades itself lately as what was once a surprisingly promising start has dissolved into usual Mississippi mediocrity with consecutive late-season losses to Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi State. The fan base for Ole Miss is demanding satisfaction. Vanderbilt, fresh off a 38-0 face-slapping at Tennessee, is requesting mercy. They won't get it. OLE MISS 42, VANDERBILT 14.
Suddenly as a heart attack, Florida is staring a season-making trip to Pasadena in the face. With the help of Colorado and Oklahoma State, the #2 Gators have re-established themselves behind Miami as the second-best college football team in the country. The mid-season loss to Auburn is forgiven, and the opportunity to win a second National Championship under Steve Spurrier is at hand.
But just as certainly as it happened to Nebraska, Oklahoma, Michigan and so many more before them, it can happen to Florida( again)--even at home in The Swamp. After all, this is college football. Tennessee has been planning this attack since before September 11 so don't be surprised to see the Vol running game and big-play wide receivers Kelley Washington and Donte Stallworth state their case with a passion this Saturday afternoon in Gainesville. FLORIDA 31, TENNESSEE 27.
It has always come down to this. All along, everyone knew that the winner of the Auburn-LSU game would be considered one of--if not the--favorite to win the SEC West. For both teams, 2001 has been a rollercoaster. LSU endured back-to-back humiliations in September and early October, losing to SEC East powers Florida and Tennessee. But the Bengals subsequently ripped rivals Alabama and Mississippi State in very impressive fashion.
Auburn achieved a season highlight by upsetting second-ranked Florida in October, but it's been downhill for the most part since then, as the Tigers have lost embarrassingly to Arkansas and Alabama in the season's second half. The only post-peak bright spot was a 24-17 upset of Georgia November 10 in Athens.
LSU star receiver Josh Reed remains perhaps the most dangerous offensive player in college football. Auburn cannot hope to cover him man to man and win. LSU QB Rohan Davey has physically survived, so far. That was a question mark before the season. He's played as advertised and will be a huge challenge for the Auburn defense Saturday night in Baton Rouge. RB LaBrandon Toefield has held up his end of the bargain for the Bengal running game. For Auburn to win, he must be stopped.
If Auburn is to upset LSU, the Tigers must throw the ball, not because AU can't run it without injured freshman TB Carnell Williams in the lineup, but because LSU has shown a weakness in defending the pass, giving up an alarming 284 yards per game through the air. RB Casinious Moore should be more than adequate at taking up the Cadillac's slack on the ground. But not if the Tigers can't throw.
For Auburn to get to Atlanta, Damon Duval must kick and punt like an All-American. Auburn's quarterback, either Jason Campbell or Daniel Cobb, must play with abandon while not giving the game away with careless mistakes. In short, the Tigers must play like champions if they are to be champions.
Somehow, this LSU-Auburn game is like the day of reckoning once delayed. The secrets yet undiscovered about each team would have been known long ago, except for the postponement. Now we are about to find out what the future has had in store all along. AUBURN 34, LSU 27.