Orange Bowl

GAME OF THE WEEK: Week 5

 
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Rese Davis | ESPN

Should Alabama be ranked No. 1? Perspective on that will be much clearer Saturday night once we know how the Crimson Tide fared against the most complete team they've faced so far: Ole Miss.

I can hear the Hotty Toddy cheer reverberating after that last sentence. But don't get carried away, Colonel Black Bear. Most complete doesn't mean best.

Texas A&M is the best team Alabama has faced. That Johnny Manziel plays quarterback for the Aggies makes that the case.

Here's what I mean by complete: Ole Miss has the best combination in all three facets of the game -- offense, defense and special teams.

Virginia Tech has the best defense Alabama has faced, but the Hokies' offense has been abysmal. A&M has the best offense, but its defense is porous. The Crimson Tide can't reasonably expect to win Saturday if they play as poorly as they did on offense against the Hokies or if they give up as many big plays as they did on defense against A&M.

The Rebels have difference-makers who are more than capable of making teams pay for lapses. Running back Jeff Scott is a threat any time he touches the ball. He has been particularly explosive in the fourth quarter. Four of his five runs of 15 yards or longer have come in the final period, including the 75-yard game-winner against Vanderbilt on opening night.

Three players who were highly coveted recruits by Alabama -- OT Laremy Tunsil, safety/nickel back Tony Conner and DE Robert Nkemdiche -- have been outstanding as Ole Miss freshmen. Nkemdiche is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss, but is still looking for his first sack. As if one Nkemdiche isn't enough to worry about, Ole Miss could get big brother Denzel, who injured his knee in the season opener, back for this game as well. He led Ole Miss in tackles last season. Now if all of this seems like searching for a pimple on Kate Upton, it is. That's the way it is when you are Alabama -- college football's supermodel. People look for vulnerabilities in the perceived invincibility.

Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace believes that vulnerability is at cornerback, and the Rebels will put points on the Tide. Maybe they will.

Meanwhile, some in crimson have grown a little weary of hearing how much trouble the Rebels gave their team last year. After all, Alabama won the game by three touchdowns.

Last year, we knew for sure that the Tide deserved to be No. 1. We will have a much better read on the answer to that question this year after Saturday night's test. We will also know if Ole Miss is still building a foundation in the SEC West or if Hugh Freeze's team has taken a giant leap into the contender category.

Ole Miss-Alabama is the SEC undercard to LSU at Georgia. For a team that spent the offseason bemoaning the 5 yards of separation between it and the BCS title game, the Bulldogs will almost certainly be eliminated from the national title scene before October if they don't defend home turf against the LSU team that everybody's talking about.

The stakes are high but there is also a compelling subplot. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is a former Bulldog. Mettenberger's mom, Tammy, is a longtime administrative assistant in the Georgia football office. Coach Mark Richt gave her the week off, saying it would be awkward for her to hang around while the Georgia coaches tried to devise ways to let Leonard Floyd unleash untold mayhem on her son.

Les Miles was sorry to see Richt burn a potential spy, facetiously saying, "We were really kind of hoping that we'd get the call sheet and several of the other key pieces of information."

While we can always count on The Hat for good humor, this will be an emotional and serious night for Mettenberger. He was in a heated battle with Aaron Murray for the starting quarterback position before he was dismissed from the team following a spring break arrest in 2010. (He later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery and was sentenced to probation, fines and community service.)

Mettenberger has displayed remorse, taken responsibility for his behavior and repaired his image. Even so, Mettenberger figures to get an earful when he walks between the hedges Saturday. It won't be a warm, hearty welcome home.

He arrives with the best QBR in the SEC and faces the man who has thrived in the job he once coveted. Murray just passed Peyton Manning and Danny Wuerffel on the SEC's career total offense and passing yardage lists, respectively.

Both can put up numbers, but the biggest factor in my judgment is how well Mettenberger manages his emotions. Nothing will be more important in determining whether LSU can continue its rapid ascension while in the process putting the Bulldogs' BCS title dreams in a ditch.

The nation's longest winning streak belongs to Ohio State at 16 games. In hopes of taking a step toward breaking a different streak, coach Urban Meyer is employing the Ric Flair mantra. "To be the man, you've got to beat the man."

Bucky Badger has been the man in the Big Ten, making three straight Rose Bowl appearances. Meyer may subscribe to the Nature Boy's philosophy, but he's ignoring Wally Pipp. Most quarterbacks who come off the bench and throw 12 touchdown passes in three games would have grabbed the job the way Lou Gehrig snagged the Yankees' first baseman's gig from Pipp.

Kenny Guiton has been outstanding filling in for Braxton Miller. But with Miller's knee healthy enough to go, the Buckeyes appear committed to putting their fate in the hands of the preseason Heisman candidate when Wisconsin comes to town this weekend. Reports from practice this week say Miller has been sharp. Seeing your understudy set school records has a way of making you focus, not to mention heal.

Ohio State allows about 2.6 yards per rush -- or less than a quarter of the ground Badgers running back Melvin Gordon covers every time he touches the ball. Gordon leads the nation in rushing average (156 yards per game), and I believe he is the most explosive of all the great Wisconsin running backs of recent vintage. Gordon has more 20-, 30-, 60- and 70-yard runs than anyone in the country. And he isn't even the starter.

After all, James White is the leading active career rusher in the FBS and averages more than 110 YPG. Both will tote plenty of rock Saturday night.

After last Saturday's nonconference hot garbage, this week delivers a more appetizing matchup in Oklahoma and Notre Dame. History has no real relevance once a game starts, or at least that's what people on the wrong side of it want you to believe, but the Irish have beaten the Sooners nine times in 10 all-time meetings. The Irish sprinted away from a 13-13 tie in the fourth quarter last year to win 30-17. That finish was a lot like the one in Bob Stoops' first season in 1999, when Notre Dame scored the final 21 points in a 34-30 win. Few programs have inflicted more pain on another in so few meetings than the Irish have on the Sooners.

Louis Nix dominated the middle last year, allowing Oklahoma only 15 yards rushing. The Sooners are different on offense this year, though. Blake Bell has taken over and there's more pistol and read-option in the OU attack, but it still has to move the big fella in the middle if it wants to run effectively. That's what I'll be watching.

The SEC has taken some nonconference hits in September. Watch out for UCF Saturday against South Carolina.

QBR is only one stat, but consider this: A strong QBR correlates strongly to a team's chances of winning. For instance, if the quarterback gets a QBR of 92 in a game, based on QB play alone, a team would have a 92 percent chance of winning the game. UCF's Blake Bortles' QBR for the season is 92, about 20 points higher than South Carolina's Connor Shaw.

The difference between Bortles having to go up against Jadeveon Clowney and the Gamecocks D (opponents have just a 47 QBR against them) as opposed to Shaw facing UCF's defense (65 QBR against) may even out the battle somewhat.

This weekend will be a great way to finish September while whetting your appetite for the meat of the season.

 

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