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With the BCS, the defense never rests

Posted: November 7, 2011 - 1:06am

LOS ANGELES — The season’s almost over and no one is close yet to figuring it out.

The CBS rating for Saturday night’s game between Louisiana State and Alabama, a spectacular 11.9, was almost three points higher than the winning team scored.

Was it overhype, great defense, both, or what?

The best offensive play at Bryant-Denny Stadium was the 73-yard punt by LSU’s Brad Wing, out of his own end zone, that helped keep Alabama from winning in regulation.

The 9-6 finish might have looked ugly, but it was not close to the worst college overtime game ever contested.

In 2005, Arkansas State beat Florida Atlantic, 3-0, on Eric Neihouse’s field goal, in the first extra period.

The Sun Belt Conference changed its name for one week to the Eclipse Belt.

In 2006, Buffalo outlasted Temple, 9-3, in Amherst, N.Y. The game was tied at 3-3 after regulation before Buffalo busted it wide open on James Starks’ 18-yard scoring run.

Alabama and LSU, comparatively, was a masterpiece. It was actually compelling if you like the sound of a car hitting a wall.

LSU solidified its lock on No. 1 in Sunday’s Bowl Championship Series standings on the merits of a performance that left both coaches somewhat perplexed.

“Not necessarily a pretty game,” Tigers coach Les Miles said afterward, “but it had a nice ending.”

Alabama gave up nine points and 239 yards in defeat and had to surrender its No. 2 BCS spot to Oklahoma State, which moved up after allowing Kansas State 45 points and 501 yards.

Alabama, though, fell only to No. 3 in the BCS and stayed ahead of undefeated Stanford and Boise State.

Isn’t BCS football special?

If the season ended today, a team that scored nine points (LSU) on Saturday would face a team ranked No. 110 in total defense that is giving up 28 points a game.

In what actually was Saturday’s best game, Oklahoma State improved to 9-0 with a dramatic, 52-45 win over Kansas State.

Oklahoma State’s defense had to deny Kansas State three times inside the Cowboys’ five to preserve the win.

“We didn’t play as well as we needed to, but when it really came down to the tough times at the end, they sucked it up and did what they needed to do,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young said.

Asking your offense to outscore your defense every week is a slippery-slope path to national title consideration.

UCLA tried it in 1998 and made it all the way to December in Miami before its defense failed to do what was needed — make one tackle against a Miami player.

That heartbreaking loss cost the Bruins a chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title.

Oklahoma State’s defense is leaky like a faucet but getting away with it because of an offense that is almost otherworldly.

LSU vs. Oklahoma State would make a very intriguing title game.

Contemplate watching Oklahoma State’s 50-point offense against an LSU defense that gives up 10.9 points per game.

But we’re talking about these teams as No.1 and No. 2 only because they survived close weekend encounters.

“The first thing I thought when the clock hit zero was thank God it’s over,” Oklahoma State cornerback Brodrick Brown said after holding on to beat Kansas State.

A bobble here or a lapse there might have had us today pondering Alabama vs. Stanford.

The good news for fans is that so much more can go decimal-daffy between now and Dec. 4.

Stanford might be out of the conversation next week if it loses at home to Oregon in a pivotal Pac-12 showdown. LSU still has to play Arkansas.

Everyone is assuming Boise State will finish undefeated, but the Broncos have a tough home test this week against Texas Christian, which is 7-2 after overcoming early losses to Baylor and Southern Methodist. The Horned Frogs are back in this week’s USA Today and Harris polls.

There are interesting questions left to ponder.

What if Oklahoma State and Stanford lose once between now and December, but LSU, Alabama and Boise State win out?

Would the BCS electorate want to see a rematch between LSU and Alabama, or opt to see LSU and Boise battle in New Orleans for the whole bottle of bourbon?

Boise State’s case would be bolstered, right, if Georgia won the SEC East and gave LSU a game?

Boise, of course, easily dispatched of Georgia, 35-21, in the season opener in Atlanta.

Georgia is leading the SEC East at 5-1. South Carolina has two league losses but holds the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs.

What happens, gulp, if Georgia shocks LSU in the SEC title game? Could that leave the national title without a representative from the vaunted SEC?

What if Oregon beats Stanford this week and wins the Pac-12? Would the Ducks pass undefeated Boise State in the BCS? If Oregon finishes 12-1, its only loss would have been to LSU.

What if Arkansas beats LSU and then wins the SEC?

These are the questions that keep your blood pumping in a sport that uses opinions and formulas to determine its champion.

It makes college football what is — for better, worse and the things people curse.

“College football has turned into March Madness and starts in September,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said after his sweat-it-out win against Kansas State. “I just don’t know that there are going to be many teams that can make it through to the end that don’t have some close calls.”

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