Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 10/29/12
They wont be the dominant forces on the Tiger Stadium turf when No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 LSU collide Saturday night. That designation would fall on the defenses, which are ranked first (Crimson Tide) and third (Tigers) in the nation. But for Alabama QB A.J. McCarron and his counterpart, Zach Mettenberger, this could be a defining game. McCarron has been quietly building steam as a Heisman Trophy candidate, despite stats that dont jump off the page. Thirteen players have thrown for more touchdowns than his 18 and hes 59th with 1,684 yards. While hes often called a game-manager, McCarron is the nations most efficient passer (182.4 rating) and hasnt thrown an interception since Oct. 21, 2011. Ultimately whats held him back in the race is that Alabama doesnt need him to do much with its dominant defense and running game. But the Tides biggest test yet could change that formula, giving McCarron the stage to boost his candidacy. Lets not forget that it was McCarron who was named MVP of the BCS title game when he threw for 234 yards against these Tigers. Do it again, and he could open eyes to what he is: the most logical Heisman contender on the nations best team. While McCarron is chasing credibility in the Heisman race, Mettenberger is looking for a different kind of respect. The junior, who was originally at Georgia, was supposed to be the answer, a player who could boost a Tigers passing attack that was 106th and 107th the last two seasons and hadnt ranked higher than 58th since JaMarcus Russell was in gold and purple. So far, LSUs offensive struggles have only continued with Mettenberger at the controls, averaging 177.3 passing yards (106th) and 31 points (51st) a game and hes 12th in the SEC with a 124.3 rating in throwing seven TDs and four picks and has yet to throw for more than 169 yards in SEC play. Hes fallen way short of the expectations placed upon him, but if he breaks out against the No. 1 Crimson Tide and as overpowering as Alabamas defense is, its hard to imaging the Tigers winning without Mettenberger not having that kind of performance a legacy will be forged. But if he falters in the only game that matters for the Tigers BCS title hopes, expect the calls for his benching to grow quickly. The stakes couldnt be higher. Its not the Game of the Century this time around, but the latest chapter in Alabama-LSU could prove to be the game of two careers. Can Auburn afford to fire Gene Chizik? Just two years removed from Auburn winning the BCS crown, these are trying times on the Plains. The Tigers are 1-7 and 0-6 in the SEC. The offense is ranked 120th (aka dead-last) in FBS and the defense is 95th and Auburn just got dealt a 42-point loss by Texas A&M that tied for the worst in school history. So it should come as no surprise that pitchforks and torches have been grabbed and the mob is calling for Gene Chiziks head. But they may not get their wish, and the afterglow of that title Chizik led the Tigers to is to blame. Chizik was rewarded in June 2011 with a new contract that included a buyout that opened at 10 million. It decreases every December, with that figure to hit 7.5 million this year. Can the Tigers really afford to pay that much to push Chizik out and they pay for another coach? Things are going to get worse. Auburn has yet to play No. 6 Georgia or top-ranked Alabama, but with the benefit of a massive buyout in his corner, dont be surprised if Tigers fans may have to suffer through more Chizik. Heisman Watching (a ballot in progress) 1. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State, Sr.: With four more TDs (two through the air and two on the ground), he joined Martin Gramatica as the only players in Wildcats history to go over 300 points in their careers. Long slammed for his erratic play as a passer, Klein has thrown for 556 yards and five TDs the last two games with an 80.8 completion percentage. 2. QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State, Soph.: He answered any questions about his health, putting on a show with his sixth 100-yard rushing game and had three total touchdowns. Only one player on a team facing a postseason ban has ever won the award (Andre Ware in 1989), but Miller is making a strong case to at least reach New York. 3. LB Manti Teo, Notre Dame, Sr.: Realistically, he doesnt stand a chance. No strictly defensive player has ever won (Charles Woodson, a cornerback, was also involved in the return game as a receiver) and no one since lineman Hugh Green, who was second, has ever come close. Teo will have his backers as the poster boy of the Irish revival. Ups and downs Up: Notre Dame First a mea culpa after last weeks Blitz; the Fighting Irish delivered in a tough environment and flashed some offense in totaling 403 yards against Oklahoma. With four wins already over Top 25 teams, its hard to imagine an unbeaten Notre Dame not playing for a national title. Down: Ohio State Its not for the Buckeyes play, its for not taking a bowl ban last season. At 9-0 and 5-0 in conference, Urban Meyers crew would have a clear path to the Big Ten title game if eligible and be a threat to play for a crystal football. Instead theyll have to hope they can sway AP voters to earn a split title. Up: Georgia I was asked on multiple radio shows if Mark Richt needed a win over Florida to stay off the hot seat. Consider that seat ice cold. The Bulldogs need only victories against Ole Miss (2-2 in the SEC) and 3-5 Auburn to clinch an SEC title game spot. Oh, and he has Georgia on pace for an eighth season of double-digit wins in his 12 years. Down: Michigan How long will Denard Robinson be out? He reaggravated a nerve injury in his throwing arm in the loss to Nebraska, an injury Brady Hoke says just takes time to heal. The Wolverines have little on their side as they lost control of their destiny in the B1G Legends Division. Up: Louisville The Cardinals are fighting for respect while playing in a conference thats doing the same, but Teddy Bridgewater and Co. are deserving of your attention. Theyre on a collision course with Rutgers for the Big East crown and you can bet coach Charlie Strong, a former Florida staffer, will soon draw plenty of attention from SEC teams. Down: USC Turnover have been a problem during Lane Kiffins tenure. Over his first two seasons, the Trojans lost the ball 40 times. Theyre adding to those woes in 2012 with 18 so far, including five against Arizona. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you get 493 passing yards from Matt Barkley, 345 receiving yards from Marqise Lee and still lose. Telling stats 3 -- Tennessee is off to its third straight 0-5 start in the SEC under Derek Dooley. Before 2010, the program had only produced once such start, coming in 1977. 4 -- The MAC has four victories against Big East teams this season, with Kent State delivering the latest against Rutgers. The conference has 15 nonconference wins in all, breaking the previous record of 14 set in 2008. 11 -- Years since Boise State has suffered a loss in October. The Broncos ran their streak of victories to 48 by beating Wyoming. Their last loss in the month came on Oct. 6, 2001 against Rice. They said it "We're optimistic his football days are ahead of him." -- Steve Spurrier on running back Marcus Lattimore, who had his right knee dislocated and suffered ligament damage in South Carolinas win over Tennessee. "We knocked them out, we punched them in the mouth and they didn't want to do anything about it." -- Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins after the Huskies dealt No. 7 Oregon State its first loss 20-17. "I think they're the best team in the country. I do. I don't see where the weakness is." -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose Blue Devils lost 48-7 to No. 12 Florida State, which had 560 yards and held Duke to 232. Crystal ball No. 1 Alabama at No. 5 LSU Which game will we get? Will it be the 9-6 overtime defensive struggle from last November or the Alabama dominated BCS title game. Death Valley at night is as tough as it gets, but given the way the Crimson Tides defense has been playing (first nationally in total defense and in points allowed at 8.1) and the struggles of the Tigers 74th-ranked offense, its likely to be the ladder. Prediction: Crimson Tide 24, LSU 17 No. 4 Oregon at No. 17 USC Before the Trojans loss to Arizona, this looked to be the Pac-12s game of the year and the Ducks chance to impress the BCS computers. Now you have to wonder how USC will respond after a loss that ended any hope of staying in the title race. Look for an Oregon running game thats more physical than it gets credit for to dominate like Stanford (202 yards) did. Prediction: Ducks 37, Trojans 27 No. 16 Texas A&M at No. 15 Mississippi State The Bulldogs defense was exposed in last weekends loss to Alabama and could be in for another long day against the SECs most explosive offense. Aggies QB Johnny Manziel is averaging 352.6 yards per game in conference play and along the way he has broken the conferences record for total offense twice. Hell put on another show in Starkville. Prediction: Aggies 38, Bulldogs 34
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