Jacksonville State’s season officially ended Sunday, when the Gamecocks learned they would not receive an at-large bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
JSU (7-4) reached as high as No. 8 in the FCS polls this season but played itself out of the playoffs with consecutive home losses to Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5. They finished with two road victories, including a 38-16 rout of Tennessee State on Saturday, to claim a one-third share in the Ohio Valley Conference title.
The season hangs in the balance for second-ranked Alabama (10-1), which climbed back into the national-championship picture thanks to the weekend’s losses by Oklahoma State, Oregon and Oklahoma. LSU and Alabama emerged from the weekend Nos. 1 and 2 in all three major polls and the Bowl Championship Series standings.
The Crimson Tide beat FCS member Georgia Southern 45-21 in Saturday’s tune-up game, though Alabama once again struggled against the option — an offense it will likely see a lot in a possible rematch with LSU in the BCS final.
As for unranked Auburn (7-4), the Tigers can make their season by beating Alabama on Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Not only could they derail the rival Tide’s national-title hopes, but an upset would redeem an Auburn team that has suffered blowouts against No. 1 LSU, No. 3 Arkansas, No. 13 Georgia and No. 18 Clemson — the best teams on Auburn’s schedule to date.
The Tigers hardly looked ready to do any better against Alabama during their 35-16 victory over FCS member Samford on Saturday.
JSU: What now?
The theme coming into this season was winning the OVC, a tangible accomplishment JSU could pair with its stated plan to explore a move to Football Bowl Subdivision.
A share of the OVC title counts as an OVC title, but JSU’s share didn’t come with the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs.
Add that JSU came up short when picked to win the OVC in 2005, 2008 and 2010 — and APR-related penalties scratched a would-be OVC title in 2009 — and some JSU fans are rumbling about 12th-year coach Jack Crowe.
It’s understandable angst, especially given how JSU blew OVC titles. The Gamecocks gave up 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarters of crucial losses to Tennessee Tech in 2010 and Eastern Kentucky this year, blowing leads of 17 and 24 points, respectively.
New JSU athletics director Warren Koegle has said he will make the standard evaluation, and it could come down to one crucial question. Crowe signed an extension good through 2014 during the offseason, and can JSU afford to buy out its head coach?
Alabama: More options?
Statistics and the eye test show that Alabama has the nation’s best defense this season and the school’s best since 1992, but the Tide hasn’t looked so dominant against the option.
That issue surfaced during Alabama’s one loss, to LSU, and again Saturday against Georgia Southern, a well-honed triple-option team.
That Alabama gave up a season-high 21 points and 302 rushing yards to an FCS team pierced a weekend of otherwise glorious news for Alabama. The yardage total more than doubled the previous season-high of 148 LSU gained on Nov. 5.
LSU’s success came after an in-game quarterback change, and one would expect more of it in a BCS final rematch. Then again, Alabama would have a month to prepare for a special-preparation offense.
The more immediate question is whether the issue is just the option, or does Alabama have issues against offenses that spread defenses horizontally? Also, does Auburn have anything for that?
Considering the nuisance the option has become for Alabama, one wonders how Auburn might utilize freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier in the Iron Bowl.
So far, Frazier has been the change-of-pace “wildcat” quarterback, but one suspects that heavy underdog Auburn will spring surprises. They sprung a few in 2009 and nearly upset an Alabama team that had a comparable defense.
Auburn had much different personnel in 2009, including much of the same offensive line that played a major role in the Tigers’ national-title run in 2010. Those guys are gone, and their successors haven’t shown they can block a good defense.
Then again, blocking for the option is easier. That’s part of the reason why the option, much like the spread offense, can be an equalizer.
Auburn has one of the SEC’s best running backs in Michael Dyer, and Onterio McCalebb is an off-edge speed runner. The question becomes whether Auburn has a quarterback to run the option or something akin to it, and Frazier is the most likely answer.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.