IT HAS TO END
The SEC is assured of capturing its eighth national championship since the BCS era began in 1998, but the league is assured of losing in the title game for the first time, too:
SEASON / BCS TITLE-GAME RESULT
1998: Tennessee 23, Florida State 16
2003: LSU 21, Oklahoma 14
2006: Florida 41, Ohio State 14
2007: LSU 38, Ohio State 24
2008: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14
2009: Alabama 37, Texas 21
2010: Auburn 22, Oregon 19
2011: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama
One snap into next month's LSU-Alabama football game, it will be clear that this is not last season's BCS championship.
A year after Auburn and Oregon took their dazzling spread offenses to Arizona, the No. 1 Tigers and No. 2 Crimson Tide will tote traditional attacks to New Orleans. The last two teams standing this season are about establishing the downhill run and stopping the run, and it would be fitting if the two Southeastern Conference West Division foes showed up at the Superdome in leather helmets.
"It speaks a lot for what we like to call old-fashioned football," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "If you are big and physical and you win on the line of scrimmage -- even though both teams are capable of making explosive plays throwing the ball -- and you control the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of it, then you have a really good opportunity to win. I think these two teams that are in this game this year kind of proved that in terms of the style and nature of play.
"I think when you can do those things, you have a better chance to play more consistently by having a good defense and being able to have balance on offense and an offensive system that allows you to do that. Maybe that is why these teams can play with a little bit more consistency."
The SEC already has clinched a sixth consecutive national title, and the league also is assured of continuing its alternating of championship styles.
Florida ran the spread in 2006 with quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow, and then LSU won it in '07 with quarterback Matt Flynn and tailback Jacob Hester heading a traditional attack. Florida prevailed again in '08 with Tebow, and then Alabama won it in '09 behind its powerful tailback tandem of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
Last season, quarterback Cam Newton was the perfect fit for Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's spread.
"I think each year is different," LSU coach Les Miles said. "If you look at the great Florida teams, they were spread and Tebow operated his magic, and they played great defense and great special teams. It's based on operating your talent and making sure you are running your style of offense that benefits the guys you are coaching and then playing all three phases."
The Tigers (13-0) and Tide (11-1) will bring nearly identical numbers into the rematch of LSU's 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5. Alabama is averaging 219.8 rushing yards a game and allows just 74.9, while LSU is averaging 215.2 rushing yards a game and allowing 85.5 against the tougher schedule.
While tradition is reigning again in the SEC, spread offenses are struggling.
Florida averaged at least 445 yards of total offense a game during the 2007-09 seasons but plummeted in 2010, its first year without Tebow, to 350.8. The Gators ditched the spread when Urban Meyer resigned and Will Muschamp hired coordinator Charlie Weis and his pro-style attack, but they have been even worse this season with 334.2 yards a game.
Auburn was averaging a whopping 497.7 yards a game entering last season's BCS championship, but no Newton has translated into no success this time around. The Tigers are currently 104th in total offense with 328.2 yards a game.
"There are a lot of good styles of football," Saban said. "There were teams that won the national championship running a wishbone, and there were teams that won the national championship running a spread and throwing the ball all over the field and never having a quarterback under center. There are a lot of different styles that work, and I think the most important thing probably is that you have the right kind of players to play that style.
"Maybe the current trend is that with skill guys and fast guys and a good quarterback, you may be able to turn a program around a little quicker with those kinds of athletes than actually getting the big, physical guys you need to be able to play the style of football that both us and LSU have had success with this particular year."