Chuck Culpepper (c) 2014, The Washington Post. BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Through November after November, and then December after December, this resilient nation has soldiered on somehow, through towering and devastating questions. It has lived on through the USC-LSU-Oklahoma question (2003), the USC-Oklahoma-Auburn question (2004), the Florida-Michigan question (2006), the Oklahoma-Texas question (2008), the Alabama-Oklahoma State question (2011), plus the angst and disgruntlement available through various Boise State and Utah questions, and other, slightly milder questions.
Now comes the Mississippi State question, and first, a pause.
Congratulations to Mississippi State for becoming a question.
It’s melancholy to lose at Alabama, as so many have done through time, but it’s an achievement to have become a question.
As an irritable people, we had just gotten going this season with the overarching Baylor-TCU question, a TCU-Alabama question and an Oregon-Florida State question, all these questions courtesy of 12 studious citizens sitting in a committee meeting room somewhere in the unnavigable Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Now we put aside our daily minutiae such as jobs and families to take on the Mississippi State question, which goes: How far should Mississippi State fall from the No. 1 perch it inhabited through the first three Tuesday night rankings releases? Should its tumble halt at No. 4, thereby including it in the picture for the inaugural four-team playoff?
It’s a tough question, and in a sense everyone is lucky — or unlucky — that the on-field drama of Saturday did not also unleash a Florida State question. Florida State trailed 16-0 and 23-7 at Miami, with Miami looking a bit like the attitudinal force of yore, but Florida State prevailed, 30-26, by winning the second half 20-3. It continued a bewildering string of Florida State escapes — Clemson’s late fumble, Notre Dame’s late pass interference, Louisville’s 21-0 lead — that must have Coach Jimbo Fisher over on the sideline thinking that a deficit is not a deficit. By the time Jameis Winston lined up with his offense 62 yards from the end zone with 5 minutes 11 seconds left and a 26-23 problem, the officials should have just given Florida State the ensuing touchdown, to save time.
Twelve weekends of blood and sweat and controlled contempt in the national books, and the 65 top-rung teams have one unbeaten left: Florida State at 10-0.
That brings the hunt for four playoff teams to the club of one-lossers, which began Saturday at eight, welcomed Mississippi State to the list and shed three: Arizona State, Duke and Nebraska. That must make six. Actually, the club didn’t so much shed Nebraska, which yielded 59 points and 581 rushing yards to Wisconsin, 408 of those yards to Melvin Gordon, surpassing the gracious LaDainian Tomlinson’s 15-year-old FBS record. No, the one-loss club banished Nebraska, took its belongings to the bus station and told it to get lost.
It’s a wonder Nebraska’s record didn’t fall from 8-1 to 8-3.
That leaves the committee with three top-four spots to give six one-loss teams: Oregon (No. 2 last week), TCU (No. 4), Alabama (No. 5), Baylor (No. 7), Ohio State (No. 8) and Mississippi State, a team on which everyone pretty much agreed all along.
Now, everybody won’t agree. Now, the placement of Mississippi State might just stir Southeastern Conference-tinged rancor and resentment and debate, and in these 2010s, there’s little better than SEC-tinged rancor and resentment and debate. Does the committee join the fashionable reverence of the SEC and keep Mississippi State way up there? Do the Bulldogs slip to the most somber of spots, No. 5? Does the committee start picking apart anew Mississippi State’s non-conference schedule of Southern Mississippi, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin? Does it stare again at LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, all unbeaten when Mississippi State played them, but who just suffered a fourth loss, a fourth loss and a third loss, respectively — and start sneering across the water pitchers?
“Those are two of the best teams in the country out there battling and there’s absolutely no doubt about that,” Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen said after Alabama won, 25-20.
“Absolutely no doubt.”
After the absorption of the clash, he probably forgot which country he inhabits.
Already the Baylor-TCU question has the potential to cause lasting Waco-Fort Worth bad vibes, turn the Interstate 35 corridor into a zone of condescension and malice, and that’s just on the radio. (You would think two religion-centric schools could . . . Oh, never mind.) As of now, the committee ranks TCU No. 4 and Baylor No. 7, even though Baylor defeated TCU on Oct. 11.
Now we factor in Mississippi State, the fresh kingpin, and get a Mississippi State question to go with the Baylor-TCU question, which is not to mention the Ohio State question. This ought to help alleviate our general national boredom for a while.
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The 24-game-old Gus Malzahn era at Auburn, so prolific in yardage and points, so rich in NFL-wants-him rumors, has reached a new paradigm.
As Malzahn had stood over there with his geeky glasses and his ingenious mind and his wanting grammar, calling plays, Auburn had scored in the 60s in one game, in the 50s in three, in the 40s in seven, in the 30s in 10 and in the 20s in two. Its lowest score had been 20, in September, when it dared to venture out to the unforgiving Great Plains in Manhattan, Kan., where it managed to win.
On Saturday night it went into Athens, Ga., which will teach it to go into Athens, Ga., on a Saturday night. It suffered a 34-7 loss that had everybody on its radio broadcast pretty puzzled. Oddly, though, three guys sitting outdoors in a front yard on 13th Street in Tuscaloosa near Bryant-Denny Stadium, with a fire going to contain the chill, and with the TV blaring in the front yard, and in their Alabama sweatshirts and whatnot, seemed to continue enjoying the fourth quarter of Auburn-Georgia very much even though the outcome had been settled.
You might marvel at how they mustered enjoyment from a blowout.
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Yale (8-1) will go to Harvard (9-0) next Saturday, and if score-happy Yale can win, it will share the Ivy League title with Harvard. If Dartmouth can beat Princeton, all three will share it. Note the accepted usage of the verb “share.” It’s so disappointingly civilized.