Three Novembers ago, a John Manziel, temporarily of College Station, Texas, went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and frightened, then demoralized, the locals.
Five Novembers ago, a Cameron Newton, temporarily of Auburn, Alabama, went across that state to Tuscaloosa, saw his team fall behind 24-0 and then frightened, then demoralized the locals.
In both cases, Tuscaloosa proved a considerable way station in the path to the Heisman Trophy.
Alabama somehow has only one Heisman winner, Mark Ingram in 2009, an oddity which Tide fans can chalk up either to yearly vagaries, to bias or to the beauties of team ball. They also can relish that in this Nick Saban era, if you’ve gone to Tuscaloosa and gotten out of there not only whole but happy, everybody knows you’ve done something hard.
Texas A&M upset No. 1 Alabama, 29-24, in 2012, largely because the Alabama defense could not chase down Manziel to any effect less than 92 rushing yards and 24-for-31 passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns, and general marvel. No. 2 Auburn beat No. 9 Alabama, 28-27, in 2010, largely because Newton is often a commanding presence on a football field (as well as in press conferences, but that’s another matter).
Next Saturday night, the 2015 Heisman frontrunner will go to Tuscaloosa. LSU running back Leonard Fournette has led the other 12,800 or so players in the college football imagination for what seems an eon. (It has been about two months.) His 193.14 rushing yards per game stand 45 yawning yards ahead of the runner-up in that category. He has looked like all Hades to tackle.
With his seven-game rushing totals at 159, 228, 244, 233, 158, 180 and 150, numerals weakened by some second-half time resting wisely on the bench, he approaches the higher climb of Game 8. Alabama, unsurprisingly, deploys the nation’s No. 3-ranked rushing defense and No. 4-ranked total defense. It yields only 78.5 rushing yards per game. Obviously, only one LSU opponent has held Fournette below double that.
Well done, Western Kentucky.
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Alabama vs. LSU often involves major crashing sounds coming from the Southeast, but this seems even louder. In addition to the heightened contempt always involved, it should influence both New Year’s Eve and the College Football Playoff, and Dec. 12 and the Heisman presentation.
To cook it up even more, both teams just had bye weekends.
“We’re very excited,” LSU offensive tackle Vadal Alexander said two weeks ago.
“We are a lot more prepared,” LSU receiver Travin Dural said two weeks ago.
“We didn’t have a lot of energy like we usually do, and I think that’s due to playing eight games in a row,” Saban said two weeks ago.
Both sides will try to solve the puzzle in the trenches, one hoping to pry things open for Fournette, the other hoping to stuff the prying. It should make for fine big-boy viewing, and it should resonate all around the country and back over to Fort Worth, Texas.
There, Fournette’s main Heisman rival has begun a heavy November. The TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin will get to upgrade his opposition to play at No. 10 Oklahoma State (8-0) on Nov. 7, at home to No. 13 Oklahoma (7-1) on Nov. 21, and at home to No. 2 Baylor (7-0) on Nov. 27.
Already, Boykin has risen into a vision of a senior quarterback, fifth in the nation in yards per game and third in quarterback rating, with 28 touchdown passes to five interceptions. Already he steered, really steered, a dynamic comeback from a 35-17 deficit at Kansas State on Oct. 10, packing a fourth quarter with a 14-yard touchdown run, a 69-yard touchdown run and a 55-yard touchdown pass to the mighty Josh Doctson. As with Fournette, the look of Boykin factors in. Study it, and you’re swayed.
Behind those two, the remarkable Christian McCaffrey didn’t harm himself with 107 rushing yards and four receptions in No. 8 Stanford’s escape at Washington State. His string of triple-digit rushing yardage reached six. Other mainstays here this fall, from Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson, to Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, to Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, to Alabama running back Derrick Henry, didn’t play.
Everybody will play on a hefty Saturday upcoming, with the ultimate playing, yet again, in Tuscaloosa.