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October 9, 2012

Fans want to see UA vs. fast offense

In a parallel dimension not too different from this one, this would be the biggest college football weekend of the season.

Imagine if the Missouri administration had decided to cling to its Big 12 roots, its rivalries with Kansas and Oklahoma outweighing the Texas hegemony that sent it scurrying. Imagine if the Southeastern Conference, eager to add a 14th member, had listened more attentively to West Virginia's lobbying. Now imagine that No. 1 Alabama, instead of making a fairly interesting trip to Columbia, Mo., was instead headed to Morgantown, W.Va.

That - or a similar pairing of Alabama and Oregon - is the game America is yearning to see, apparently.

The matchup of the SEC against one of the high-flying, 50-point-per-game offenses is exactly the sort of debate-settling contest fans love, and that debate is permeating college football right down to the subconscious.

For instance, look at Nick Saban's comment about no-huddle offenses last week. It isn't surprising that Saban's disdain for them made headlines. Any Saban comment connected to college football is news.

Nor is it surprising that his old-school sensibilities are offended by offense. There may even be some truth in his statement that no-huddle offenses lead to more injuries - I haven't seen any scientific proof, but it stands to reason that there is more chance for injury in a game with 190 plays than in a game with 140.

But the divide goes deeper. Generally speaking, the best way to win football games, as always, is to line up and physically pound people. The problem is, out of 120 college football programs, there are only a few - 15 or 20 - with the resources to recruit the kind of talent it takes to play that way.

Alabama can, and Ohio State, LSU and Texas. Florida can, and under Will Muschamp, it appears dedicated to doing so. The Gators' win over LSU last weekend, matching power with power, was a watershed. But not every program - not even programs like Oregon and West Virginia and Oklahoma State and Baylor - can recruit enough burly linemen and big backs to compete in a war of attrition. So if you can't run through them, you run around them.

And that is what America wants to see.

Hence the overreaction to Saban's statement, which has been interpreted as an assault on spread teams, as a ruse to somehow save Alabama from having to play the Ducks or Mountaineers. (A lot of carts are being put in front of a lot of horses here, but never mind.)

By the way, the notion of actually having the two best teams play for the title (you know, what the BCS is actually supposed to do) has been completely superseded by the "most interesting matchup" concept. But there isn't going to be some rules change in the next six weeks that will stop West Virginia from running 100 plays per game if it wants. Saban isn't that powerful, no matter how much national paranoia he inspires.

It could have happened this weekend, but expansion took a different turn. But don't be surprised if it happens in Miami.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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