Apparently Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide can come from behind in the fourth quarter after all. Last Saturday at LSU, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron led an epic final-minute drive that culminated in a 28-yard screen pass touchdown to T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds left as the Tide won 21-17 in their only test so far this season.
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It was the first time Alabama had trailed in the fourth quarter of a game since the 2010 Iron Bowl loss to Auburn; the Tide trailed in the fourth quarter three times that season and lost all three. With the LSU victory, Alabama moved from the even-money favorite at the book to repeat as BCS national champion to -150. The Tide can officially clinch a return to the SEC Championship Game on Saturday by winning at home against No. 15 Texas A&M in the schools' first-ever matchup as conference foes. That game will have live play-by-play betting at the book and Alabama is a 14-point favorite.
Alabama's top-rated scoring defense, which looked somewhat vulnerable versus LSU, will face the best individual talent it has seen all season in Aggies' freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, a lock future Heisman Trophy contender.
Last week in a 38-13 win at Mississippi State, Manziel passed for 311 yards and rushed for 129 and two scores. It was the third time this season he topped 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a game. That's the most of any player in one season since the turn of the century. Led by Manziel, who is No. 2 nationally in total offense, Texas A&M is on pace to break the SEC's total offense per game average of 534.4 set in 1995 by Florida.
This will be the Aggies' first-ever trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala. Texas A&M, which is 5-0 on the road in 2012, is 1-10 all-time against the nation's top-ranked teams, with the win coming 30-26 win over Oklahoma in 2002. Of course both A&M and Alabama's football programs will always be linked by Paul "Bear" Bryant. He coached A&M from 1954-57 before moving to Alabama from 1958-1982 and making the Tide into a superpower.
Friday, Pittsburgh at Connecticut (+3.5): The Pitt Panthers choked away a sure win against Notre Dame last week, but in the process still might have seriously damaged the Irish's national title hopes.
Pitt blew a 20-6 fourth-quarter lead in South Bend, and then missed a chip-shot 33-yard field goal in double overtime following an Irish fumble. The fates were clearly smiling on the nation's Catholic university as Notre Dame escaped 29-26 in triple OT. That close call did drop Notre Dame to fourth in the BCS standings and it is now the book's fourth-favorite at 15/2 to win the national title.
Now the Panthers have to win two of their final three to reach a bowl game, which they have done the past four seasons. Pitt is just 1-3 at UConn's Rentschler Field overall, the lone victory coming in 2008. This will be the final meeting as Big East foes between the schools. The underdog has covered in the past six.
Saturday, Northwestern at Michigan (-11): Will Wolverines star QB Denard Robinson play? The former Heisman candidate sat out last week's win over Minnesota due to an ulnar nerve injury in his right (throwing) arm. Robinson suffered that injury on October 27 early on at Nebraska and didn't return. That proved very costly as the Huskers won 23-9 to take a crucial head-to-head tiebreaker with Michigan. Those two are currently tied atop the Big Ten's Legends Division at 4-1, so U-M's only chance of reaching the Big Ten Championship Game is if the Huskers lose at least once more and Michigan doesn't.
With one more passing touchdown, Robinson will become the first player in Big Ten history to post 50 passing scores and 40 rushing TDs. All signs point to "Shoelace" playing against the Wildcats in the penultimate home game of his brilliant career. Northwestern is a game behind Nebraska and Michigan but already lost to the Huskers - by just a point -- so they would need to win out and get a ton of help to win the Legends Division.
Don't look for Northwestern to pass much Saturday as it ranks No. 113 in the nation in passing yards per game and Michigan is No. 1 defensively against the pass. Northwestern has won just four of the past 32 meetings but did win in its last trip to Ann Arbor in 2008. The road team has covered in four of the past five overall.
Saturday, Mississippi State at LSU (-14.5): Just a few weeks ago, both schools had hopes of winning the SEC West, but those hopes are gone.
The Tigers could be emotionally spent after last week's gut-wrenching 21-17 loss to Alabama, a game in which LSU mostly outplayed the nation's top team. It ended the Tigers' 22-game home winning streak, which led the country. It was only their second home loss at night ever under Coach Les Miles. LSU could still be a candidate for an at-large BCS bowl bid if it wins out. This is the Tigers' home finale for 2012.
Mississippi State started 7-0 but has been outscored 76-20, combined with the past two weeks in losses to Alabama and Texas A&M. LSU has won 12 straight and 19 of the last 20 games against Mississippi State, but the road team has covered in five of the past seven. The Tigers are 18-1 under Miles in games following a loss (in 2008) and haven't lost back-to-back regular-season home games since 2001.
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