We live in the computer age of college football, meaning you need a computer to keep up with the scoring. The current bowl season is a prime example of this. Consider the following finals:
- West Virginia 70, Clemson 33.
- Baylor 67, Washington 56.
- Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38.
- Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38.
- Boise State 56, Arizona State 24
Those five games alone produced a staggering total of 468 points. Auburn, Missouri, Toledo and Air Force all topped 40 points in their bowls, and 15 other teams scored in the 30s. Now granted, these types of scores are partly due to some lousy defense. But this is also the new world order in college football (and, to a slightly lesser extent, the NFL), where teams sling the ball around all game long and zip up and down the field with abandon.
Well, maybe not in all cases. For in the midst of this kingdom of score-a-lot that college football has become, Monday's BCS national championship game between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama will feature a heavy dose of defense and two starting quarterbacks who live off the grid when it comes to national attention.
Quick, for anybody outside of SEC country, name the starting quarterback at Alabama? Even Alex Trebek might be stumped. The answer is AJ McCarron, who has solid stats (66.7 percent completion rate, 200 yards passing per game, 16 touchdowns to five interceptions) and no star power.
LSU counters with Jordan Jefferson, who is better known nationally for his role in a preseason bar fight that led to his arrest and a four-game suspension than for anything he has done on the field this season. Jefferson did not return to the starting lineup until the 10th week of the season, and he enters the championship game with 684 yards passing and six touchdowns. That is the same number of TDs that West Virginia's Geno Smith threw in Wednesday's Orange Bowl victory over Clemson.
While Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was winning this season's Heisman Trophy and fellow quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford was finishing second, McCarron and Jefferson were back home, out of sight and out of most everybody's mind. Representing their teams in New York that day were running back Trent Richardson for Alabama and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu, a cornerback who has developed a cult following based largely on his dyed-blonde hair and "Honey Badger" nickname.
In many ways it is amazing that these two teams have reached the pinnacle game of the sport with such underwhelming players at quarterback. This doesn't mean that McCarron and Jefferson are not talented contributors. But neither seems to be the key to the game, and they certainly are not the face of their teams.
That was evident once again Wednesday when Alabama and LSU arrived in New Orleans. Both teams made a few players available to the media for quick interview sessions. Alabama offered up Richardson, defensive back Mark Barron and linebacker Dont'a Hightower. LSU countered with wide receiver Rueben Randle, offensive lineman Will Blackwell and defensive backs Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor. Meanwhile, McCarron and Jefferson, the two starting quarterbacks for the biggest game of the season, were hustled away with the kickers and backups.
That is the way both players have been treated for much of the season by their head coaches. The quarterbacks might be able to deal with blitzing linebackers, but apparently they can't handle a question or two. Alabama coach Nick Saban has kept McCarron, a first-year starter, off limits to the media most of the season. It reached the point that midway through the season Saban was asked during his weekly news conference why McCarron wasn't made available more often.
"I'm really concerned with what I think is best for our players at this point in time," Saban said. "AJ has done a really good job of being able to stay focused on what he needs to do to prepare for games. . I'm trying to do what's best for his development as a player so he can focus on the things he needs to focus on or minimize what he needs to worry about."
The irony is that if the two defenses live up to their reputations and produce a slugfest similar to LSU's 9-6 victory over the Crimson Tide back in November, then it could be one or two key plays by either quarterback that makes the difference.
In the first meeting this season, Jefferson had a 34-yard completion to Russell Shepard - a play that accounted for more than half his total of 67 passing yards in the game - that allowed the Tigers to finally get on the scoreboard with a field goal just before halftime. Conversely, it was McCarron's interception late in the third quarter that led to LSU's game-tying field goal that eventually forced overtime.
One good play for Jefferson, one bad play for McCarron. That was all it took to change the outcome. It could be a similar story Monday night. This is, after all, 21st-century college football, where it's all about the quarterback. Even when it's not.