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College football: Week 14 (The cream rises)

It already should have been evident going into last week who the best two teams in college football are in 2011.

If you had doubts, though, you can look back on Thanksgiving week as the week when the cream certainly rose to the top.

No. 1 LSU 41, Arkansas 17.

No. 2 Alabama 42, Auburn 14.

Arkansas proved to be a mere pretender to the throne in its one week at the No. 3 spot in the rankings.

The second largest crowd in the long history of Tiger Stadium — 93,108 to be exact — looked on last Friday as LSU went to 12-0 for the first time in the regular season and 8-0 for the first time in the Southeastern Conference.

It was the first contest between Top 3 teams in Tiger Stadium since Billy Cannon’s Halloween night run in 1959 (I was less than two months old at the time) led to a 7-3 Tiger victory over Ole Miss.

Against Arkansas last week, LSU dominated both lines of scrimmage in the second half. Look at the Tigers’ advantage in time of possession — 37:09 to 22:51. That tells the story.

After taking a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, Arkansas only had the ball for 12:40 the rest of the game.


Consider that:

— LSU led 494-254 in total yardage

— LSU led 286-47 in rushing yardage

— LSU led 26-11 in first downs

So now LSU has ended Arkansas winning streaks of six or more games four times.

It was a 22-game winning streak that ended on Jan. 1, 1966, in the Cotton Bowl. I cried in the cab my family took after the game from Fair Park to the Baker Hotel in downtown Dallas.

A 10-game winning streak ended in 2006 with a loss to LSU at War Memorial Stadium.

A seven-game winning streak ended this year and a six-game winning streak ended in 2001 at the hands of the Tigers.

It’s about time to give some credit to Les Miles, who is 30-13 against Top 25 teams and 12-9 against Top 5 teams since coming to LSU.

In case you’re wondering, Arkansas is 4-14 when playing No. 1 teams. The four victories came in 2007 against LSU and in 1964, 1965 and 1981 against Texas.

Meanwhile at Auburn on Saturday, Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson staked his claim to the Heisman Trophy with a career-high 203 yards rushing. He gained 142 of those rushing yards in the second half as Alabama controlled the clock and ended Auburn’s 14-game home winning streak.

Alabama fans chanted “Heisman, Heisman” at the end of the game.

Then, they chanted “LSU, LSU,” relishing the thought of a second chance against the Bayou Bengals.

If there’s a better defense than the one at LSU this year, it is the one at Alabama. The Tide held Little Rock’s Michael Dyer to 48 yards on 13 carries.

I’m among those looking forward to that rematch at the Superdome with the national championship on the line. Two SEC teams. The game played in New Orleans. It just doesn’t get any better for those of us who love Southern football.

Yes, I think LSU will defeat Georgia this Saturday in Atlanta. The Bulldogs continue to improve, having won their 10th consecutive game last Saturday against a decent Georgia Tech team in Atlanta. Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray was 19 of 29 passing for 252 yards and four touchdowns in that game.

This is the longest winning streak at Georgia since 1982, which was Herschel Walker’s junior and final season before leaving for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL.

Murray has a school-record 32 touchdown passes on the season. And remember, he’s only a sophomore.

Georgia likely will hang around for three quarters. Then, just as was the case in its game against Arkansas, LSU will dominate both lines of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.

There were three tiers in the SEC this season.

Alabama and LSU were in the first tier.

Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina were in the second tier.

The other seven teams were in the third tier.

A South Carolina team that had been whipped in Fayetteville was impressive in going to 10-2 on the season with a 34-13 win over a 9-3 Clemson squad. It was the Gamecocks’ third consecutive victory over Clemson and the school’s first 10-win season in 27 years. Clemson was held to just 153 yards of offense.

We even saw a hint of the old, cocky Steve Spurrier when he said: “Historically, Clemson has owned this series. They don’t own us now.”

The Houston Nutt era at Ole Miss ended with the expected whimper — a 31-3 Egg Bowl loss to Mississippi State. Here are the ugly stats for Ole Miss as Archie Manning leads the search for a new head coach:

— Mississippi State has won three consecutive Egg Bowls for the first time since 1942.

— The 28-point margin was the largest for Mississippi State in an Egg Bowl since 1919.

— Ole Miss has lost 10 games in a season for the first time.

— Ole Miss lost its final three games by a combined score of 110-13.

— The Rebels were 24-26 overall under Nutt, 10-22 in the SEC and 0-14 in their past 14 conference games.

Nutt was paid $2.7 million this year. That comes to $1.35 million per victory. At that rate, Arkansas would have had to pay Bobby Petrino $13.5 million in each of the past two seasons.

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, who might just be the next coach at Penn State (Mark Hudspeth will be hired from Louisiana-Lafayette if Mullen leaves), crowed: “I hope the kids in Mississippi understand that this is where you come to win championships.”

Of course, he’s just talking about the Egg Bowl championship. Ole Miss, you see, is the only SEC West team Mullen can beat.

How about a year in the SEC when Vanderbilt is bowl eligible and Tennessee is not?

Vanderbilt went to 6-6 with its 41-7 thrashing of Wake Forest. And Tennessee saw a 26-game winning streak against Kentucky end by a score of 10-7 in Lexington. Both Tennessee and Kentucky finish the season with 5-7 records. Joker had the last laugh, shall we say.

And how about a year in the SEC when Florida was in that third tier? The Gators fell 21-7 to a mediocre Florida State team in The Swamp. Florida scored with just 4:16 left in the game to avoid its first shutout since 1988.

We have two games on the schedule to pick this week. We were 2-0 last week (yes, we were among the few in Arkansas who faced reality and picked LSU; was there anything more insipid than KTHV having all its young news girls on the air to pick the Hogs during the station’s pregame special?).

The season record is 78-19.

Here are our final picks of the 2011 season:

Arkansas State 31, Troy 20 — ASU fans hate the thought of losing their coach, but Hugh Freeze’s success could make him a one-year wonder as head coach of the Red Wolves. He’s under serious consideration at Ole Miss and Memphis. If Larry Fedora leaves Southern Mississippi for Ole Miss, Freeze will move to the top of the list in Hattiesburg. The Red Wolves should get it done in Jonesboro on Saturday afternoon and finish the regular season with a 10-2 record after beating a Troy team that comes in at 3-8. The only wins have come against Middle Tennessee, UAB and Florida Atlantic. The losses were to Clemson, Arkansas, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Florida International, Navy, North Texas and Western Kentucky.

Montana 28, UCA 24 — It has been quite a season for the Bears. They won their eighth consecutive game Saturday with a 34-14 playoff victory at Tennessee Tech. The Bears, 9-3, now must make the long trip to take on 9-2 Montana in the cold. Last Saturday, UCA held Tennessee Tech to 58 yards rushing and outgained the Ohio Valley Conference co-champion 439-349. Nathan Dick was 23 of 29 passing for 319 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first playoff road victory for a Southland Conference team since 2004. The Bears don’t go down without a fight, but the wear and tear of a long season finally catches up with them. Montana has lost only to Tennessee and Sacramento State.

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