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November 4, 2011

Mailbag: Which QB do you want in the clutch?

A strong arm is great. Mobility is a tremendous asset. Intelligence is vital.

Yet the greatest trait a quarterback can have is the ability to make clutch plays at crucial times.

Numerous quarterbacks can throw for 3,000 yards (there were 28 of them last season). Not nearly as many have the ability to lead their teams to game-winning touchdowns or field goals in the waning seconds of a big game.

Who would you want guiding your team at crunch time? That's a question to be discussed in this week's mailbag.

[ Got a question? Click here to send it to Olin's Mailbag ]


Take your pick

I just heard a very good question and would like your answer. If you were 70-plus yards from the goal line with 90 seconds left on the clock and down by six points, which Heisman-candidate quarterback would you choose: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Landry Jones, Case Keenum or Kellen Moore? My answer to this question is the person I would vote for the Heisman.
Dan in Boise, Idaho

You're a Boise resident? I think I know where you're going with this.

Without question, Moore is an excellent quarterback who is deservedly a Heisman candidate. And as per your question, he did lead Boise State on a late drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis to beat Virginia Tech 33-30 in the 2010 season-opener.

But how does that factor in to who should win the Heisman this year? And if last year's accomplishments should be considered, that opens up another question: What would be more impressive - leading a last-minute drive to beat Virginia Tech by a touchdown, or throwing four touchdown passes to lead a 40-12 blowout of Virginia Tech? That's what Andrew Luck did in Stanford's Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech last season.

Still, the original question is about leadership and poise and making big plays in the clutch. So let's take a closer look at it.

In his career, Moore had led Boise State on one game-winning drive in the final minutes. He also should be given credit for putting Boise State in position to defeat Nevada last season; the potential game-winning field goal was missed.

Let's look at how many times the other quarterbacks you mentioned have led clutch, pivotal drives in the final minutes.

Oklahoma's Jones had not been in that position because the Sooners usually have won by comfortable margins.

Griffin has done it once: He led Baylor to a game-winning field goal in the season-opener against TCU. Griffin passed for 26 yards, ran for 7 and caught a 15-yard pass on the game-winning drive.

Keenum has done it six times in his career. In '07, he led Houston to a 56-48 win over Rice, though he only completed one pass in a four-play, game-winning drive before Anthony Aldridge ran 50 yards for a touchdown with 2:20 remaining. The next season, Keenum led Houston on late, game-winning drives against SMU (44-38) and UTEP (42-37). In a 29-28 win over Texas Tech in '09, he scored the game-winning touchdown on a 4-yard run with 49 seconds left. That same season, he set up the Cougars for a last-play, 51-yard field goal in a stunning 46-45 comeback victory over Tulsa. This season, he threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Edwards with 1:36 left to lift Houston over Louisiana Tech 35-34.

Luck led Stanford on a game-winning, 10-play drive caped by Toby Gerhart's 4-yard touchdown run with 59 seconds left against Notre Dame in '09. Nine plays on the drive were runs, but Luck did complete a 14-yard pass on third-and-6. He led Stanford to a final-play field goal in a 37-35 victory over USC last season. Later last season, he led a late drive for a game-winning touchdown in a 17-13 win over Arizona State, Last week against USC, Luck completed four passes for 33 yards and had a 15-yard run on a clutch drive for a game-tying touchdown with 38 seconds left in regulation. The Cardinal then scored on each of their three possessions during overtime to win 56-48.

My answer: Luck would be the quarterback I'd take, whether in the first minute or the final minute.

Still, he needs to play at a high level for five more games before I can give him my Heisman vote.

[ Video: Pat Forde, Eddie George pick their Heisman front-runners ]


Last straw

With the number of undefeated teams beginning to thin out, how likely would an Alabama-LSU rematch be for the BCS title? Also, would an all-SEC final (an all-SEC West final, for that matter) embarrass the college presidents enough to start a playoff?
Rick in Huntsville, Ala.

I think an Alabama-LSU rematch in the BCS national championship game is highly unlikely. Frankly, I don't think it should even be considered.

Teams that don't win their conference championship shouldn't play for the national title. True, it has been done - Nebraska in 2001 and Oklahoma in 2003 - but those teams should not have been in the championship game and their presence in it showed the flaws in the BCS system.

If there ever was a case for a BCS rematch, it was in 2006, after No. 1 Ohio State defeated No. 2 Michigan in a 42-39 thriller. Michigan's only loss was by a mere field goal, on the road, against the No. 1 team in the country. No other team in the nation could match that resume.

But BCS voters began altering their ballots. Florida, which had lost by 10 points at Auburn, jumped the Wolverines and moved into second place in the BCS standings; the Gators went on to the BCS title game and absolutely destroyed Ohio State 41-14.

A Big Ten rematch wouldn't have allowed Florida the opportunity to prove it was the best team in the nation. The loser of the Alabama-LSU game surely would not go to the BCS title game ahead of an undefeated Stanford or Oklahoma State. And if those teams did lose, a one-loss Oklahoma would be a better choice than the SEC West runner-up, especially if the Sooners defeated an unbeaten Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game. A one-loss Clemson team could get back into the picture. And there's a potentially unbeaten Boise State to consider.

All that said, I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of an Alabama-LSU rematch (assuming the winner remains undefeated and that's the only loss for the loser), especially if the game is decided by a field goal and controversy is involved.

Crazy things seem to happen when the BCS title game is played in New Orleans, which is the case this season.

Oklahoma played there in '03 after getting blasted 35-7 by Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game. In '07, LSU was the only two-loss team to play in the BCS title game.

Still, barring something truly outrageous, an Alabama-LSU rematch isn't likely to occur. Nor should it.

[ Video: Michigan could be in trouble against Iowa ]


Bring the noise

Although people tend to agree Alabama has gotten much louder, Bryant-Denny Stadium traditionally has not been known for its raucous atmosphere. But as we near the showdown, the world appears to be coming apart at the seams down here. The atmosphere should be absolutely crazy Saturday. What individual regular-season games have had the best atmospheres in the BCS era?
Corey in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

That's a tough call because so many crowds are raucous and crazy.

Oregon's Autzen Stadium has been dubbed "The House of Loud." Ohio State's Horseshoe can be deafening. Auburn's Jordan-Hare can be monstrously loud. A national reporter once described Florida Field thusly: "Take any heavy metal album, crank it, then place your speakers in a tin basement. That sounds like a library compared to The Swamp." One of the loudest crowds ever had to be at LSU in 1988, when the reaction of a game-winning touchdown pass against Auburn registered as an earthquake on a seismograph.

Easily the most electric atmosphere I've ever experienced at a game was in 2002, when Texas A&M upset No. 1 Oklahoma at Kyle Field. In the final minutes, as OU was hoping to launch a game-winning drive, a colleague standing next to me started to speak. The crowd was so loud I couldn't hear a word, though he was screaming at me from less than a foot away.

If Kyle Field had been domed, I'd be deaf today.


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Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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