One of five teams will win the national championship. Of those five - LSU, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio State and West Virginia – four can beat any of the others on any given day. One can't. The one is Missouri. The reason is simple - the Tigers don't have a good enough defense.
One of five teams will win the national championship. Of those five – LSU, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio State and West Virginia – four can beat any of the others on any given day. One can't. The one is Missouri. The reason is simple – the Tigers don't have a good enough defense. Ohio State has the best statistical defense in the country, allowing just 225 yards per game. LSU is second in total defense, giving up 258 yards on average. West Virginia is fourth and Kansas is No. 8. The scoring defense rankings aren't much different with the Buckeyes again the best at 10.7 points per game, Kansas ranks second allowing an average of 14.2 points with West Virginia eighth and LSU No. 9. Missouri, on the other hand, is 57th in total defense, allowing 380 yards per game, and 33rd in scoring defense, giving up an average of 23 points every time out. National champions don't have that kind of defense. They have defenses much more reminiscent of Ohio State and LSU. Eight teams have been declared national champions this decade, with a pair of teams splitting the title in 2003. Of the eight, six were among the top 10 in total defense. The lowest-ranked in yardage-allowed was USC in 2003, which split the title with LSU. The Trojans were 30th, giving up 336 yards per game - that's still 44 yards less than Missouri, and USC's numbers include its bowl game while Missouri's don't yet count the three potential games against highly-ranked opponents that remain. Besides USC, the only other national champion not in the top 10 in total defense that particular year was Ohio State in 2002, which was ranked 17th. In terms of scoring defense, the evidence against Missouri is even more glaring. Seven of the eight dubbed national champions ranked in the top 10 in points allowed. That USC team that was 30th in yardage-allowed was 17th in points-allowed. That Ohio State squad in 2002 that gave up some yards did not allow points - it was No. 2 in scoring defense allowing 13 points per game. Two teams, meanwhile, were No. 1 in scoring defense - LSU in 2003 and Miami in 2001. "If you look in our stats at just the seven games we played in the Big 12, we're first or second in every area on defense," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "We got a lot better as the season went on. Our first four games were non-conference games. ... I just felt we were athletic but not very experienced and if we worked hard we could get better, and so we did." Even in Big 12 play, however, the Tigers have allowed more than 25 points in four of seven games, including against non-stalwarts Iowa State, Texas A&M and Kansas State. "We're far from perfect and we'll be really tested this week (against Kansas), but I think ... we've improved and played better defense," Pinkel said. Where Missouri has separated itself from its opponents this season is with its offense. The Tigers have been simply superb when they've had the ball. They're gaining 506 yards per game on average, and scoring more than 42 points every time they take the field. And they have a couple of the finest players in the country, a true Heisman contender in quarterback Chase Daniel and a star wideout and return specialist in freshman Jeremy Maclin. "They have big numbers offensively, and rightfully so," said Kansas coach Mark Mangino. "Chase Daniel throws the ball extremely well and can beat you with his feet. He's a smart, poised player. He has a lot of weapons around him." But the one time Missouri played a top 10 team, though the Tigers scored a bunch of points, they allowed even more. Missouri showed it can score on anyone when it put up 31 against Oklahoma, which currently stands at No. 10 in the BCS standings and was ranked sixth at the time the teams met. The problem for the Tigers is that the Sooners scored 41 that day. That's what happens when teams with great offenses but lousy defenses play championship-caliber teams. They show they can score on anyone but demonstrate that as glaring as their defensive deficiencies are against run-of-the-mill competition, those deficiencies are fatal against the elite. Missouri is very good. The Tigers can certainly beat a top 10 team. But they will not beat three in a row, which is what stares them in the face if they want to win the national championship. What We Learned - The casualties of rivalries are coaches, and this week the greatest rivalry of them all claimed one. On Monday Michigan's Lloyd Carr retired after 13 years as head coach. All signs pointed to this being Carr's last season in Ann Arbor no matter what the outcome of the Wolverines' game against Ohio State. He got two-year contracts for all his assistant coaches - who normally have one-year deals - so they'd have job security for a year after he left, and he altered language in his own contract. He didn't leave his job because he lost to the Buckeyes on Saturday, but there was a desire for him to step down two years ago after the Wolverines lost to Ohio State and then were beaten by a weak Nebraska team in a bowl game and wound up just 7-5, and his legacy took another hit because of the loss last Saturday. Carr is now 1-6 against the Buckeyes since Jim Tressel became the head coach in Columbus. He's also 0-4 in bowl games the past four years. Those two facts will harm how Carr's career at Michigan is looked upon. But there's a whole lot more that should be remembered, the good things. For starters, there's the national championship in 1997. No Michigan team had finished atop the polls since 1948, but Carr was able to bring a title to Ann Arbor after a 49-year absence. Bo Schembechler never won a national championship. There was also the great Orange Bowl win over Alabama at the end of the 1999 season with Tom Brady quarterbacking the Wolverines, and a 5-1 record against Ohio State his first six years as coach and a 17-9 record against top 10 teams. "I know of no other profession that the exhilaration, the incredible euphoria that you experience when you've won a tough ballgame right at the end," Carr said Monday when he announced his retirement. "We've had a lot of those, but it's the players that give meaning to all of that." Carr had some great moments as head coach at Michigan, and has shown his humor and kindness recent years, but 1-6 and 0-4 make him a casualty. His time to step down had come. - Boston College's Matt Ryan most likely won't win the Heisman, and may not even be one of the finalists invited to New York, but there's no quarterback better late in games than Ryan. Twice now he's rallied the Eagles from deficits in the final moments of games in two of the more difficult road environments in the country - Virginia Tech and Clemson. He's thrown 14 interceptions on the season, and that will likely dissuade voters from choosing Ryan when the postseason awards are handed out early next month. But it's also likely opposing coaches would rather see just about any quarterback under center in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. - Things are not going smoothly in Tuscaloosa. The season started well for Nick Saban in his first season at Alabama with three straight wins, including a victory over Arkansas. But it has crumbled of late with three straight losses after a win over Tennessee. And now Saban has further sullied an already poor public image by equating Pearl Harbor and 9/11 with 'Bama's recent losses to Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Not good times for the Tide. - Another coach in his first year not having too good a time is Randy Shannon at Miami. With Larry Coker gone, things were supposed to turn around. The talent is supposedly there, but the results haven't been for a couple of years now. Just as Miami was 5-6 with one game left last year, the Hurricanes are 5-6 with a game left to play this year. New coach, same result. There's plenty of time for Shannon to have an impact going forward, returning the Hurricanes to prominence, but his first season hasn't produced the expected turnaround. - Hawaii raced out to an 8-0 start without playing a single team with a winning record. The thinking was that the Warriors would stumble once they finally started playing better teams, but they haven't. The past two weeks Hawaii has beaten Fresno State and Nevada. This week the Warriors play 10-1 Boise State. If they win, expect them in a BCS bowl. Game of the Week With no true playoff, there's what amounts to an elimination game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., tomorrow night. Kansas, the No. 2 team in the BCS standings, a team that if the season were to end right now would play LSU for the national championship, faces by far its toughest test to date when it plays archrival Missouri, the No. 4 team, at a neutral site. The Jayhawks are the lone unbeaten team left from a major conference - Hawaii is also undefeated, but plays in the WAC - but have gotten to 11-0 by playing just one team that was ranked at the time the two teams met. That lone ranked team was Kansas State, which was No. 24 at the time, and is 5-6 and far from the rankings now. Missouri is a whole different animal than anything Kansas has seen to date. The Tigers are 10-1, and though the Illini weren't ranked at the time one of those 10 victims is the same Illinois team that now has eight wins and knocked Ohio State from its perch atop the rankings a couple of weeks ago. Missouri also blew out Nebraska and Texas Tech, both of which were ranked at the time the Tigers played them, and the lone loss is to Oklahoma. "It'll be a good game, and we're looking forward to it," said Kansas' Mangino. "Our kids excited are to go ver Arrowhead and play Missouri." Saturday night's winner will play next Saturday against most likely Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. If it's Kansas and the Jayhawks beat the Sooners - or potentially Texas if Oklahoma loses this weekend to Oklahoma State - they'll play for the national championship. If it's Missouri, and the Tigers then win the conference title game, they'll need West Virginia to slip in order to reach New Orleans. "It's a great, great rivalry," said Missouri's Pinkel. "I think it's one of the best in the country. I don't care what else is involved, what the benefits are or what you reap from winning a game like this, the rivalry itself is huge." If I Had a Ballot ... 1. LSU (10-1) - The defense hasn't been great the second half of the season, and it will be interesting to see of the Tigers can stop Arkansas running back Darren McFadden today. 2. Kansas (11-0) - Finally, against Missouri tomorrow night, the Jayhawks play a top-tier opponent. 3. West Virginia (9-1) - Connecticut and Pitt are all that remain, and given the Big 12 battles the next couple of weeks, the Mountaineers are almost a likely BCS title game participant at this point. 4. Missouri (10-1) - The defense will have to do something it hasn't done very ofetn if the Tigers are to beat Kansas: shut someone down. 5. Ohio State (10-1) - Their regular season done, the Buckeyes now just sit back and hope teams ahead of them fall. 6. Georgia (9-2) - The Bulldogs need Tennessee to lose to reach the SEC championship game; then again at Georgia Tech tomorrow is no gimme. 7. Arizona State (9-1) - The Sun Devils hosted USC last night, a monster game in the Pac-10 with ASU controlling the Rose Bowl chase. 8. Virginia Tech (9-2) - Tomorrow the Hokies play a winner-take-all game at Virginia for the ACC Coastal and a spot in the conference title game against Boston College. 9. Oregon (8-2) - The loss of Dennis Dixon ruined what could have been a national title run. 10. USC (8-2) - There's still a chance the Trojans end up in the Rose Bowl ... if they were able to beat Arizona State last night. Eric Avidon is a Daily News staff writer. He can be reached at email@example.com or 508-626-3809.