Conventional wisdom says that for No. 1 Auburn, Saturday’s SEC championship game is for a berth in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10. Beat South Carolina for the second time this season and the Tigers (12-0) will play somebody, probably Oregon, for its first national championship since 1957. Lose, and Auburn is likely headed to the Orange Bowl.
But remember, we are in the age of the BCS, when humans combine with computers to make the unusual happen.
Remember 2003? No. 1 Oklahoma was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the BCS Standings and No. 1 in both the human polls going into championship Saturday. But the Sooners lost 35-7 in the Big 12 championship game to Kansas State.
Still, when all the BCS numbers were crunched the next day, Oklahoma (12-1) was No. 1 and LSU (12-1), which had beaten Georgia in the SEC championship game, was No. 2. USC (11-1), which had beaten Oregon State 52-28 on championship Saturday, moved to No. 1 in both human polls but dropped to No. 3 in the final BCS Standings. Oklahoma and LSU went on to play for the BCS national championship, which was won by LSU. USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and was awarded the national championship by the Associated Press.
The next year they changed the BCS formula to give greater weight (two-thirds) to the voters in the human polls. A non-conference champion has not played in the BCS title game since.
So I want to ask an unconventional question this morning: If Auburn loses in a tight game to South Carolina on Saturday at the Georgia Dome, could the Tigers STILL get into the BCS championship game?
Despite the change in the BCS formula I believe the answer is yes. And here’s why:
First of all, you can make the argument that at 12-1, Auburn’s resume is still stronger than TCU at 12-0 or for any other one-loss team in the top five:
1. Auburn, if it loses, will be 12-1 with FIVE wins over teams in the BCS Top 25: No. 7 Arkansas, No. 10 LSU, No. 16 Alabama, No. 19 South Carolina (earlier this season), and No. 22 Mississippi State. Auburn enters the game ranked No. 1 in all six computer polls.
2. Oregon (11-0): Has played TWO teams in Top 25: No. 4 Stanford (won) and No. 23 Arizona (won)
3. TCU (12-0): Has beaten one team, No. 20 Utah, in the BCS Top 25.
4. Stanford (11-1): Has played TWO teams in Top 25: lost to No. 2 Oregon 52-31; beat No. 23 Arizona
5. Wisconsin (11-1): Played TWO teams in the Top 25: lost to No. 8 Michigan State; beat No. 6 Ohio State
The biggest argument, however, will come if the voters have to choose between a 12-0 TCU and 12-1 Auburn.
Using the CBSSports.com 120, which ranks all 120 teams, here are the rankings of Auburn’s 11 Division I opponents:
19—South Carolina (which it has already beaten)
That’s five wins in the top 23, nine wins in the Top 80 and two opponents ranked No. 100 or higher.
Here are the rankings of TCU’s 11 Division I-A opponents:
32—San Diego State
That’s one win the Top 21, seven wins in the Top 80, and four wins against teams ranked 104 or higher.
So for Auburn it is all going to come down to the human voters in the Coaches poll and the Harris Interactive polls. If Auburn loses on Saturday, do the voters look at the body of work to make the decision on how far to drop the Tigers? Or do they simply say that Auburn didn’t win its conference championship and thus elevate TCU or Wisconsin?
Remember, there is no rule that says a team has to win its conference championship to play in the BCS title game.
Man, this is going to be a fun week.
Please follow me on Twitter: