The most intriguing team in the land isn’t the one that won The Greatest Game Ever Played If You Don’t Care About Touchdowns. It’s the one that lost. As it stands, Alabama has a better chance of winning the national championship than it does the SEC crown, and wasn’t it only 2007 — help me on this, Georgia fans — when we were told a team that doesn’t win its conference doesn’t deserve to play for the BCS title?
That was the reason given then for elevating two-loss LSU, which had lost its final regular-season game at home, ahead of two-loss Georgia, which hadn’t lost since Oct. 6, in the final BCS poll. Never mind that the Bulldogs entered the final weekend ranked ahead of the Tigers. But the same thinking mightn’t apply if it comes to a choice between one-loss Alabama and one-loss Anybody Else. (Oklahoma, Oregon, Arkansas, even Clemson.)
Alabama, see, has the aura of a champion, if not necessarily the results. (It has Nick Saban, who somehow remained the world’s greatest coach after finishing fourth in a six-team division in 2010.) It was ranked No. 1 in preseason despite having lost four Round 1 NFL draftees plus its starting quarterback, and it fell only one spot in the BCS rankings after losing at home on a night when all Nick’s men couldn’t muster a TD.
The calls for an LSU-Alabama weren’t just immediate in the aftermath; they’d been raised even before the game began. (The thinking being that, since an SEC team is going to win the BCS anyway, why not make the title game at least interesting?) After prevailing in Tuscaloosa, LSU shouldn’t need to prove it can beat Bama twice to be national champ, but that could well be its assignment. Which would be grossly unfair, but when has big-time college football even been fair?
Even more confusing: LSU can lose to Arkansas in Baton Rouge on Nov. 25 and still represent the SEC West in the Georgia Dome. This is because of a complicated-but-sensible SEC tiebreaker. Were LSU to lose that game and finish in a three-way tie with the Tide and the Razorbacks, the Tigers would still get the West nod as long as they don’t fall more than five BCS spots behind Alabama. The SEC rule in question:
The tied team with the highest ranking in the Bowl Championship Series Standings following the last weekend of regular-season games shall be the divisional representative in the SEC championship game, unless the second of the tied teams is ranked within five-or-fewer places of the highest ranked tied team. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the SEC championship game.
You might recall that Texas beat Oklahoma in 2008 but couldn’t play for the Big 12 title and was omitted from the BCS title game because the Sooners finished first in the BCS rankings to the Longhorns’ third. That wasn’t right: When teams are tied, head-to-head should be the determinant. The five-or-fewer rule comes close to making that a reality. But there are loopholes within this loophole.
If Alabama is No. 1 in the Nov. 27 BCS standings to LSU’s No. 7, Alabama would represent the West, head-to-head be hanged. If Arkansas should beat LSU and nose ahead of the Tigers in the rankings, Alabama would likewise prevail. Because Arkansas would then be the second-place SEC team in the BCS standings, and Alabama beat the Hogs on Sept. 24.
Here we pause to consider Arkansas’ possible plight. Should they beat LSU, the Razorbacks could make the case that they’re playing the best football in the nation’s best league, but they’d surely be blocked from playing for the SEC title. And the team Arkansas just upset would not, provided LSU stays ahead of Arkansas in the BCS standings, which could well happen. (As we speak, the Tigers are No. 1 to the Hogs’ No. 6.)
Yeah, a nice eight-team playoff would come close to solving all this, but I’ve abandoned hope of that. But at least we in the Eastern time zone are facing a welcome bit of clarity, championship-wise. If Georgia beats Kentucky on Saturday, the Bulldogs will play for the conference title. If they lose to Kentucky, the Georgia athletic association will announce Sunday that it has dropped the sport.
By Mark Bradley