Raging consensus holds that LSU will play for the national title no matter what it does Saturday and that the Tigers’ opponent Jan. 9 will again be Alabama. But there’s a slight — slight, let me emphasize — possibility the team that has been No. 1 in every week of the BCS rankings might land in a non-BCS bowl. (And here let me thank esteemed colleague Kevin Whaley for bringing this to my attention.)
Say LSU loses to Georgia by three touchdowns. Say No. 3 Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma by three touchdowns. (By way of comparison, Georgia is No. 14 in the BCS standings to OU’s No. 10.) Say there’s a major Oklahoma State groundswell in the human polls. Say LSU slides to No. 3 in the final rankings behind Oklahoma State and Alabama, the latter of which cannot lose this weekend because it isn’t playing.
Know where LSU, the team that has been the nation’s best from September through November, would be headed? To Orlando for the non-BCS Capital One Bowl. Or to Dallas for the non-BCS Cotton Bowl.
I say again: I don’t think that will happen. Given the Tigers’ strength of schedule — three victories against opponents in the BCS top 10 — and glowing SEC profile, it’s hard to imagine them suffering a Boise State-like fate. (One loss and you’re relegated to the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl.) But if Georgia beats LSU, it goes to the BCS-affiliated Sugar Bowl as SEC champ. If Alabama stays No. 2 or ascends to No. 1, it’s in the BCS title game. And the only way a conference can send a third team to a BCS game is if two of them are playing for the national title and neither is the conference champion.
I say yet again: I don’t think that will happen. Should LSU lose, the debate would become: Who are the two best one-loss teams? At this moment, LSU would figure to have the most impressive body of one-loss work, but the voting won’t be done at this moment. Balloting — and computer-tabulating — will occur late Saturday night, and voters tend to rely most on what they saw last. And what if they just saw the Tigers lose 35-14 to a team that, according to the BCS rankings, is the SEC’s fifth-best?
Never forget that this is the BCS, where weird happens. In 2003 unbeaten and top-ranked Oklahoma lost by 28 points to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship, and somehow the Sooners stayed No. 1 in the BCS rankings. In 2007 once-beaten and top-ranked Missouri lost by 21 points to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship and didn’t even wind up in a BCS game. (But Kansas, which Missouri had beaten two weeks earlier and which finished two spots behind the Tigers in the BCS rankings, did. Georgia wasn’t the only team that got short shrift in ‘07.)
For the fourth or fifth time: When the standings are announced Sunday night, LSU and Alabama figure to be Nos. 1 and 2 (or 2 and 1) even if Georgia topples the Tigers. And that would look funny, too. A national championship game would pair a team that didn’t win its conference against one that didn’t win its division? But that’s the BCS: It’s always going to look funny. Smell funny, too.
By Mark Bradley