The last BCS title game not to include an SEC representative was staged in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4, 2006, exactly one year before Nick Saban was introduced as Alabama’s new coach. The last BCS title game to include a team from a conference other than the SEC was staged in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10, 2011, and by now you’re sensing where I’m going with this.
Georgia is No. 5 in the BCS standings. If it wins the rest of its games, it will be 12-1 and the SEC champion. Is there any way a 12-1 SEC champion would NOT play for the BCS title?
Yes, this is putting a wobbly cart before a skittish horse. To get to 12-1, the Bulldogs have to beat Auburn, and then Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, and then would come Alabama. (Provided Alabama doesn’t do something crazy like lose to Texas A&M and Auburn, which it won’t.) Let’s assume Georgia arrives at the Dome on Dec. 1 having lost only once to play the still-unbeaten Crimson Tide, and let’s assume the Bulldogs contrive to topple the mighty men of Saban. What then?
The teams ranked 2-4 in the BCS standings are all unbeaten. It’s possible, if not probable, all will stay that way. Kansas State still must play Texas on Dec. 1, and the Wildcats might have to face TCU this Saturday without quarterback Collin Klein, who suffered a head injury against Oklahoma State. Oregon still must play Stanford and Oregon State, and it could meet USC, which the Ducks just beat 62-51, again in the Pac-12 title game. Notre Dame must play at USC on Nov. 24.
But what if Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame — or two of the three — are still undefeated at the close of business Dec. 1? Should a one-loss SEC champ get the nod over any of the above?
For Georgia: Having taken the past six national championships, the SEC has essentially become college football. Only last year we saw an Alabama team that didn’t win its division play for the BCS title, which it won. The Bulldogs could make the argument that other one-loss SEC champs — LSU in 2003, Florida in 2006 and 2008 — and even the two-loss LSU of 2007 have not only qualified for the national championship game but won the thing.
Against Georgia: Undefeated is undefeated, even if you’re not from the SEC. (Or, in Notre Dame’s case, from any league.) And surely there are folks in other precincts who have wearied of SEC domination and would lobby long and loud that somebody else deserves a chance.
Also against Georgia: Its schedule. The Bulldogs have played only two ranked teams, and they lost to one of those by 28 points.
Georgia’s rebuttal: Alabama would make a third ranked opponent, and if the Bulldogs beat an unbeaten Bama they’d have registered victories over a team ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings and another (meaning Florida) that was No. 2.
For our concluding word, we turn to Brad Edwards, who monitors the BCS for ESPN Insider. His verdict: For a 12-1 Georgia to play for the national title, “two of the three undefeated teams ranked above it have to lose.”
That’s it? No SEC-deserves-a-spot groundswell? Said Edwards: “If (Georgia jumping any of the unbeatens) did happen, it would be because of the SEC’s six consecutive championships … (But) I don’t think even a one-loss SEC champ is going to finish ahead of any of those teams. I don’t think any of the teams in the group is considered a fraud. Notre Dame has skeptics, but people still believe it has a championship-caliber defense.”
About Georgia: “You also have the factor of that one loss. If Georgia’s profile were more like Alabama’s last year, where you lost to a top team in overtime and dominated everybody else you played, it might be different.”
What about those one-loss SEC champs who’ve reached the title game? “The difference is, in every case those teams were beating out another one-loss team, or another two-loss team in LSU’s case (in 2007). If those three teams stay undefeated, I really don’t see many voters putting Georgia higher than fourth.”
Edwards’ salient point: No once-beaten team has made the BCS title game ahead of an unbeaten team from any major conference. For all the griping about this screwy system, that much has been a constant: Undefeated is undefeated. (Although tell that to 9-0 Louisville of the Big East, ranked No. 9 in the BCS standings.)
For these unlucky ‘Dogs, just coming close would be more of the same. In 2002, a 12-1 Georgia finished third in the BCS standings, missing the title game because Miami and Ohio State were undefeated. In 2007, the 9-2 Bulldogs were No. 4 in the penultimate rankings, whereupon two teams ahead of them lost; Georgia, however, was passed in the final standings by three two-loss conference champions. And now, after seeing three BCS titles taken by one-loss SEC champs, this might be the one-loss SEC champ that never gets the chance.
Further reading: If you missed the weekly Heat Check (Georgia is mentioned), it can be found here.
By Mark Bradley