The scores from Eugene, Ore., and Waco, Texas, reverberated loudly across this state, seemingly putting the Georgia Bulldogs two victories away from playing for college football’s national championship.
Saturday night’s losses by previously No. 1 Kansas State (to Baylor) and previously No. 2 Oregon (to Stanford) triggered a celebration among Georgia fans and a shakeup of the Bowl Championship Series pecking order. In the latest BCS standings, released Sunday night, Notre Dame moved to No. 1, Alabama to No. 2 and Georgia to No. 3.
That means, BCS analysts agreed, that if Georgia beats Georgia Tech and Alabama beats Auburn this week, then the winner of the Dec. 1 SEC Championship game between the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide would play for the national title.
The top two teams in the final BCS standings, to be released Dec. 2, earn berths in the title game, which will be played Jan. 7 in Miami. Georgia has not played for a national championship in the BCS era and last won the title in the 1980 season.
The losses by Kansas State and Oregon came just one week after Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M seemingly left the SEC at serious risk of not putting a team in this season’s BCS title game. Last week, Alabama and Georgia were Nos. 4 and 5 in the standings, behind three undefeated teams. That meant the league with six consecutive national championships could get back to the title game only if two of the three unbeaten teams ahead of Alabama and Georgia lost a game.
And on one chaotic night, two of the three did just that.
“Thank you Baylor, thank you Stanford,” Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings reacted via Twitter.
“We control our own destiny,” UGA linebacker Christian Robinson tweeted.
The turn of events raised the stakes for Georgia’s regular-season finale against Georgia Tech. The rivals will play at noon Saturday in Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs (10-1, 7-1 SEC) would be knocked out of the national-title picture by a loss to the Yellow Jackets (6-5, 5-3 ACC).
On his weekly teleconference with reporters Sunday night, Georgia coach Mark Richt was asked a half-dozen questions about the BCS picture. Each time, he responded by talking about the game against Tech.
Richt wouldn’t even say whether he watched the Oregon-Stanford and/or Kansas State-Baylor games.
“You know what? I was thinking about Tech that night, all night, knowing what a big game it is,” he said.
Alabama is in a similar situation this week, also facing its in-state rival. But while Georgia has clinched the SEC East’s berth for the league title game at the Georgia Dome, Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) must beat Auburn (3-8, 0-7) to represent the Western Divison there.
The SEC, of course, wasn’t the only beneficiary of Kansas State’s 52-24 loss to Baylor and Oregon’s 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford.
Notre Dame (11-0) moved from No. 3 to No. 1 in the BCS standings and can assure itself a spot in the national-title game by winning its regular-season finale at USC.
Brad Edwards, ESPN’s BCS analyst, expressed confidence after Saturday’s results that the SEC Championship game winner would get the other berth, provided Georgia beats Tech and Alabama beats Auburn. Fellow analysts Mark May, Lou Holtz and Kirk Herbstreit agreed.
Of course, there could be complications that again scramble the picture, such as a loss by Notre Dame, Alabama or Georgia this week.
If Notre Dame loses, there would be no unbeaten team left in the national-championship mix, and there surely would be an intense debate about who should play the SEC champion in Miami. In that case, another SEC team — Florida, which is No. 4 in this week’s standings — could be next in line if it wins its regular-season finale against Florida State.
Oregon is No. 5, Kansas State No. 6 and LSU No. 7 in this week’s standings.
The BCS standings include three components that count one-third each: the USA Today poll of current coaches; the Harris Interactive poll of former coaches, administrators and players and current and former media members; and an average of six computer polls. Notre Dame is No. 1 in all three components this week.
Georgia is No. 3 in the USA Today poll (up from No. 4 last week), No. 3 in the Harris poll (up from No. 5) and No. 6 in the computers (same as last week). Alabama is No. 2 in the USA Today and Harris polls and No. 3 in the computers.
The Associated Press poll, which is not part of the BCS formula, also has Notre Dame No. 1, Alabama No. 2 and Georgia No. 3 this week.
– Tim Tucker, AJC