January 04, 2012
Irony: We has it in the BCS Championship Game, where Alabama and LSU could conceivably be playing for two titles — one from the BCS itself, which bestows the honor to the winner of the game via the Coaches' poll, and one from the Associated Press, which is under no such obligation. This time, here's guessing LSU fans may find themselves looking a little more kindly on the idea of a split national title than they did eight years ago.
Then, it was the Tigers hoisting the BCS crown after dispatching Oklahoma in the 2004 Sugar Bowl (the default championship game), at the expense of USC, which was snubbed from the title match despite finishing the regular season No. 1 in both major polls. When LSU trounced the Sooners, the coaches dutifully moved the Tigers to No. 1 with the crystal ball and full BCS regalia.
The writers, however, stuck to their guns by awarding the AP championship — traditionally the most-recognized title since writers started voting on college football in 1934 — to the Trojans following their Rose Bowl rout over Michigan. The AP pulled out of the BCS altogether the following year, when undefeated Auburn was left out of the self-appointed championship game in favor of Oklahoma and USC, but — much to LSU's enduring chagrin — the '03 championship remains the only officially split crown of the BCS era.*
This time, it could be the Tigers benefiting from the AP's independent streak, and the uncharted waters that come with a "championship game" that is also a regular season rematch. Last week, the AP asked top-25 voters three questions in an informal poll: a) Do you expect to vote the winner of the Alabama-LSU game No. 1? b) Would you consider voting LSU No. 1 even if it lost? c) Would you consider voting another team — ie Oklahoma State or Stanford — No. 1? Forty-four of the 60 pollsters responded, including a few who insisted that, win or lose, LSU should still come out on top courtesy of its tougher schedule and head-to-head win in Tuscaloosa in November:
"I will vote for LSU no matter what happens in the National Championship game," wrote Erik Gee of KNML-AM in Albuquerque, N.M. "How in the world can they be the SEC west champ, the outright SEC champ, and lose to Alabama in a "neutral" site game (I guess you can debate the Superdome being a neutral site) after they have already beaten them in Tuscaloosa, have the series split 1-1 and not at least have a share of the National Title?"
Joe Giglio of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., agreed.
"Unless Alabama absolutely dominates LSU and leaves no doubt that it is a superior football team, I will be voting for LSU," he said. "I am voting for the No. 1 team in the country for the 2011 season, not the result of one game. In the case of this rematch presented by the BCS, you have to consider the scope of the entire season, not the timing of one loss."
Over the scope of the season, it's almost impossible to argue Alabama has (or will have) assembled a better resumé. With a win in the title game, the Crimson Tide will finish the year 12-1 with two wins over teams ranked in the final polls, none of them from outside of the SEC. With a loss, LSU will finish 13-1 with four or five wins over teams ranked in the final polls (give or take West Virginia), four of them coming outside of Baton Rouge and two of them coming against fellow conference champions (West Virginia and Oregon) who are also playing in BCS bowls. The Tigers and Tide would be be 1-1 against one another, with LSU's win coming at Alabama. LSU will still be the champion of the division and the conference.
In a system that continues to defer to polls and resumés, there is virtually nothing Alabama can do short of ritually sacrificing the Tigers to the sun that can make its season better than LSU's season. At best, the Crimson Tide can only pull even. In which case a split crown is not only possible, but preferable — you know, if every game counts. If BCS commissioner Bill Hancock really believed that cliché, he'd take advantage of an Alabama win by inviting both teams to share the postgame stage and congratulate them on fighting to a season-long draw. Since he can't do that, maybe the AP will.
Of course, LSU isn't planning on sharing anything: A win, by any margin, will move the Tigers to 14-0 and enshrine them among the most accomplished champions of the BCS era. It will permanently eradicate any and all qualms, doubts, skeptics, haters and holdouts. They'll be assured of an undisputed championship, and they'll deserve it. The question is, how many people can be convinced that they deserve it either way?