The buzz about the latest Game of the Century – No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 5 – has gotten so big it’s begun to move past the contest itself and focus on what could be an even bigger debate than just who’s better, Tigers or Tide?
It’s not uncommon for a one-loss SEC team to play in the BCS title game. It would be historic if a one-loss SEC team that didn’t even win its division reached the BCS title game to play a team that already defeated it.
Yet anyone who claims it absolutely positively shouldn’t happen is as wrong as anyone who declares it automatically should. You can't rule anything out yet.
The BCS is a curious construct with no established rules about how to handle pretty much anything.
Since no one wants to take the blame for its annual frustrations, it leaves everything to a huge collection of easily impressionable voters and six mathematically unsound and mostly unchecked computer formulas. The BCS has no idea (seriously) if its rankings are even accurate. And it doesn’t want to, preferring to cover its eyes and hope for the best.
(Rest assured, bowl directors do count their money to the penny.)
As such the season needs to play out. Arbitrarily determining a rematch should happen is as absurd as saying it shouldn’t.
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The last time the title game rematch argument arose was 2006, when 11-1 Michigan and 12-0 Ohio State were an option to play again for the title. In the end, the 11-1 Florida slid ahead of the Wolverines in the final standings. The Gators wound up routing the Buckeyes for the championship.
It’s an interesting footnote, but it shouldn’t count for much. These are different teams coming from the league that has won five consecutive BCS titles. Who’s to say the top two teams aren’t in the SEC?
Besides, there are no standards with the BCS. We’ve had two-loss teams play for the title. We’ve had teams that lost their last game advance. We’ve had teams that lost their last game by four touchdowns advance. We’ve had teams that didn’t win their conference. We’ve had teams that didn’t win their own division.
So how do you count out anything?
Especially when the case for, say one-loss LSU could be so powerful. For the sake of this argument, we’ll assume the Tigers lose the big game (Vegas has Bama as an early six-point favorite).
The general feeling is an unbeaten Big 12 champion – particularly one of the Oklahoma schools – would deserve the nod over a one-loss LSU team. The Big 12 is considered a strong conference and if both teams are unbeaten for their Dec. 3 Bedlam game, the winner will advance to the BCS title game. If Kansas State wins out, it too would have a deserving resume – although it must do some poll leapfrogging.
OK, fine. What if both the Sooners, Cowboys and Wildcats all lose at some point, though?
A one-loss LSU club, which defeated both Oregon (neutral site) and West Virginia (road) handily in the non-conference, would have a significant argument against unbeaten Wisconsin, Stanford, Clemson, Boise State and, of course, Houston (and sorry Boise and Houston, it isn’t happening this year).
Voters have proven to gravitate to the shiny undefeated record, moving unbeatens, especially from major conferences up without regard to actual strength of schedule.
That’s the hope for Wisconsin, Stanford and Clemson.
Except one-loss LSU would’ve played a stronger schedule than any of those teams.
Wisconsin’s non-conference slate featured South Dakota (of the former I-AA) and UNLV, Oregon State and Northern Illinois, which are a current 6-13. None of the games were true road games. Stanford isn’t any better (although a visit from Notre Dame finishes out the season). Clemson did defeat Auburn, but in this argument, so too would’ve LSU, perhaps by more.
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LSU’s chief argument would actually be it’s defeat – no one else faced a challenge as severe as playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Yes, it would’ve lost, but who would’ve done better? And if the game is competitive, especially if it comes down to the final minutes, then how is such a setback seen as a sign the Tigers aren’t worthy?
The BCS has already devalued playing a strong non-conference slate because a single loss can ruin you. See Oregon, who is no longer in the discussion because it fell to LSU to open the season (a non-league challenge no one else dared to take). Had the Ducks stayed home and played a patsy, they’d still be in it. It’s one reason the number of body bag games is on the rise.
LSU couldn’t avoid Alabama though. They play in if not the best league in the country (although probably not this year), then at least the most top heavy.
Do they get disqualified for that?
None of this is fair to the other teams, of course. Wisconsin’s isn’t to blame that the Big Ten hasn’t been that impressive this year or that it has struggled in past bowl games. Worse for the Badgers, there doesn’t appear to be another powerhouse team that sets up a late-season, marquee game.
For Wisconsin, the fall of Ohio State, which has been that elite program for a decade, could be crushing. Again, through no fault of its own, but that’s the system.
It’s no different for Clemson, which could’ve really used a Florida State resurgence to offer a signature win. And while Virginia Tech is capable of running the table and setting up an excellent ACC championship game, the facts are Clemson already defeated the Hokies, Tech played a terrible non-conference slate and the league champ has routinely been blown out in BCS bowls could be too much to overcome.
Again, that’s not fair or, in some cases, even germane to the argument of determining the best team this year. The voters can only go with what they’re given.
Of course, the BCS offers no set criteria on what a voter should consider. Which means if the above scenario occurs – making a decision between a one-loss LSU and unbeaten Wisconsin, Stanford and Clemson – then all bets are off. Each person will have his own opinion.
Stanford could have some quality wins – Oregon and Notre Dame in particular – and the No. 1 player in the country, but is that more than LSU offers?
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The best scenario for the non-LSU teams is that there is only one of them left standing, so the non-rematch votes are not ciphered off to multiple teams.
The political campaign on this would be heated. Expect television partners, coaches, marketing campaigns, public relations firms and even politicians to get involved. Four years ago an LSU team that lost twice (both games in overtime) got into the title game, in part, because coach Les Miles spread the campaign slogan that his club was “undefeated in regulation.”
It’s anyone’s guess what the Mad Hatter might dream up this year.
You simply can’t rule out a rematch. Just as you can’t demand it must happen.
At this point, the only thing you can guarantee is the Game of the Century will be followed by the Debate of the Century.
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