November 13, 2011
In a perfect world, the Doc would be given carte blanche to publicly torch the Bowl Championship Series in effigy and institute the elaborate, double-elimination battle royal of his dreams. But we live in the world we live in, so each Sunday the Doc looks at what the new BCS numbers mean for the rest of the season. Rooting interest: Chaos. Always chaos.
Before we start heating up the hypotheticals, we should note right off the bat that the status quo has not changed: If No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Oklahoma State run the table to finish undefeated regular seasons, they'll play for the BCS championship on Jan. 9 with no significant controversy. For all of the potential Pandora's box scenarios created by Stanford's convincing loss to Oregon, the operative word remains potential.
Even Boise State has lost its right to complain about getting snubbed. The basic script still calls for 13-0 Tigers vs. 12-0 Cowboys, and until that changes, everyone else is still waiting behind the velvet rope.
• Pandora's Box No. 1. The first new question is: Who's next in line if Oklahoma State or LSU loses? And the answer is: Heck if we know.
In this section, let's limit the hypothetical to an Oklahoma State loss in the finale. In that case, right now, the next line is Alabama. But the Crimson Tide have two disadvantages relative to the nearest competition, Oregon and Oklahoma: a) They're unlikely to play for their own conference championship, and therefore b) They're unlikely to be playing on Dec. 3, when Oklahoma (against Oklahoma State) and Oregon (in the Pac-12 Championship Game) will be making their final statements for voters while Alabama sits at home.
A Bedlam win for the Sooners, in Stillwater, will send their stock skyrocketing among the computers — which still love the Big 12 even more than the human pollsters love the SEC — and leave them with arguably enough quality wins to overcome an embarrassing mid-October loss to Texas Tech. With an impressive enough win this week against USC, Oregon could keep the ball it set in motion in Palo Alto rolling, too. Neither is too far back to catch Alabama if voters start thinking twice about the virtue of a runner-up in its own division whose once-marquee wins (Penn State, Florida) have lost their luster. But neither is close enough to declare that that they will jump 'Bama, either.
If that happens, it means a three-way tie in the SEC West that has no logical answer: As far as head-to-head is concerned, Alabama > Arkansas > LSU > Alabama. According to SEC tiebreaker rules, a three-team deadlock is almost certain to come down to the final criteria, the BCS standings themselves:
8. The tied team with the highest ranking in the Bowl Championship Series Standings following the last weekend of regular-season games shall be the divisional representative in the SEC Championship Game, unless the second of the tied teams is ranked within five-or-fewer places of the highest ranked tied team. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the SEC Championship Game.
If you can figure the precise order of Alabama, Arkansas and LSU in the BCS standings following an Arkansas win over LSU, you're a bolder prognosticator than I. My guess — emphasis on guess — would be that a late Razorback win in Baton Rouge would drop LSU to a close third in the pecking order, giving Alabama the nod courtesy of its win over Arkansas in September. In that case, the Crimson Tide (or Razorbacks, or Tigers) would move into position to play the winner of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State with a win in the SEC championship while Oregon grits its teeth.
• For chaos' sake. Any scenario involving an LSU or Oklahoma State loss is chaotic: There's no legitimate way to distinguish between the handful of one-loss teams jockeying for position, and tapping any one of them for the opportunity is going to (justifiably) leave the others howling. Whoever is left out, it will only be by a split hair.
If LSU and Oklahoma State both lose, it could be a borderline riot: Five realistic candidates (Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Oklahoma and Oregon) vying for only two golden tickets to New Orleans. Even then, though, the familiar prospect of "One-Loss SEC Champion" vs. "One-Loss Big 12 Champion" seems fairly inevitable. If so, Oregon fans may want to start thinking about working the phrase "East Coast Bias" back into the regular rotation. Not that it will do any good, but at least it sounds better than lamenting a down year in the Pac-12.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.