November 20, 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.
The process of filling a power void is never a clean or orderly one, so it's no surprise the status quo has descended into anarchy after one of the bloodiest weekends in years at the top of the standings. But this mess of a pecking order is a new low.
The team best-positioned for a golden ticket to the BCS Championship Game? It's not undefeated, undisputed No. 1 LSU: It's No. 2 Alabama, which is virtually guaranteed a title shot with a win Saturday at Auburn, less than a month after losing to LSU amid a flurry of missed field goals on its own field. In fact, the best thing that could possibly happen to the Crimson Tide is an LSU win over No. 3 Arkansas on Friday, thereby eliminating the only realistic competition for Alabama's position at No. 2 if the Tide take care of business on the Plains. And what will LSU get for its trouble? Another chance to lose everything in the SEC Championship Game, while 'Bama sits at home, its tickets to New Orleans already booked.
To recap: The team that lost the head-to-head, do-or-die blockbuster of the year is now in better position to play for a national championship if it avoids playing for the championship of its own conference. With two weekends remaining in the regular season, this is the status quo.
But "every game counts," right?
• So the rematch thing is… happening? It's not a mathematical certainty, but yeah, the rematch thing is happening. The only scenarios that can possibly stop it from happening are a) An upset by Auburn over Alabama this weekend, and/or b) An upset by Georgia over the SEC West champ in the conference championship game, whoever the SEC West champ happens to be. But both of those scenarios are unlikely, to say the least, and neither is a foolproof rematch-stopper even if it comes to pass. The odds at the moment overwhelmingly favor an SEC West-on-SEC West championship game.
In that context, the more pressing question is: Who represents the West in the SEC Championship Game if Arkansas beats LSU, creating a three-way tie at the stop of the standings? And the answer is: That depends. Conference tiebreaker rules lay out eight steps for breaking a three-way tie, but an Alabama/Arkansas/LSU split in this case almost certainly come down to the bottom of the list:
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.
The question, then, is how far LSU falls in response to a loss, and how high Arkansas rises. If we assume an Arkansas win will drop the Tigers out of No. 1 — given the nearsighted nature of the human polls, this is a good assumption — there are four possible orders of finish next Sunday night. The SEC Championship rep in each is in bold:
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You can see why Alabama is rooting LSU on. If it's already a sure thing, who needs the extra work?
• On the other hand... As unpalatable as the thought of a divisional rematch for a national crown may be, the alternative is a truly dystopian vision of a championship game featuring either a) A team that just lost to Iowa State or b) A team that counts Georgia Tech as its best win to date.
Team a) (Oklahoma State) has clearly demonstrated that it is not national championship material, and Team b) (Virginia Tech) hasn't had an opportunity against anyone good enough to demonstrate that it is. Now that Clemson's ruined its poll cred by taking the day off at N.C. State, the Hokies aren't going to get that opportunity in the ACC Championship Game, either.
From a purely competitive standpoint, the most attractive one-loss team behind the SEC trio may actually be Stanford, which has the benefit of both a respectable win (over surging USC) and a not-too-embarrassing loss (at the hands of Oregon). Stanford also has a chance to make a fairly big move this weekend against Notre Dame. Even if some voters start to come around on the Cardinal, though, that's probably all wishful thinking: The computers don't like them, Oregon still controls its destiny in the Pac-12 North, and if any league is going to get a team to New Orleans that didn't take the conference championship, it's obviously going to be the SEC.
• For chaos' sake. Are you kidding? The current reality is the most chaotic in the 14-year history of the format. The pendulum can only swing so far before it starts swinging back toward order and predictability. I'm not sure how much further it can go in the current direction.
But if there's a single outcome that could crush all prevailing assumptions underfoot in an instant, it's a Georgia win in the SEC Championship Game. If that win happens to be over a previously undefeated LSU … thereby sending Alabama to the BCS title game … after Alabama was eliminated from the SEC race by its loss to LSU … then that should make for one fun December.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.