November 16, 2010
God forbid that Auburn lose its undefeated season against Alabama or South Carolina, and with it the right to carry the banner of the SEC into the BCS Championship Game in January. But just in case the Tigers are knocked from their pedestal down the stretch, LSU coach Les Miles had a handy contingency plan Monday for bridging a possible SEC gap in case of the worst – like, maybe, sending LSU to Glendale instead:
If Auburn stumbles, that could open the door for LSU (9-1) to finish as the SEC's highest-ranked squad, and according to Miles' logic, "The highest-ranked team to come out of this conference should well have an opportunity to play in the national championship game."
Alluding to the SEC’s four-year streak of producing college football's national champion, Miles added, "Certainly I'm prejudiced, but the reality of it is, I don't know that there's a finer, more competitive conference in America."
Miles went on to predict that the SEC's recent dominance of college football "at some point in time will be very significant when it comes to picking who plays in the (BCS title) game."
To be fair, Miles doesn't specifically stump for his own team there, even if he was laying the groundwork. It's more likely Auburn would remain in front of LSU by virtue of the head-to-head win that launched it into BCS contention in the first place back in October. But he does broach the first of the coming BCS tribulations between next weekend and Dec. 5 if one of the two current frontrunners bites the dust: Can undefeated Boise State and/or TCU hold off the inevitable campaign for a one-loss SEC champion to leap them (or, in Auburn's case, to remain in front) into the title game?
The numbers say "maybe." Auburn is No. 1 in five of the six BCS computers, and LSU is in a dead heat with TCU for No. 3. Boise State lags in a tie for sixth. History says yes: Boise wasn't the discussion for the championship game at all when it ran the table in 2006, or when it did it again in 2008. The championship nod in both seasons went to one-loss Florida, as it did to LSU in 2007, when the two-loss Tigers got in well ahead of undefeated Hawaii. Utah didn't get a shred of championship hype after finishing the regular season 12-0 in 2008, either, even with three wins over ranked opponents. The notion of a plebeian outsider crashing the gates of the title game was so egregious at this time last year that SEC scribes began floating the possibility of an SEC Championship Game rematch in Pasadena if Texas failed to run the table in the Big 12 in October, specifically to thwart the growing hype for undefeated TCU, Boise State and Cincinnati.
It didn't come to that, but if the Longhorns' game-winning field goal hadn't sailed through on the last play of the Big 12 title game, the seed had been planted, so to speak. In terms of conventional wisdom, the South operates as more of a cohesive bloc than any other part of the country, and the prevailing wisdom of the hive-mind is the same as Miles': If there's any question whatsoever, the SEC's best team should be in the championship game.
Is there any question? If Auburn wins its last two, obviously not, barring new developments in the Cam Newton Affair. If the Tigers lose, the answer may depend on when they lose: A 12-1 SEC champion coming off a convincing win over South Carolina in the championship game has a lot more going for it than a 12-1 team that beat Alabama but flopped with the brass ring right in front of it, and ultimately didn't even win its own conference championship – especially if that team also features a star quarterback whose eligibility figures to remain in question well into the offseason. The former scenario gives the human voters a reason to move Auburn up after a loss to Alabama, instead of trying to justify how a No. 1 or No. 2 team let the league title slip away and didn't drop. It also depends on how severely the Tiger-loving BCS computers punish them for a hypothetical loss, and whether the fall would be more severe for going down at the hands of 'Bama or South Carolina.
But the SEC's sense of entitlement isn't going to fade away if Auburn's perfect record does bite the dust without a little push back in the vein of the mini-campaign Miles offered on Monday. The chatter will start to come on behalf of Miles' damn strong football team, if necessary, as long a shot as LSU catching Boise and/or TCU with wins over Ole Miss and Arkansas may be. Whether the question comes down to one-loss Auburn or one-loss LSU, though, any question at all means the SEC's side of the case is going to get a full hearing.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.