December 02, 2009
If there's one thing the BCS knows, it's tangled convoluted finishes that leave about everyone unhappy, which makes this a strange year precisely for its lack of drama. By contrast, six of the last seven years -- with the notable exception of 2005 -- have produced some level of mystery about the top two teams right up until the moment the final standings were released. In 2006 and 2007, the championship landscape changed completely overnight, with eleventh-hour upsets by UCLA and Pittsburgh over apparently title-bound rivals USC and West Virginia, respectively, in the dying moments of the season.
In fact, since the BCS first rose from the formless mire in 1998, five different teams have punched their tickets to the BCS Championship game only after wild upsets knocked out one of the frontrunners on championship Saturday. From that perspective, Nebraska throwing the system into utter chaos by upsetting Texas in the Big 12 Championship isn't much more far-out than Texas A&M emerging over undefeated Kansas State or Miami undercutting UCLA in 1998, or LSU rolling over Tennessee in 2001, or UCLA and Pitt in their more recent spoiler roles. These things happen, even to undefeated, two-touchdown favorites destined from the beginning of the season for a spectacular collision with another unbeaten powerhouse in a gala championship in the Rose Bowl.
Perish the thought. But if the Longhorns do somehow fall short against the 'Huskers, the new pecking order for filling the 'Horns' slot against the Florida-Alabama winner out of the SEC looks like this:
• TCU. The Horned Frogs are the default upstart going into the weekend, sitting at No. 4 in the latest BCS rankings for the fourth week in a row, just waiting for a UT fall to make their move. Though they're first in the line of succession at the moment, there's still a potential hang-up with the computers: Even if the human voters responded by moving the Frogs to No. 2, the gap between TCU and computer favorites Florida and Alabama is too wide to make up even if the Gators and Tide lose; human pollsters will have to break overwhelmingly for the Frogs to overcome even a one-loss SEC team's advantage with the machines.
• Cincinnati. On that note, the computers like Cincy, collectively ranking the Bearcats ahead of Texas already and putting the Bama-Florida loser in sight as UC prepares for the perfect opening to impress the human voters: On national television, against a ranked opponent with the conference championship on the line. TCU can't do anything to offset another Cincy air show in Pittsburgh, which could earn the 'Cats enough human converts to lift them above TCU and on to Pasadena if Texas bites it.
• S-E-C! S-E-C! The riot-in-the-streets scenario, as mentioned here Tuesday, is a close enough, dramatic enough classic between Alabama and Florida in Atlanta that leaves that pundits calling for an encore. It wasn't a majority, but plenty of people were arguing for an Ohio State-Michigan rematch after the Buckeyes' season-ending win over the Wolverines in 2006 and the subsequent void created by USC's stunning loss two weeks later. Then, voters had another equally attractive, powerhouse option (Florida) to match up with the Buckeyes instead, and everyone seems to generally agree the rematch idea was a terrible one.
Obviously, neither TCU nor Cincinnati fits the description of an "attractive, powerhouse option." Interlopers from the Mountain West and Big East don't tend to inspire visions of pageantry and clarion calls and enormous ratings we expect from the game's biggest stage, and there's a good chance the computers will still favor the loser of the SEC Championship over one of the unbeaten small fries. If enough human voters turn their noses up at the Frogs and Bearcats, too, or if there's a significant split between which Cinderella the voters favor, the Return of FloraBamageddon: Pasadena is very much on the table, unfortunately.
But that's only if Texas creates that void by losing to Nebraska, which it won't. Of course it won't. That would ruin everything. Just take care of your business, 'Horns, and we can finally cast the vagabonds aside, once and for all.