SEC on outside looking in, may need Lane Kiffin's help to prolong BCS title streak

How do you like expansion now, Mike Slive?

The commissioner of the Southeastern Conference undoubtedly is happy to have Texas A&M and Missouri in his league for the long haul. But in the short term, it’s the newcomer Aggies who have dealt the biggest blow to the SEC’s quest for a seventh-straight national championship.

When A&M shocked Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, it knocked the Crimson Tide down from first to fourth in the latest BCS standings. ‘Bama now sits behind unbeatens Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame, and will need help – a lot of it – to get back to the BCS Championship.

And the person in best position to provide that help is none other than Lane Kiffin.

Yes, the Slive nightmare scenario is now in effect. During the commissioner’s 10-year SEC tenure, his least-favorite coach was Kiffin – the guy who now may be Slive’s last line of (title) defense.

Kiffin, the former annoyance for one season at Tennessee, offers the last realistic chance to beat the Fighting Irish when Notre Dame visits USC on Nov. 24. And the following week could be Kiffin’s second shot this season at Oregon – this time in the Pac-12 championship game – if the Trojans beat UCLA this week and win their division.

[Related: BCS Standings Week 5: SEC in dire need of help]

So it’s fairly simple now for the SEC: produce a one-loss champion on Dec. 1, hope for two major upsets of the three unbeatens, then try to reclaim the crown on the field in South Florida on Jan. 7.

Not an easy road. But that’s the way it should be.

Look, the SEC wins all ties. They’re stacked like kindling in the BCS standings, in positions four through nine: Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M and South Carolina. So if it comes down to a beauty contest between one-loss teams, the SEC will get the nod over similar champions of the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12.

But if you think a one-loss SEC team deserves a berth in the title game over one of the three current unbeatens, you’re viewing the world through regionally biased eyes. They don’t deserve it, and it won’t happen.

They play big-boy football in the Big 12 and Pac-12, too. Those championships are earned the hard way.

They may not have a championship game in the Big 12, but they have a nine-game conference schedule – one more than the SEC plays. Kansas State has five league games on the road and four at home. Jeff Sagarin’s computer rates the Big 12 the toughest league in the nation this year, largely because nine of the 10 members are in his top 50. Kansas is the only patsy.

[Also: Celebrate potential new No. 1 standing? Not Kansas State]

In the Pac-12, nine members are in the Sagarin top 40. As it stands right now, Oregon will have to play six games against Pac-12 teams currently in the Sagarin top 34. Neither Alabama nor Georgia can say that.

And Notre Dame has played a tougher overall schedule than either of its fellow unbeatens. There is no FCS chump tucked away on the Irish ledger. No Sun Belt opponent. Nobody from the MAC or the WAC. There are 10 opponents from big-six conferences, including at least eight likely bowl-eligible teams.

If those three all go undefeated, they’ll all deserve a shot at the title. Unfortunately, only two will get it.

And none will be from the SEC.

The SEC remains the nation’s most competitive league, week-in and week-out. That’s why the schedule finally conspired against Alabama, which had to win a brutal physical and emotional battle at LSU and then turn around and face the unconventional offense of Texas A&M.

[Also: With Oregon at No. 1, Chip Kelly can call his shot in the NFL]

‘Bama coach Nick Saban called the LSU game the most physical he’d ever been part of. His team was still wearing the wounds from that game at kickoff Saturday, as the Aggies raced to a 21-0 lead before the Crimson Tide could regroup.

That’s not an excuse, nor is it disrespect for the brilliant performance by Johnny Manziel and A&M. But it’s a fact: the schedule played a part in ‘Bama’s undoing.

Here’s what’s funny about that: for decades, many SEC members believed Alabama got preferential treatment from the league office, which is located in Birmingham. Not so this year.

But those are the breaks of the game. Alabama wasn’t good enough to overcome that scheduling difficulty, and now its fate is out of its hands.

Meanwhile, if A&M were still in the Big 12, the headache of having to beat the Aggies would fall to Kansas State. So losing Texas A&M may turn out to be BCS Championship Game addition by subtraction for the Big 12, while the arrival of the Aggies has had the ironic opposite effect on the SEC.

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