And this season has potential to become one of the finest college football messes if the right teams step up and start throwing wrenches.
For those of us playoff barkers who enjoy cheering for spoilers, our new favorites should be Oklahoma, Arkansas and Georgia. These are the most capable programs of blowing up the beauty pageant between now and Dec. 3 and starting the howling in full force.
Let’s quickly refresh how we’ve gotten to this place.
Only four weeks ago, when the regular season rounded the midpoint, there were 10 undefeated teams including eight from automatic qualifying BCS conferences. First, viable contenders Oklahoma and Wisconsin peeled off. The next week longer shots Clemson and Kansas State were gone. A week later Alabama suffered a TKO in the “Game of the Century,” though some still refuse to acknowledge the defeat. Then Saturday showed the door to best-of-the-Westers Stanford and Boise State, leaving No. 1 Louisiana State University and No. 2 Oklahoma State as the last great hopes for the BCS apologists to get their perfect one-game matchup.
If you were doing the math in that previous paragraph, you of course know that there is a third undefeated team still out there.
Houston (10-0) is playing a very important role in all of this. In the absence of Boise State, Texas Christian or Utah (pre-Pac 12) portraying the plight of the undefeated yet unwashed and deprived non-automatic qualifier, Houston has stepped in as the understudy on the posters for inequality. Somebody’s got to do it, and the Conference USA leaders are doing an admirable job. The Cougars and record-setting quarterback Case Keenum are being almost entirely ignored.
If Houston can run the table against three capable teams with winning records, the Cougars will make great witnesses in any anti-trust lawsuit.
For now, all eyes remain on LSU and Oklahoma State, and both of them have good chances to finish unbeaten. But they’ll both have to work for it despite relatively easy conference road trips this weekend (at Ole Miss and Iowa State, respectively).
While the greatest doubts remain about Oklahoma State, the Cowboys actually have the simplest route into the BCS title game on Jan. 9 in New Orleans. The recent upheaval in the Big 12 has left the conference without a championship game, so all Oklahoma State needs to do is win at home against No. 5 Oklahoma on Dec. 3 and its passage will be booked.
Of course, the annual “Bedlam” game in the Sooner state has never been OSU’s strong suit. The Cowboys have lost eight in a row to their in-state rival. But while Oklahoma was earlier this season ranked No. 1 and still has eyes on a BCS berth, it will be without its biggest playmaking receiver Ryan Broyles who was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Oklahoma also lost at home as 29-point favorites to a Texas Tech team that Oklahoma State just embarrassed 66-6 last week in Lubbock. Considering the Cowboys will have a bye week to prepare for the final showdown, it’s theirs to lose.
Which brings us to the far more fascinating tale of LSU and the SEC West. The Tigers have the best resume in the country. They beat then-No. 3 (now No. 4) Oregon in the season opener on neutral ground. They beat then-No. 2 (now No. 3) Alabama in an over-the-top hyped game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. They went on the road to trounce then-No. 16 West Virginia.
Now they’ll have to stand up once again and beat No. 6 Arkansas in Baton Rouge, La., just to win the division.
The mess gets truly delicious if Arkansas wins. That would likely create a three-way tie atop the SEC West between 11-1 teams with circular wins against each other. All three would likely be among the top five in the BCS rankings, creating the perfect storm in the nation’s best football conference.
The final tiebreaker in the SEC comes down to BCS standings, but it’s not as simple as just taking the highest ranked team (and there’s no predicting which one that would be anyway). It will come down to the rank order, and the top two teams are all that matter.
The tiebreaker states that if the second highest team is within five places of the highest-ranked team and it beat that team head-to-head, it will get the spot in the SEC Championship game. So let’s just say Alabama is ranked the highest, if LSU is closest behind it then the Tigers get the berth in Atlanta. If Arkansas is next, then the Crimson Tide goes. Run the same program whichever way the rankings fall. Capiche?
That essentially means the SEC West title, and perhaps BCS title frontrunner, could also be in the hands of subjective voters. Perfect.
The drama only starts there. Even if LSU survives Arkansas, it would probably have to face a rejuvenated and improving Georgia in the Georgia Dome. Two weeks ago every SEC East team was considered a sacrificial lamb, but now the Bulldogs have at least a puncher’s chance of pulling off the upset with a quality defense and a talented quarterback.
If Georgia should win, it would create BCS bedlam. Would a one-loss SEC championship loser (LSU) still get the title shot? Or would a one-loss team that didn’t even play for the title (Alabama) go instead? Or would the nation’s best conference be bypassed altogether in favor of another one-loss team (Oregon) that also lost to LSU?
That’s the kind of complete mess and chaos that anyone who dreams of a legitimate playoff should wish for.