Sun Nov 27 08:33pm EST
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 BCS' unofficial motto is "Every Game Counts." Inevitably, it's produced a final weekend in which it's entirely possible that no games will count.
As expected, dominant wins by No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama over Arkansas and Auburn, respectively, have left the Tigers and Crimson Tide so far ahead of the pack as the regular season approaches the finish line that there is no realistic way to thwart a 'Bama-LSU rematch in the BCS Championship Game. There is a conceivable way (see below), but it falls well short of any threshold for "realistic." Barring a truly bizarre turn of events on Saturday, the Tigers and Crimson Tide are bound for New Orleans on Jan. 9, and by all appearances there's nothing anyone — including Georgia, an overwhelming underdog against LSU in the SEC Championship Game — can do about it.
We can say that with some degree of certainty not only because of the current numbers, but also based on available precedent. In 2001, No. 2 Nebraska was crushed in the regular season finale by Colorado, 62-36, creating an indistinguishable cluster of one-loss candidates… from which Nebraska emerged two weeks later to claim the second ticket to the designated national championship game despite failing to win its own division. Two years after that, in 2003, undefeated Oklahoma was blown out by Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game, 35-7, apparently ending the Sooners' championship bid… until the final standings were released the next day with Oklahoma still ranked No. 1 (again thanks to the computers) ahead of one-loss LSU and one-loss USC.
LSU has a similar edge here: As hard as it is to imagine the Tigers blowing the SEC championship against Georgia, it's even harder to imagine them falling out of the top two spots in the BCS standings, even with a loss, when they boast head-to-head wins over three teams — Alabama, Arkansas and Oregon — still ranked in the top 10 of every major poll. Among the plausible candidates for advancement, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Virginia Tech will have zero top-10 wins. With the computers in its corner, LSU is simply out of reach.
• Cowboy Catch-Up. A far more plausible scenario is Oklahoma State jumping Alabama with a big win over Oklahoma, which has the potential to thrust the Cowboys ahead of the idling Crimson Tide in human and computer polls alike. (The computer polls have been Oklahoma State fans all season, and remain more or less split on OSU and Alabama even before crediting the Cowboys with a win in Bedlam.) The question is whether any win over the Sooners can possibly be convincing enough: At No. 5 in both the Coaches' and Harris polls, the Cowboys have to boldly leap both Stanford and Virginia Tech just to get to No. 3.
At that point, a few voters may begin to consider sliding Oklahoma State to No. 2. With the Iowa State loss still relatively fresh in their minds, though, it is going to take nothing less than an unprecedented massacre in Stillwater to sway enough opinions to matter.
• . The most bizarre scenario at this point would unfold following a Georgia win over LSU that fails to knock the Tigers out of one of the top two spots — thereby by creating an LSU-Alabama rematch in a national championship game featuring not one but two teams that failed to win their own conference.
In that case, Georgia would take the SEC's automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl as conference champion, giving the conference three teams in big-money games for the first time. And the resulting justification for a system that anoints two also-rans within their own league as the undisputed No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation would be very, very ridiculous.
• Can Michigan fans start booking those Sugar Bowl tickets yet? Only if they're the gambling type. Specifically, they're betting on an LSU win over Georgia.
As it stands, the first three at-large bids are reserved for:
1. Alabama (Automatic with top-4 ranking)
2. Stanford (Automatic with top-4 ranking)
3. Houston (Automatic as the highest-ranked champion from a non-AQ conference, if the Cougars actually clinch the Conference USA title by beating Southern Miss in the C-USA Championship Game)
To qualify for the fourth at-large bid, Michigan needs to be ranked in the top 14 when the final standings are released next Sunday night; it's currently ranked 16th, having actually dropped a spot on the heels of its streak-busting win over Ohio State. (Wisconsin leapt the Wolverines into No. 15 courtesy of its division-clinching win over Penn State.) Michigan doesn't have another game to make up those two spots itself, but it does have two likely tumblers immediately in front of it: a) The loser of the Big Ten Championship Game between Michigan State and Wisconsin, and b) Georgia, assuming a loss in the SEC Championship Game.
If it gets the help it needs — and the odds strongly suggest it will — Michigan will make the move into the top 14, and the question will shift to the competition for the final invitation. The Wolverines will likely find themselves up against either Oklahoma State (if the Cowboys lose to Oklahoma in the de facto Big 12 title game) or Kansas State (if the Cowboys beat Oklahoma) from the Big 12, Virginia Tech (if the Hokies lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game) or Boise State. If the question came down to their merits on the field, it might be a competition. Considering it's going to come down to selling tickets and hotel rooms to the biggest, most enthusiastic fan base available, it's not even close: If Georgia loses, a 10-2 Michigan outfit that just ended a seven-year skid against Ohio State is going to get the invitation.
If Georgia wins, the Wolverines still have a contingency — rooting for Southern Miss to upset Houston, opening up the spot currently reserved for the Cougars — but obviously that's a significantly riskier bet.
• For chaos' sake. It doesn't get much more chaotic than a virtually guaranteed rematch between two teams from the same conference. A gaggle of comparable one-loss teams vying one or both championship slots is nothing new: See 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008, all seasons that ended with at least one entirely arbitrary snub in favor of one flawed candidate over another. If Oklahoma State, Stanford, Virginia Tech and/or Alabama winds up complaining about the injustice of it all, well, that's par for the course.
But the only outcome left would that qualify as a bona fide meltdown is an LSU loss to Georgia that actually knocks LSU out of the BCS Championship Game in favor Alabama — thereby officially rewarding the Crimson Tide for avoiding playing for a conference championship courtesy of their loss to LSU on Nov. 5. If the numbers shake out that way, my guess is the entire state of Louisiana would declare war on the invaders and wind up laying siege to the Superdome, led by its Congressional delegation.
Unlikely as it may be, no remaining scenario could lay the hypocrisy of the system quite as bare as the literal whitewashing of the biggest game of the season.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.