Coming in to this season the SEC had won five consecutive national titles in football. That was an astounding accomplishment. The most astounding part of that accomplishment? It wasn’t just one or two teams on a roll. Florida (twice), LSU, Alabama, and Auburn have all won titles as well. Entering the 2011 season it seemed impossible for five straight titles to be beaten. Then the nearly incomprehensible happened — LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas — three teams from the same division — all took over the top three positions in the AP and Coaches Poll. (When the BCS is released this evening it will happen there too.) This has never happened before. And it may not ever happen again. (Want an additional crazy fact? If Georgia doesn’t choke away a home game against South Carolina, the SEC would have the top four teams in the country.)
It’s the culmination of ManifSECt Destiy, the Pax SECana era of college football.
The South has truly taken over the nation’s second most popular sport.
All of this means we’re basically assured a national title game that features an SEC rematch.
Indeed, not only do we have an SEC rematch brewing, I think we’ve got a decent chance for a split national title. That is, two SEC teams could end up splitting the title.
But which two teams will play, let’s dive in to the mix and examine a particular witches’ brew of perception, voter response, and computer shenanigans.
1. Alabama has the easiest path to the national title game.
Yes, Alabama, the team that lost a home football game of the century on the first weekend in November. (Is this crying Alabama frat boy being consoled now?)
Who knew that losing that game actually meant you’d have an easier path to the BCS title? Every game counts. Except when it doesn’t. At all.
All Alabama has to do is beat Auburn this Saturday. Accomplish that and the Tide are set for the BCS title game in New Orleans.
Probability of the Tide in the title game: 90%. (What’s more, if you’re Alabama you want LSU to beat Arkansas so nothing crazy ends up happening. You want a 12-0 LSU team headed to Atlanta).
2. What if Arkansas beats LSU?
If Arkansas beats LSU, I actually think there’s a decent chance the BCS rankings don’t even change. Why? Are voters — who represent 2/3rds of the pollsters — really going to jump Arkansas, a team that lost by 24 points to Alabama, over the Crimson Tide?
I’d be shocked if that happens.
Are voters really going to move Alabama, a team that lost at home to LSU a little over a month ago, over the Bayou Bengals?
I’d be surprised by this happening as well.
Is Arkansas going to leap both teams?
This would be the most shocking result of all. That’s not happening.
So I think even with an Arkansas win nothing would change in the top three spots of the BCS. (Only Les Miles could lose a game and still be number one. Seriously, this is almost impossible to do.)
3. Here’s the SEC tiebreak three-way rules.
Remember, it’s not gay if it’s an SEC three-way.
(I tremor at the thought of what percentage of SEC fans could accurately apply this rule in a hypothetical situation. This would actually be better than the BCS special tonight on ESPN. Give SEC fans this rule, the facts, and have them accurately apply it. We’re talking reality television at its finest).
SInce LSU and Alabama are likely to remain at 1 or 2 regardless of what happens in LSU-Arkansas — the one caveat here is if Arkansas went in to LSU and won by three touchdowns or more — then LSU owns the tiebreak over the Tide and the Tigers would roll on to the SEC title game with a game against likely top-ten ranked Georgia.
If LSU won the SEC title, then a 12-1 Tiger team would be the number one seed in the final BCS standings and play Alabama.
4. Meaning, as we told you last week, LSU just has to split the Arkansas and Georgia games to advance to the title game.
Beat Arkansas and the SEC title game has no relevance to the national title game. Let me repeat that, if LSU is 12-0 then nothing that happens in the SEC title game will have any bearing whatsoever on the national title game.
Again, every game counts.
Except when it doesn’t.
Probability that LSU is in the national title game: 90%.
5. But if a 12-0 LSU lost to Georgia, then the SEC could snag three BCS bowl bids.
There’s an exception in the BCS rules that allows a third team from the same conference to advance to a BCS game if two non-championship teams are ranked 1 and 2 in the final BCS standings.
That’s an almost impossible exception to meet.
But the SEC very well may do it.
Last year the SEC took home $27.2 million from the BCS for two teams.
What would three teams be worth to the conference? Try a total of around $33 million.
6. How does Arkansas get to the title game?
Alabama loses to Auburn.
LSU loses to Arkansas and Georgia.
That’s pretty much it. Unless, and this is a big caveat, Arkansas beat LSU by three touchdowns or more. Then the Razorbacks could move up in the rankings if the voters dropped LSU to three. Which means there’s an outside chance that a huge Arkansas blowout could put Alabama in the title game.
Probability of Arkansas playing for the national title: Less than 10%. (By the way, Arkansas fans are convinced I hate them. Not true. I wish you guys could advance to a playoff because I think in a playoff setting you guys could definitely win the title. And you’d be fun as hell to watch.)
7. There are only two ways any team outside of these three has any chance of playing for the national title?
Alabama has to lose to Auburn and LSU has to lose to Arkansas and Georgia.
Then Arkansas would play a team from outside the SEC.
Or if LSU beats Arkansas and Alabama loses to Auburn.
Then LSU would play a team from outside the SEC.
Probability of a non-SEC team playing for the title: 2%.
(By the way, the next three ranked teams behind the SEC teams: Stanford, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma State have beaten four current top 25 teams between the three of them. Virginia Tech, in particular, has one of the weakest schedules I’ve ever seen.)
8. Could we end up with a split national title?
Yes, we could.
What if LSU goes 13-0 and loses a close game to 12-1 Alabama?
A 13-1 LSU team would have the following “good” wins: Oregon at a neutral site, West Virginia on the road, Alabama on the road, Arkansas, Georgia in a neutral site game to win the SEC title.
A 12-1 Alabama team would have the following “good” wins: Penn State on the road, Arkansas, LSU in the BCS title game. (Alabama’s next best win is probably Florida, a team that LSU also beat).
Given that LSU and Bama would be splitting head-to-head, can you really argue that Alabama deserves the title more than SEC champ LSU?
I don’t think so.
The coaches are obligated to give the title to the BCS title game winner, but would AP voters do the same? I think there’s a very good chance we’d end up with a split national champion in this scenario.
Yep, two SEC national titles in the same year.
The improbable is almost downright probable.