With just three weeks left in the regular season, the national title race is getting clearer. Below are the relevant scenarios, and there really aren’t many.
How the SEC West is Won
Obviously, LSU holds the pole position to get to the Big Game. The last undefeated team in the country’s best conference, the spot’s theirs to lose. But hold on. The Tigers host Arkansas on the final week of the season and then need to win in the SEC championship game, probably against a resurgent Georgia team. Not a cake walk at all.
If LSU loses, either to Arkansas or their SEC East opponent, then things get messy. If they lose to Arkansas, they might not make the title game at all. Then, the team that makes the SEC title game would be primed to take the SEC’s spot in the national championship game.
But if LSU loses in the SEC championship game? Oh boy. Then, you’d have a championship game loser heading to the national title fray, and that’s not going to sit well with many. Or, another weird possibility is that an 11-1 Alabama team makes the championship just by sitting home on the final weekend. And can anyone fathom Arkansas (if they beat LSU and then the SEC East opponent in the championship game) making the title game?
Can anyone stop Oklahoma State?
So far, the answer is no. Oklahoma State has annihilated opponents all season long, and barring a colossal meltdown at Iowa State next week (nah gunna happun), their road to the title boils down to hosting Oklahoma on December 3. Ironically, the Big 12 is not playing a conference championship game this year. And yet they are. If Oklahoma State wins that game, they are in.
And if they don’t, BCS Armageddon makes its yearly appearance.
Who else has a shot?
If Oklahoma trumps the Cowboys, Oklahoma has a legitimate claim at the title game spot. They survived a tough gauntlet of games this season and survived adversity on and off the field. But what about October 22? What, pray tell, happened there? Texas Tech is mediocre at best, but the Sooners couldn’t beat them in Norman. It’s tough for them to demand a title shot with that blemish on their record.
Oregon again has sprinted past the Pac-12 field thus far. They have two tough games left—USC comes to Eugene next week and then the Pac-12 championship game—but it’s very feasible to see them sitting at 12-1 with twelve straight wins on December 3. If Oklahoma State loses, Oregon might be sitting in the top position to make the big game. What if, however, the opponent was LSU? Would the country stand for a rematch of that game? Or would the people want an Oregon vs. SEC title game after last year’s? In this ridiculous BCS system, there’s no way to speculate how public opinion might turn.
Amazingly, the only other teams in the country with any shot are Clemson and Virginia Tech. Clemson’s remaining games don’t preclude this slim possibility. After traveling to N.C. State next week, they’ll need to go to Columbia to play the Gamecocks, a top 10 team at that point. Win that one, and they’ll get another top 10 team—Virginia Tech—for the ACC championship game. Their resume will look at good as any other one-loss team at that point (with two wins over mighty SEC teams, no less) but will voters favor Clemson over the rest? Virginia Tech—which has played a far less daunting schedule than Clemson—has an even less probably shot than the Tigers. Even with a 12-1 record and an ACC title, I think a one-loss Oklahoma or Oregon gets the nod over them.
One last thought…
Most experts seem to be down on the possibility of an LSU-Alabama rematch at this point. But, if a few of the scenarios above persist—most significantly Oklahoma State and Clemson losing—we could see three candidates for the title game: LSU, Alabama, and Oregon. Assuming LSU is the front-runner, then any plausible scenario for the title game includes a rematch. Which rematch would be preferred? The gimmicky Ducks or the vanilla Crimson Tide? That’s the one scenario I hope the BCS mess doesn’t boil down to.