It's looking more and more likely that the two teams in the national championship game will be from the same conference
One of my favorite book series of all time is The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (for those who love the fantasy genre it's a must-read). In one of the books, the head villain (cleverly named Shai-tan) tells one of his minions, "Let the lord of chaos rule."
After the insanity of college football this past weekend, it's clear he was talking about the BCS. When the dust settled late Saturday night, the No. 2, 4, 5, and 7 teams in the NCAA's Bowl Championship Series standings had all lost, setting the stage for a phenomenon not seen in 40 years.
The rapid-fire string of upsets over the weekend was mind-boggling. First, No. 2 Oklahoma State had its undefeated season dashed at the hands of lowly Iowa State, a 27.5-point underdog heading into the game. That moved one-loss teams Oregon and Oklahoma back into the thick of the national championship race, at least until they both lost in a span of 30 minutes Saturday night. Throw in No. 7 Clemson's 37-13 beatdown at the hands of unranked North Carolina State and that's four upsets in 24 hours by teams ranked No. 22 or lower.
The staggering slew of upsets set the stage for a single conference holding the top three spots in the rankings. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, that conference is the SEC, specifically the SEC West, which this year seems like it could hold its own with pro football's woeful NFC West division.
Sitting atop the SEC West is the power troika of LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas. The three schools are a combined 31-2, and the two losses were to one another—'Bama pasted Arkansas back in September and fell to LSU in the "Game of the Century" on Nov. 5. Every expert and his mother now says that only a miracle would prevent two of these teams from playing each other in the BCS title game on Jan 9.
Between now and then, the three schools will engage in a two-week brouhaha that stretches the bounds of college football tiebreakers and BCS insanity. If Arkansas should somehow beat LSU on Friday and Alabama knocks off Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday, all three teams will finish 11-1, 7-1 in the SEC, and 1-1 against the other two schools. In that case, the tiebreaker comes down to an arm-wrestling contest among the three coaches, with LSU's Les Miles a likely favorite because of his steady diet of stadium grass.
I kid, I kid. The actual tiebreaker is much more complicated. The team that's lowest in the BCS standings next Sunday will be dropped from consideration, and the tiebreaker for the remaining two teams reverts back to "who beat whom." Most people think that would put Alabama in the SEC Championship game against Georgia, though the Crimson Tide would likely be better off not playing in that game at all. That's because an 11-1 Alabama team that finishes second in its division will still probably make the BCS title game, while a contest against Georgia opens the door for an upset loss. So basically Alabama will be rooting for LSU this Friday even though they can only win the SEC if LSU loses.
Confused yet? Let's take a step back and survey the big picture. The last time one conference held the top three ranking spots was 1971, when the Big Eight's Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado finished 1-2-3 in the final regular season poll. But even that year, the national championship game featured two conferences, as Nebraska beat Alabama in the Orange Bowl. There have never been two teams from the same conference in the BCS title game—the Big Ten's Ohio State and Michigan came closest in 2006, finishing first and third in the final regular-season standings. Only one team—the 2001 Nebraska squad—made the title game without winning its conference.
So barring an Alabama loss to Auburn or a Georgia win over one of the Big Three in the SEC title game, this year's BCS championship contest will be a historic affair. What else can we take away from this? Well unless you live in the Southeast or went to an SEC school, this means that our long national nightmare is far from over. If anything, it's getting worse. SEC schools have won the past five undisputed national championships, a feat unmatched by any conference in Division I college football history. Now we're headed for an SEC-vs.-SEC love fest, with nary an Oregon, Ohio State, or any non-SEC school to root for.
This latest nightmare scenario is yet another indictment of the fundamentally flawed, anti-merit, anti-excitement system that is the BCS. Winning your conference should be a prerequisite for competing for the national title under the current format—otherwise, what's the point of playing conference games at all? A single-elimination playoff setup would fix the problem and allow top at-large teams to play for a championship without diminishing the other conference winners. But we have as much chance of seeing a 2011-12 NBA season as getting a new postseason system anytime soon.
So pull hard for Auburn, Georgia, and Oklahoma State, people. One SEC school in the title game is bad enough—let's not make it two.