This is why when the going gets tough, the tough schedule Western Carolina (or Georgia Southern, Jacksonville State, Wofford or Sam Houston State).
The only conference that has the BCS figured out is going to be in the championship game for a seventh consecutive year - and possibly an all-SEC final for a second straight season. After Saturday night's unthinkable evisceration of the previous top two teams in the BCS standings, that's the only near-sure thing we have.
An SEC team will face Notre Dame in the BCS championship game in Miami on Jan. 7 if the Irish can get by a possibly Matt Barkley-less (and fully Kiffin) USC team. If Notre Dame chokes at the L.A. Coliseum, then a number of scenarios may still emerge, all of which will involve at least one SEC team in the title game.
Projected BCS rankings, November 18:
- Notre Dame
- Kansas State
- Florida State
- Texas A&M
- South Carolina
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By way of its genius scheduling, the SEC's heavyweights all had virtual bye weeks on Saturday (South Carolina's workout was a bit more strenuous than desired, but still) while the Pac-12 and Big 12 engaged in ritual suicides of their national championship quests.
The biggest losers Saturday are undoubtedly Oregon and Kansas State, who not only lost their respective grips on a spot in the national championship game, and might even be shut out of BCS bowls altogether. The Ducks won't win their division if Stanford beats UCLA next week to set up a Cardinal rematch with the Bruins in the Pac-12 title game. The Wildcats, meanwhile, would be usurped as the Big 12 champion if they lose to Texas next week and Oklahoma wins out.
The obvious beneficiary of Saturday's upsets is Notre Dame, but it needed only one of the teams in front of it to lose. The real winner is the SEC, which now has the following paths to the BCS championship game:
- If Alabama beats Auburn and Georgia beats Georgia Tech, the winner of the SEC title game will face Notre Dame in the BCS title game (so long as the Irish defeat USC).
- If Notre Dame is upset by USC, then the SEC champ likely would face Florida in the BCS title game, if the Gators get by Florida State in their season finale. It could be Cocktail Party II, just 400 miles south.
- If Notre Dame and Florida both lose next week, then either Oregon or Kansas State could sneak back into the title game to face the SEC champion.
About the only realistic scenario in which the SEC would be shut out of the BCS title game is this: Notre Dame defeats USC, Georgia loses to Georgia Tech but beats Alabama in the SEC title game and Florida loses to Florida State. If all those hypotheticals occur, then it'll be Notre Dame against either Kansas State or Oregon.
And the odd team out is still Florida State (and Clemson). Even with a win over Florida next week, the Seminoles are unlikely to earn a shot at the BCS championship game, thanks to their terrible computer rankings and the overall weakness of the ACC. FSU likely will face 6-6 Georgia Tech or 7-5 Miami (if it chooses not to self-impose a ban) in the ACC title game.
Now, getting back to the original point of this analysis ... the SEC's scheduling is a critical component of its success in the BCS era, particularly the last six years, which it has utterly dominated.
The SEC plays more conference games than anybody else in September, so it's able to get on the national radar with early and attractive matchups. This in turn helps the conference identify its frontrunners and build up a narrative for these teams. It also conveniently allows each team to liberally sprinkle in Sun Belt and FCS teams throughout the schedule (up to three times in some cases) without paying much of a penalty.
This setup enables the SEC to set up its championship game as virtually a play-in game for a spot in the BCS title game, even if its champion has already suffered a loss (or two, in the case of 2007 LSU). For most conferences, a late loss such as the one suffered by Oregon and Kansas State on Saturday would be a championship killer, but the way the SEC tees up its schedule more or less inoculates its teams against a similar fate.
So call the SEC lucky all you want. It's really all part of a masterfully conceived evil plan, concocted by Roy Kramer and perfected by Mike Slive.
Non-AQ watch: We're closing up shop for good in 2012, a la Hostess, after Louisiana Tech's overtime loss to Utah State. There will be no non-AQ teams remotely close to the top 16 qualifying threshold (never mind the current standard of top 12) with two weeks to go in the season. For the second year in a row, there will be no non-AQ presence in one of the five BCS bowls.
The 10 BCS slots will now go to the six AQ conference champions, Notre Dame, one SEC team, one Big 12 team and either a Pac-12 or ACC team. We'll break all that down here on Monday.
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