Are you ready for the Alabama-LSU rematch?
No, we don't mean the Nov. 3 showdown at Death Valley. We're talking about the one after that, as in Alabama-LSU IV, coming to you in Miami on Jan. 7, 2013.
This notion is hardly outrageous after USC's stunning fall at Stanford on Saturday. The Trojans, coming off a two-year postseason ban and a chic pick for No. 1 by a bunch of idiots (including this one) in preseason polls, looked mighty pedestrian in a game that was physically dominated by the Cardinal. As a result, Alabama and LSU are back as 1-2 in every poll, as well as in the latest simulated BCS standings.
To be sure, there are other pretenders to the throne, with the season barely three weeks old. And Lane Kiffin's Trojans, if they can reclaim their manhood at the lost-and-found window in Palo Alto, aren't necessarily out of the national championship chase. But the reality is that an Alabama-LSU Rematch II is a distinct possibility at this point.
A big part of the reason is that the SEC is top heavy this season, and by top we mean Alabama and LSU. Though there are five SEC teams currently in the top 11 of the simulated BCS standings, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida are all flawed teams not quite in the same class as the SEC West powerhouses. To find the next team in the standings you'd have to go all the way down to No. 24 Mississippi State.
The other factor is the schedule. Neither Alabama nor LSU will face Georgia in the regular season. In fact, the Tide do not play any of the aforementioned three SEC East contenders. On the other hand, teams from other conferences with a shot at the BCS title game all still have to run through a gauntlet to remain undefeated.
Oregon, the top team in the Pac-12, will have to defeat suddenly formidable Stanford to win the North Division and most likely USC twice, as the Trojans remain the odds-on favorite to claim the South Division. The Pac-12 also looks to have been underrated in the preseason, as five conference teams are now in the BCS top 18, not to mention Oregon State, which is flying under the radar after beating Wisconsin in the only game it's played so far.
Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team ranked in the BCS top 10, though four others are in the top 16. But just like the Pac-12, having a balanced and competitive conference makes it more difficult for any team to run the table. OU has to face resurgent Texas in the annual Red River Shootout, plus a perilous trip to Morgantown in mid-November. The additions of West Virginia and TCU this year to replace Missouri and Texas A&M have not made the conference schedule any easier to navigate - they've made it harder.
Then there's the ACC, which like the SEC is top heavy, with only two teams currently among the BCS top 30 after Virginia Tech's unthinkable upset loss at Pitt. But one of those two teams is destined to lose on Saturday, as Clemson is playing at Florida State. Whichever team emerges victorious still must host a challenging SEC foe in its regular- season finale (South Carolina and Florida, respectively) and possibly two dates with the wounded Hokies, who might not be quite finished.
Which leaves us with that other soon-to-be not-ACC-in-name-only team that's off to its best start in 10 years. Notre Dame hasn't won a national championship in nearly a quarter century, though this year's team so far has looked the part. But the Fighting Irish are just getting into the meat of their schedule, beginning with last week's win at Michigan State. Going forward, Notre Dame still has to face three teams in the BCS top 15 - visiting Oklahoma and USC after a home date with Stanford. But first up, it must find a way to defeat Michigan, which has handed the Irish a last-minute loss in each of the past three seasons.
Oh yeah, Michigan. You remember the Wolverines. They were last seen getting whipped in a very large woodshed by Alabama. But they now happen to be the highest-ranked Big Ten team, at No. 19 in the simulated BCS standings. Three weeks into the season, the B1G is effectively out of the national championship race, as the conference team with the most impressive resume at the moment being, gulp, Northwestern?
We won't humiliate the Big East by dissecting why none of its teams will have a snowcone's chance in Hades to play for the BCS title, and Michigan State already did everyone a favor by ending the endless speculation about Boise State in Week 1. So the reality is that the loser of the Nov. 3 Alabama-LSU game has just as good a chance to get back into the BCS title game as the Tide did last season, provided the game is close.
In the event of no other major BCS conference team with an unblemished record, a one-loss Alabama or LSU most likely will trump another one-loss team for a spot in the BCS title game even though last year's championship turned out to be a snoozer debacle and a TV ratings nightmare.
Here's why: In now the twilight years of the BCS, the voters, who have the final say in which teams they want in the title game, are no longer interested in playing judge. As opposed to 2006, when they willed Florida into the title game over Michigan, nowadays they more or less act like juries in a trial, following the letter of the law in voting who's No. 2.
If there had been a firestorm of backlash last season, they might think differently this time around. But since the powers that be were satisfied with the final outcome - Alabama winning the national title without winning its division - there's no pressure on the voters to change their behavior if the same scenario comes up again.
If it's already broken, why fix it?
Keys: Pvs = Previous Week; Coach = USA Today Coaches Poll; AP = Associated Press Poll; Md = Median ranking of 33 computer ratings; CM = Colley Matrix; JS = Jeff Sagarin; KM = Kenneth Massey; RB = Richard Billingsley; Cp Avg = Computer Average.
Explanation: This rankings method is a simulation of the actual BCS standings with the following variations: 1) The AP Poll is used in place of the Harris Interactive Poll, which is not published until after the first weekend of October; 2) Four of the six BCS computer ratings are available - Colley Matrix, Jeff Sagarin, Kenneth Massey and Richard Billingsley; 3) The other two computer ratings - Anderson & Hester and Peter Wolfe - will not be available until October, so they're replaced by the median ranking of 33 computer ratings.
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