If there is anything that we have learned in college football over the years, it’s that the most chaotic situation is the one most likely to happen. Whether it is a two-loss team like LSU getting a berth in the national title game due to several late losses by other contenders, or a team like Michigan getting passed over because voters didn’t want a rematch between the Wolverines and Ohio State, the mix of human emotion and computer analytics that the BCS provides always ensure that plenty of people will be talking about the outcome.
The 2011 college season has the potential to add yet another campaign to that pantheon of craziness, but there will have to be some movement in the polls in order for it to happen. There remain only three teams that are undefeated, after Boise State and Stanford both fell at home last week. The LSU Tigers, owners of some of the most impressive victories in the game this year, are in the top spot, and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are steamrolling everyone in their path en route to the second spot. The Houston Cougars are also undefeated, but they still aren’t in the top 10 of the BCS, and likely aren’t a contender for the title game.
Each of those top two teams has a couple of difficult contests remaining, with LSU playing Arkansas in the last week of the season, and also having to deal with the SEC Championship Game if they manage to beat the Razorbacks and Oklahoma State having to go on the road to play Iowa State and a home tilt with Oklahoma on the docket.
Those games all provide opportunities for each of these teams to lose, but what happens if one of these teams is defeated? Which one-loss team has the best chance of playing in New Orleans as a replacement for one of these two clubs? Here is the breakdown, followed by the most logical pick to play for the championship
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tide are unquestionably one of the top teams in the country. They have a stout defense, a legitimate Heisman Trophy threat in Trent Richardson, and are a representative of the conference that has won the last five championships and is 7-0 in this game. They have also beaten Arkansas at home, Florida and Penn State (who hadn’t lost a Big Ten game until last weekend), and have looked downright dominant in nearly every game that they have played.
The big argument against Alabama, and one that will definitely come into play if it’s Oklahoma State that falls, is that they already played LSU this season and lost. Making things worse is that they only managed to score six points in the game, and it was played in Tuscaloosa, meaning that the Tide laid a nice egg at home.
If they are able to win their final two games, then they would have an argument to replace LSU if the Tigers should fall, but if LSU loses to Arkansas and the Razorbacks win the SEC, then all bets are off as to whether or not the voters would prefer the SEC champion over the club that beat them during the regular season.
Even though they are playing in a conference that the computer rankings don’t really like, there is no disputing that Oregon is one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch. Led by explosive running back LeMichael James, the Ducks have one loss on the season to LSU, and they also have a couple of key wins, including a lopsided one at Stanford last Saturday. They held the potent Cardinal offense largely in check, and their defense, although underrated by the media, has proven to be a key component of their squad.
There really aren’t a lot of negatives for the Ducks, but the big one is their relatively weak schedule. Outside of their games against LSU and Stanford, Oregon has only played one top-25 opponent, and that was Arizona State, who has lost games this season to such stalwarts as Illinois and Washington State.
If Oregon can win the Pac-12 Championship Game, they will be a good candidate to make the leap onto the big stage in the Big Easy, but they would need to get a little more love from the computer rankings in order to leap Alabama, and the next team on the list:
The Sooners came into this season being talked about in the same breath as LSU and Alabama, and the only thing that took them out of that conversation was their head-scratching loss to Texas Tech. Overall, the Sooners have a tremendous offense led by Landry Jones, a great defense that is fantastic at forcing turnovers and causing chaos in the opposing backfield, and they also have three very impressive victories over Florida State, Texas, and Kansas State.
On the negative side, the loss to Texas Tech in Norman has a lot of voters weary of their national championship hopes. The Red Raiders haven’t had very many good games, losing by 60 at home to Oklahoma State, by 34 at home to Iowa State, and winning by only one point against Nevada.
Even though they had one bad game, Oklahoma still has enough quality wins to jump from the number five slot up to the top two, and if they beat the Cowboys in Stillwater, it may not matter what other squads do.
And the Winner Should Be:
Obviously, all three teams that comprise the top five outside of LSU and OSU have good resumes to join the BCS party in New Orleans in January, but the team that should be that representative should an undefeated team go down is Oklahoma. Yes, Oregon is exciting as all get out, and if they win the Pac-12 title they would have a tremendous argument, but the reality is that the Sooners would have a legitimate claim as the second best team in the nation if they can run the table the rest of the way.
Winning in Tallahassee against Florida State, in Manhattan against then-undefeated Kansas State in convincing fashion, and against Texas in the Red River Shootout, the Sooners have some high quality victories that can stack up against anybody and play well. A matchup between them and LSU would be a tremendous prize for the ultimate showcase in college football, and fans would be better off for it.
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