LSU, the runaway No. 1 team in the nation, hosts third-ranked Arkansas on Friday. While the Tigers are favored and expected to win, there’s no guarantee the Razorbacks won’t rise up. And if the Hogs are victorious, LSU would likely be shut out of the SEC Championship Game. It would leave LSU, Alabama and Arkansas tied with one loss atop the SEC West - assuming ‘Bama beats Auburn on Saturday - with LSU’s loss to Arkansas, Arkansas’ loss to Alabama, and Alabama’s loss to LSU. The winner of the West would be determined by a tiebreaker, with the Crimson Tide the likely choice.
Dig if you will the picture of LSU engaged in a fight.
Play after play, the Tigers line up and smash into the opposition, but to no avail.
And they lose.
LSU, the runaway No. 1 team in the nation, hosts third-ranked Arkansas on Friday. While the Tigers are favored and expected to win, there’s no guarantee the Razorbacks won’t rise up.
And if the Hogs are victorious, LSU would likely be shut out of the SEC Championship Game. It would leave LSU, Alabama and Arkansas tied with one loss atop the SEC West - assuming ‘Bama beats Auburn on Saturday - with LSU’s loss to Arkansas, Arkansas’ loss to Alabama, and Alabama’s loss to LSU.
The winner of the West would be determined by a tiebreaker, with the Crimson Tide the likely choice.
Even if LSU survives, the SEC title game would be next. The Tigers would play Georgia, which has two losses but, assuming the Dawgs beat Georgia Tech on Saturday, would have won 10 straight games.
Again, LSU would be favored, but there would be no guarantee.
So imagine the Tigers engaged in a fight one of the next two weeks.
Now imagine they lose.
Picture the potential scene.
If the loss is to Arkansas, the three SEC West teams could all finish with one loss. Stanford could finish with one loss. Virginia Tech could finish with one loss. Oklahoma State could finish with one loss.
Each would have their arguments for and against (and yeah, this is the yearly rant for a playoff).
LSU could claim massive victories over Oregon and Alabama and a loss only to a top-tier team. But then again, whether it’s to Arkansas or Georgia, should the Tigers lose they will have failed to win their conference.
The same goes for Arkansas, which irrespective of what happens against LSU won’t win the SEC.
Alabama could claim victory in its conference and victories over Arkansas and Penn State, but its schedule doesn’t measure up to LSU’s - and when the Tide had the Tigers in their own building they missed four field goals and lost.
Oklahoma State could claim big wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State, but a loss to lowly Iowa State is a bad blemish. Stanford has a huge win over USC, but couldn’t handle Oregon’s speed. Virginia Tech can’t yet claim a substantial win, but a win in the ACC title game would avenge its loss to demon fast Clemson - a team that looked great at one time but has struggled of late.
So who plays for the national championship?
And why them?
Once again, the BCS has failed. There could conceivably be six one-loss teams vying for the two precious berths in the BCS Championship Game (one-loss Boise State and unbeaten Houston don’t have a chance because of their weak schedules). A formula will spit out the winners based on a combination of computer rankings and two human polls.
But there’s no way of knowing whether those two teams are truly the two best. All they will have really done to get their spot in New Orleans is get somewhat arbitrarily selected.
Tweak the formula a bit, weighing the computers a little more than the human polls, and perhaps the participants are different. Tweak one or two of the computers, and perhaps the participants are different. Tweak which human polls are used, and perhaps the participants are different.
It’s a dumb way to crown a champion. It’s always been a dumb way to crown a champion, not just this year when there’s a slew of nearly identical contenders.
College football has always screamed for a limited playoff, with eight teams the ideal number and four a solid second choice. It remains a sport hijacked by the university presidents and conference commissioners who make up the BCS.
Even if LSU doesn’t lose and is clearly deserving of one of the two spots in the BCS Championship Game, the battle for the second spot is a muddled mess.
And if, heaven forbid, the rash of upsets that’s made the last month brilliant theater continues, there could be a crazy scenario where both participants playing for the national title failed to even make their conference title game.
If Georgia wins the SEC title game, Oklahoma State falls to Oklahoma and Virginia Tech is beaten by either Virginia or Clemson, the only one-loss teams remaining among the legitimate contenders would be Stanford and one or two of the three SEC West teams.
What makes the absence of a playoff so frustrating is that a special second half of the season is marred by an unsatisfactory finish.
Midway through the season, there was the possibility of the LSU-Alabama winner, Wisconsin, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Clemson and Boise State all running the table. Instead, one stunner after another has taken place over the past five weeks, culminating in last weekend’s carnage.
But instead of building on the drama with a winner-take-all tournament, the season will come down to a math problem.
This is what it sounds like, when fans cry.
What We Learned
The University of Southern California can play.
The Trojans are banned from bowl participation, fallout from the Reggie Bush scandal, but they’re a force.
They’ve been forgotten about (or ignored) because of the sanctions levied against them, unable to win a national title and so out of the national consciousness, but they’ve played a role in the title chases of others, nearly knocking off Stanford in a game that went to overtime the night of Oct. 29 and taking down Oregon last Saturday to end the Ducks’ outside hopes of reaching the BCS title game.
But beyond simply playing well, what makes USC’s season impressive - the Trojans are 9-2 overall - is the improvement the team has shown since the start of the year.
The Trojans barely beat Minnesota on Sept. 3, needing to come back in the second half to get a 19-17 victory against a team that’s now 2-9. Three weeks later, they were easily taken down by Arizona State, a decent loss to a team that was playing well at the time, but one that looks a bit worse in light of the Sun Devils’ entire body of work (they’ve lost three straight and are 6-5).
Since then, however, everything has changed.
USC ripped Cal, then handled a Notre Dame team that’s won eight if its last nine games. Then came the overtime loss at Stanford, followed by blowout wins over Colorado and Washington before the big upset in Eugene.
Coach Lane Kiffin should be viewed with skepticism after his bizarre stints as head coach with the Raiders and at Tennessee - which he left facing NCAA violations - but the improvement his team has shown demonstrates solid work irrespective of moral character.
“The credit goes to that other team,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said after his team’s loss to USC. “That’s a good football team.”
Amid USC’s ascent has been the rise of quarterback Matt Barkley. While the Trojans can’t win college football’s biggest team prize, Barkley could very well win college football’s biggest individual prize.
Barkley, who a couple of years ago as a freshman was a reason USC suffered unexpected losses to Washington and Arizona and couldn’t come close to hanging with Stanford and Oregon, is now a reason the Trojans are playing some of the best football anywhere.
He’s thrown for over 3,000 yards while completing two-thirds of his passes. He has 33 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions.
Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the Heisman frontrunner all year, has thrown two fewer touchdowns and one more interception, though he is completing slightly more of his passes.
“I think this was a defining game for us,” Barkley said after beating Oregon, though he could just as easily substituted “me” for “us” after throwing for 323 yards and four TDs. “We set ourselves apart on both sides of the ball.”
USC won’t contend for the national title. It can’t. It’s properly paying the price for major NCAA violations. But that doesn’t mean the Trojans aren’t playing with purpose, and playing extremely well.
Game of the Week
So much is on the line Black Friday at LSU, where the top-ranked Tigers host third-ranked Arkansas.
The winner holds onto a very real chance of playing for the national title.
But the game has taken on a somewhat somber tone after Arkansas redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Uekman died of a heart condition on Monday. That, like all that has been revealed about the monstrous child sexual abuse that was perpetrated by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, reminds us that what happens on the field is only football.
That said, in football terms, Arkansas at LSU, even with all that is on the line for both teams, is a great matchup in ranking only.
The Razorbacks have moved up to No. 3 only because they’ve survived while others have fallen to mostly lesser opposition. But unlike LSU, they haven’t beaten a top-10 team. And the only time they played a top-10 team (Alabama) they lost by 24 points.
Their best win came against South Carolina, which has nine victories but hasn’t beaten a ranked team.
Their other wins over ranked opposition came against Texas A&M and Auburn, which have combined for nine losses and couldn’t play a lick of defense even if you took the best 11 players from both rosters.
And when it comes to stopping the opposition, Arkansas is far from elite.
The Razorbacks allow 21.1 points per game, which is 30th in the country. They allowed Troy to score 28, Ole Miss to score 24, and Vanderbilt to put up 28.
In short, LSU, which averages 37.9 points per game and beat Ole Miss 52-3 last week (the same Rebels who nearly beat the Razorbacks), should score plenty against the Razorbacks. Meanwhile, the Tigers hold teams to just 10 points per game, meaning Arkansas might struggle to score.
“I think that we play the style of football that if we do what we are capable it makes it very difficult on our opponents,” LSU coach Les Miles said Monday. “We move the ball efficiently without turnovers. Our defense does not allow an opponent to go down the field routinely. They get turnovers. ... No, it does not surprise me that we have been able to have success.
“With that being said, this is going to be a big game against a quality opponent. We’re playing for victory.”
Arkansas at LSU has potential. It’s legitimately the game of the week because the rankings dictate that a great deal is at stake for both teams.
But the Razorbacks are overrated. LSU isn’t.
The stakes aren’t as high, but rivalry games like Ohio State at Michigan, Alabama at Auburn and Florida State at Florida might wind up being more fun to watch.
My Top 10
1. LSU (11-0): Arkansas would be the third top-five victim for the Tigers.
2. Alabama (10-1): The Tide will be looking for some revenge in the Iron Bowl.
3. Oklahoma State (10-1): By winning Bedlam, the Cowboys would still have a shot at New Orleans.
4. Stanford (10-1): Notre Dame won’t be a pushover.
5. Arkansas (10-1): LSU is too tough for the Razorbacks.
6. Virginia Tech (10-1): Suddenly, the Hokies are players for more than just the Orange Bowl.
7. USC (9-2): That win over Oregon was a statement.
8. Boise State (9-1): This season represents a missed opportunity.
9. Houston (11-0): By default.
10. Wisconsin (9-2): Two bombs in the final seconds are all that stands between the Badgers and perfection.
Contact Eric Avidon at 508-626-3809 or email@example.com.