The Non-Alabama Options
Why others should be in the debate
There are alternatives. It doesn’t have to be LSU vs. Alabama in the BCS championship.
It’s going to be LSU vs. Alabama in the BCS championship.
It’s almost a done deal and there’s little anyone can do about it now. Even so, here’s one last desperate plea to any and every voter in the coaches’ and Harris polls to ignore your eyeballs. Ignore what you believe is true. Ignore what you think the BCS should represent and please, PLEASE, give us something, anything, but a rematch in the BCS championship.
It’s going to be unsatisfying, there will be more debates and more loose ends, and much will be said and written after the fact that it would’ve been nice if someone else, anyone else, got the shot to play LSU for the title.
LSU will beat the Tide and there will be a great, big, collective, “WE KNEW THAT ALREADY,” when it comes to which team is better. Or Alabama will win and there will be a great, big, collective, “Yeah, but ….” The series will be tied at one game apiece and LSU’s win will have come on the road.
But more than that, LSU vs. Alabama is making the assumption that rolling through the SEC means something this year, and it doesn’t. It’s just not that good a conference, or at least it’s not night-and-day, put-two-teams-in-the-BCS-title-game-better.
But LSU vs. Alabama is what we’re going to get because the voters in the Harris and coaches’ polls seemed resigned to the idea that they deserve to play again, as if the first time around wasn’t enough.
And America won’t really care.
Forgetting that the BCS championship is fatally played around the time the sports world mostly cares about the NFL playoffs, and coupled with the stupefying and tragically arrogant decision to put the national title game on pay TV instead of a real network – there’s a reason Sunday Night Football has become bigger and more prestigious than Monday Night Football - the matchup isn’t going to stir the pot. The first game between the two – while gripping for die-hard college football fans – didn’t really cause much of a debate. It’s not like anyone outside of the greater Tuscaloosa metropolitan area is screaming for the Tide to get another chance.
LSU has earned its stripes by beating three teams – Oregon, Alabama, and Arkansas – ranked in the top three at the time, and it’s not really fair that it has to play an extra game when Alabama – who wasn’t good enough to win its own division – gets a break by sitting at home. So no matter what happens in the SEC championship, LSU is in; there’s no way it’ll fall below No. 2 even if Georgia wins in a blowout.
But what other option is there if it’s not Alabama?
For those desperate to keep the prestige and importance of the college football regular season intact as much as possible, and for those interested in the process of how a college football season should determine a national champion – since there’s no playoff coming in the near future – here’s your ammo. Here are each of the teams that have some claim to be able to walk the runway in the BCS title beauty contest.
BCS No. 3 Oklahoma State
The Cowboys might be more in this than many are letting on. They’re ranked third in the BCS rankings, but they’re fifth in both of the human polls – that’s a good thing because there’s room to quickly move up.
If Virginia Tech – who’s No. 4 in the Harris and No. 3 in the coaches’ – lose to Clemson in the ACC title game, it’ll move down in a big hurry and Oklahoma State will move up. If the Cowboys beat Oklahoma, they’re going to move ahead of No. 4 Stanford in the coaches’ poll to No. 3, but would probably hit a wall at No. 4 in the Harris behind LSU, Alabama, and Stanford. However, if they beat OU in a blowout, they’ll be No. 3 in both polls, there could be a groundswell of support to move them even higher. But that might not be enough; there aren’t any points for finishing third in this race.
Oklahoma State is going to have to obliterate the Sooners to get enough pollsters vote LSU 1, OSU 2, Alabama 3 in at least one of the polls.
But would the Cowboys deserve to be No. 2?
According to the NCAA, Oklahoma State has played the 11th toughest schedule in America, while Alabama has the 27th toughest slate. If the Cowboys win, they’ll have beaten eight bowl bound teams and seven teams that finished the regular season with winning records, along with a 6-6 Texas A&M. Alabama beat just three FBS teams – Penn State, Arkansas, and Auburn – that finished the regular season with a winning record and beat just six bowl bound teams.
The non-conference games were against Louisiana-Lafayette, who finished the year 8-4 and is off to the New Orleans Bowl; Arizona, who was bad but finished 5-7; and a road game against a Tulsa team that was in the Conference USA title hunt until last weekend’s loss to Houston. Alabama’s non-conference slate was cupcake central against Kent State, North Texas, and an FCS game against Georgia Southern, and the other was over Penn State, the fifth-best team in the Big Ten.
The Oklahoma State offense has been dominant all season long, putting up 533 yards or more in every game but two - rolling for 484 yards against Texas A&M and 420 against Texas - while Alabama only played two teams with a passing attack that ranked in the top 80 and didn’t have to deal with Tennessee’s Tyler Bray. LSU played just three offenses – Oregon, West Virginia, and Arkansas – with any semblance of a passing attack.
Basically, LSU and Alabama have phenomenally talented defenses that pass the eye test, but that’s partly because they haven’t faced a dangerous Big 12 offense.
West Virginia threw for 463 yards on the Tigers and Oregon threw for 240. We already know that LSU can win a game against Alabama’s defense, but can it win against the Cowboy offense? Probably, but it’s a question that might need to be answered.
Of course, Oklahoma State has to beat Oklahoma first.
And it’s never going to happen because … Oklahoma is probably going to win. Even if Oklahoma State wins, it’s almost certainly not going to be the blowout needed to budge Alabama out of the top two.
BCS No. 4 Stanford
It’s a tough sell from a theoretical standpoint, but if you’re willing to accept Alabama in the national championship even if it couldn’t win its own division, then you have to allow Stanford to get in even though it didn’t win the Pac-12 North.
Sort of like the Oklahoma State argument, LSU hasn’t faced a team with an offense and a quarterback that can do the things Stanford can do. The Cardinal offensive line – which allowed just nine sacks all year - is more physical than any in the SEC, and Andrew Luck is light years more talented than any quarterback the Tigers have faced.
LSU’s offense is all about power, but Stanford has the nation’s fifth-best run defense allowing a mere 1,084 yards on the season and gave up just one 200-yard running game, while the pass rush has consistently been among the best in America.
The one down moment was the loss to Oregon, but the Ducks have a speed attack and Stanford’s D is far better suited to deal with the LSU power running game.
And it’s never going to happen because … Oregon wiped the mat with Stanford in Palo Alto, and LSU beat Oregon.
BCS No. 5 Virginia Tech
Doesn’t Frank Beamer finally deserve another shot at the national title? Not necessarily, but his Hokies have been on a roll with seven straight wins including a 38-0 stomping of Virginia on the road for the Coastal title.
The Hokies have faced the 25th toughest schedule – compared to Alabama’s 27th-ranked slate – and if they beat Clemson in the ACC title game, they’ll have avenged their lone loss. Again, if you have no problem with Alabama getting a rematch, then you should be past the idea of Tech getting its do-over against the Tigers.
The run defense is ninth in the nation and likely wouldn’t break down against the power LSU ground game, while the defensive front has been great at getting to the quarterback.
The Hokies have turned the ball over just four times in the last six games, they don’t commit a slew of penalties, and they’re ninth in the nation in third down defense. The team is just solid enough to provide a challenge.
And it’s never going to happen because … the ACC champion will never get the benefit of any doubt. Yeah, Virginia Tech is on a roll, but it beat Duke 14-10 and North Carolina and Miami by three. The best win of the year might have been over Arkansas State.
BCS No. 6 Houston
In 2004, Urban Meyer, Alex Smith, and Utah finished the season 12-0 with a dominant spread attack that ripped through everyone in its path.
No one thought Utah could’ve beaten Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. One dominant 31-17 win later, and the federal government started to look into the idea of changing up the BCS.
2009 and 2006 Boise State finished the year unbeaten with BCS bowl wins, and last year TCU shocked a terrific Wisconsin team in the Rose Bowl to finish unbeaten.
In all four cases there was a post-bowl outcry that none of those teams got a chance to play for the national title. This year, if Houston beats Southern Miss for the Conference USA championship, it’ll be the only unbeaten team in college football if LSU loses to Georgia.
As dominant as Alabama’s No. 1 defense has been statistically, that’s how good Houston’s No. 1 offense has been.
The Cougars average 613 yards per game. Baylor is second at 577, and only six teams average more than 500.
The Cougars threw for 5,396 yards and average 450 yards per game through the air. Oklahoma State, who averages 402 passing yards per game, is the only other team that averages more than 400.
The Cougars average 52.67 points per game, and no one else averages more than 50 and only nine other teams average more than 40.
Okay, okay, okay, so Houston’s schedule is hardly anything special, but if you’re going to dismiss Houston’s offensive numbers because the Conference USA defenses stink, then you also have to also admit that Alabama’s defensive numbers are inflated because the SEC offenses are awful.
And it’s never going to happen because … 2010 TCU, 2009 Boise State, 2008 Utah, 2007 Hawaii, 2006 Boise State, 2004 Utah, 1999 Marshall, 1998 Tulane …
BCS No. 7 Boise State
Boise State 35, Georgia 21 in the Georgia Dome.
If Georgia beats LSU for the SEC championship, then wouldn’t this make Boise State the SEC’s best team?
Obviously not, but if Boise State could beat the team that beat LSU, then why couldn’t it beat LSU?
Kellen Moore has more than earned his stripes as a big-game quarterback, beating Georgia this year; Virginia Tech, Oregon State, and Utah in 2010; Oregon and TCU in 2009; and Oregon in 2008. He’s two missed field goals away from being 39-0 over the last three seasons, and with him under center, Boise State’s three losses have come by a grand total of five points. And yet you still doubt whether or not Moore and the program might have the chops to hang around with LSU in the BCS championship.
“But the schedule stinks,” you cry. Technically, Boise State played the 36th toughest schedule in America.
And it’s never going to happen because … It’s Boise State. America hates Boise State.
BCS No. 14 Georgia
If Georgia is good enough to beat LSU, and Alabama wasn’t, then why should the Tide get a rematch? Why should LSU get a rematch? If Alabama and LSU weren’t good enough to win their conference championship, then in no way does it make any practical sense that they should get to play for the national title over a team that turns out to be better than them.
And it’s never going to happen because … LSU is going to win the SEC championship. Even if Georgia wins, it’ll never, ever move up enough in the polls to come within ten miles of the top two, even though it will be the best team in the SEC.
BCS No. 15 Wisconsin
From a sheer power football standpoint, this is the team that needs to play LSU. It would be blast and barrel for two ground games that would slug it out in the most brutally physical national championship of all-time.
If the Badgers beat Michigan State, it’ll have avenged its loss in East Lansing on a fluky Hail Mary. Give credit to Braxton Miller for making the play to give Ohio State the win over the Badgers a week later, but his scoring throw means that Wisconsin lost in the final seconds on the road against two jacked up teams playing a nationally televised night game. Do two losses like that – especially if the Badgers dominate the Spartans in a rematch – equal one conference home loss by Alabama? No, but it really would be fun seeing the LSU and Wisconsin beat each other up.
And it’s never going to happen because … the voters don’t like two loss teams, and the BCS computers hate the Badgers even more.
Alright, so you’re not convinced. Oklahoma will probably beat Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech will probably lose to Clemson, and Houston could certainly lose to Southern Miss making the entire debate a moot point.
But if Alabama wins, that means the 2011 champions in baseball, college basketball, NBA, NHL, and college football won’t have been the best team during the season, and that doesn’t include a Green Bay team that wasn’t good enough to win its own division last season.
Great, college football. You’ve become one of them.
Great, college football. You’ve become one of them.