The possibilities of three 11-1 finishes in the SEC West means a perfect non-conference schedule for each. That’s no guarantee: Alabama travels to Happy Valley, where Penn State hasn’t lost an out-of-conference game in eight years; Arkansas meets a very talented Texas A&M bunch in the neutral confines of Cowboys Stadium; LSU opens the season with 2010 runner-up Oregon, then later in September travels to West Virginia.
That’s a lot of faith to put in those three teams, but SEC members have certainly earned that level of trust. So OOC games are out. As are matchups with the SEC East. In fact, so are the remaining three SEC West members, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
- Arkansas loses to Alabama
- Alabama loses to LSU
- LSU loses to Arkansas
- Alabama loses to Arkansas
- LSU loses to Alabama
- Arkansas loses to LSU
The first seems more likely. Arkansas just doesn’t match up particularly well with Alabama; LSU does. Conversely, the Razorbacks play a frenetic style that LSU sometimes struggles against. Les Miles critics would get no shortage of material from the Bayou Bengals losing their regular season finale after an 11-0 start. The SEC Championship landscape would be thrown into complete disarray, which precedent suggests would set the BCS picture into equal disarray.
A single conference producing three one-loss teams has happened twice in the last three seasons: the Big 12 in 2008 (Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma) and the Big Ten last season (Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin). The latter had no team that could stake claim to the championship; the former did in Texas, which was wrongfully past over for the title game appearance yet for whatever reason, there was never much ruckus raised over the Longhorns’ exclusion.
Don’t expect such quiet if SEC powerhouses beating up on each other ends up excluding the conference from this season’s title game.
The implications such an occurrence would have on the BCS title picture are profound. The primary argument for the BCS is that it crowns the best team, not a team peaking at the right time. Without delving too deep into the obvious need for a plus-one, this is at least a defensible point. There aren’t enough hearts bleeding for the Boises and TCUs because their schedules don’t warrant a title shot, or so say the detractors. But imagine the firestorm a season in which the best team doesn’t even reachthe BCS Championship game by virtue of playing too arduous a schedule. Teams being punished for facing challenges, particularly in conference when it’s impossible to load up on FCS and Sun Belt foes, would set off the most powerful tidal wave of anti-BCS sentiment yet.
A case can be made for all three as the best team heading into the season. Undeniably, preseason perception goes a long way in BCS standing. Should Alabama finish 11-1, earn the tiebreaker then claim the SEC Championship, the next question is taking UA over an undefeated with less fanfare. Take a surprise 12-0, like Cincinnati in 2009. The Big 12 champion goes unbeaten; a surprise Big East champion like Pitt goes unbeaten. All three teams have 12 wins, and by virtue of the Big 12 and Big East lacking title games, those squads played one fewer game. Does Alabama get the invite over say, Pitt?
Let’s further muddle this picture with Boise State’s inclusion. Two teams are unbeaten, one from either the Big 12 or Big East and the other Boise State. None played conference championship games, but both are unbeaten. BSU is from a non-automatic qualifier conference, yet would boast a win over an SEC member. Now there’s a scenario that ignites the opposite side of the anti-BCS debate.