The SEC champion will play for the BCS championship. That became abundantly clear the moment Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldanado’s field goal attempt in overtime pinged off the upright, giving Stanford possession needing only a kick to down the Ducks. Sure, Jordan Williamson had already missed an attempt in the fourth quarter, and the memory of a shank in the Fiesta Bowl lingered. Kevin Hogan even fumbled on the ensuing possession. But this upset was Stanford’s density, er, destiny. It was also the SEC’s.
Kansas State had already lost in resounding fashion to Baylor, ensuring a new team would occupy No. 1. The only question after Lache Seastrunk’s 80-yard touchdown rush was who would supplant the Wildcats? Notre Dame’s rout of Wake Forest means the Fighting Irish is No. 1: no ifs, ands or buts.
Notre Dame has no guarantee it will play for the national championship. Neither does the SEC, but it’s about as close to a guarantee as one could get in this sport. The conference sending a team to the BCS championship game is starting to reach that whole “death, taxes and…” status. The scenarios that would prevent an SEC representative from contending for the crystal ball in Miami are as follows:
Georgia loses to Georgia Tech, then beats Alabama in the SEC championship.
Alabama loses to Auburn *hold your laughter*, allowing two-loss LSU into the SEC championship, which beats Georgia.
So there you go, everyone with SEC malaise. Your hope of an SEC-free championship resides with Georgia Tech and Auburn. Good luck with that.
Consensus is that navigating through the SEC is all the credential a team needs to declare its BCS worthiness. This season though, this is a consensus predicated more on precedent than on this specific season. The conference’s quality wins are almost exclusively against one another. Bear in mind that the SEC has a losing record against the Big East, falling to 0-3 with Missouri’s loss to Syracuse on Saturday.
The SEC could use South Carolina and Florida wins over Clemson and Florida State. Otherwise, the conference’s marquee wins out-of-conference are Michigan, Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, Washington and Kent State. By season’s end, the highest BCS rated win in the out-of-conference could be Kent State. Which Kentucky beat.
Let’s contrast that with the Pac-12, the members of which won marquee non-conference games over Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and non-AQ conference leaders Fresno State and Arkansas State. The collective Pac-12 OOC resume isn’t that much more sterling than the SEC’s, but that’s the point. Alabama gets credit for beating Michigan, which may not finish in the top 25 and won’t play in a Big Ten championship game that the Pac-12 beat 100 percent of the representatives. Between Oklahoma State and Nebraska, the Pac-12 should have two wins higher in the BCS rankings than the SEC’s best. The Pac-12′s high quality teams spent the season beating up on each other.
So why is the SEC beating up on each other given so much more credit than another strong conference’s teams beating up on each other? Take Florida. Much of the SEC’s stature could ride on the Gators’ outcome vs. Florida State. UF has risen to the top five of the BCS ratings on the strength of SEC wins, yet struggled to beat Bowling Green and La.-Lafayette.
Not to disparage the Falcons nor the Ragin’ Cajuns — both are bowl eligible. But neither is leading, or even in the top three, of conferences elitists quickly dismiss.
Overall, the SEC is 4-6 against BCS conference competition outside of the SEC.
The Pac-12 is not an entirely innocent victim in this matter, though. Oregon didn’t contribute to the conference’s 6-4 non-conference BCS, playing Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. The Ducks are suffering the consequences of playing a weak out-of-conference slate. Kansas State will pay a similar penance, though K-State did play a BCS opponent in Miami.
Fulfilling their originally scheduled non-conference date could have saved either Oregon or Kansas State a lot of heartache this season. A win over a top 10 out-of-conference foe might have provided necessary leverage to springboard into the No. 2 spot despite a conference loss.
Oregon sacrificed the series, in part, to play LSU last season. The Tigers stifled an Oregon team that most would agree was the weakest of Chip Kelly’s last three. That, coupled with Oregon’s last-second field goal loss to Auburn after a gravity-defying Michael Dyer rush, has rattled the Ducks’ standing against the SEC.
It may not be fair, but reputation undoubtedly factors into perception — and perception is a chief determiner in BCS standing.
None of the above is to imply the SEC isn’t powerful. The conference is punctuated with NFL talent, great coaches and excellent play. The SEC doesn’t have a monopoly on those qualities, though.
A FITTING END FOR THE WAC
The WAC is a cautionary tale of unnecessary expansion. Once a great conference, it swelled to 16 members in the 1990s, which caused a schism forming the Mountain West. After that, the league was on a slow but inevitable march to oblivion, destined for the same football graveyard as the Big West before it.
The WAC had made its name on top 25 teams at Utah, Wyoming and Air Force. And after Arizona State’s outstanding teams of the 1970s parlayed their success into a Pacific Conference invitation, BYU became the standard bearer. The Cougars gave the WAC a national presence in the 1980s and 1990s, the culmination of which was a Heisman Trophy in 1990 and national championship in 1984.
Thus, there’s something fitting that one of the wins shutting out the lights on the conference involved BYU.
San Jose State had a dominating first half and held on to upend the Cougars, 20-14. The win was No. 9 for SJSU, continuing an impressive run that is one of the season’s underrated story lines. Head coach Mike MacIntyre has led one of the most impressive rebuilding jobs in recent memory.
Struggling both to gain wins and fans, SJSU was a program on the brink. But MacIntyre parlayed an impressive finish to 2011 into success this year, starting with an impressive near-miss vs. Stanford. The Spartans have wins over BYU, Navy and Mountain West co-leader San Diego State. All will go bowling, as the Spartans should.
The Spartans will have to sweat out their postseason fate; the WAC has just one postseason bid because of its erosion to seven teams. Its sole contracted bowl bid went to Utah State, which outlasted Louisiana Tech in the most exciting game of Week 12.
Louisiana Tech had a difficult, albeit realistic path to the BCS. A critical component to fulfilling its promise was winning out, and Utah State had something to say about that.
An Aggie defense that came in allowing just 13 points per game slowed the explosive Louisiana Tech offense, including intercepting Colby Cameron for his first and second turnovers of the entire season. But Louisiana Tech chipped away at a sizable disadvantage, pulling with a field goal in the waning seconds on Hunter Lee’s seven-yard touchdown rush.
The Bulldogs recovered the ensuing onside kick and got a field goal with zeroes on the clock to force overtime. For a program that had experienced more last-minute heartbreak than any in the nation, it was a bad case of deja vu.
That is, until the defense rose up to shut down La. Tech on the decisive fourth down in overtime. Utah State undid past failures with the show of resolve under duress, in the process winning the conference championship.
All three WAC programs deserve spots in bowls this year.
WEST VIRGINIA’S SLIDE
Perhaps the most perplexing turn of events for a first-year conference member is West Virginia’s rise and fall in the Big 12. The Mountaineers catapulted up the national rankings after defeating Texas on Sept. 29. Since winning that one, its fifth, West Virginia has lost every contest since. WVU is in very real danger of missing the postseason after ascending to No. 4.
The Mountaineer offense returned to form in recent contests vs. TCU and Oklahoma. Saturday’s contest against OU was a reminder of why public perception of WVU was once so high, with Tavon Austin putting on one of the most impressive performances of the entire season. He rushed for 344 yards, hitting an Oklahoma defense game planned for Geno Smith and the pass with an unexpected right cross.
Oklahoma responded via Landry Jones’ six touchdowns.
Missing a bowl game is a real possibility for the Mountaineers, who travel to Iowa State in Week 13 before hosting Kansas in the finale. The hapless Jayhawks must look like an oasis in the desert for a West Virginia bunch desperately needing a win.
- Montel Harris, Temple
You could say Montel Harris had a pretty good outing vs. Army. The former Boston College running back had a historic performance for Temple with 36 carries for 351 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
- Alec Lemon, Syracuse
Syracuse has primarily been a passing offense this season behind quarterback Ryan Nassib, but only recently has wide receiver Alec Lemon emerged as the Orange’s premiere target. Maybe if he’d factored in more prominently earlier, Syracuse wouldn’t have needed until Nov. 17 to reach bowl eligibility.
Nevertheless, Syracuse topped Missouri to hit win No. 6, and couldn’t have done so without the Herculean effort of Lemon. He caught both of Nassib’s touchdown passes and was good for 244 yards overall.
- Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
With its rout of Kansas, Iowa State sewed up bowl eligibility. The Cyclones are bound for their third bowl in four seasons, an impressive run for a program long dwelling in the basement of the Big 12 — and before that, the Big 8. ISU overcome the loss of its best player, linebacker Jake Knott, and the offense clicked at KU to avoid a trap that nearly felled TCU, Texas and Texas Tech before it.