Danielson is right: SEC should win even when it loses

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Les Miles' 2007 LSU team lost twice -- and still went on to claim the BCS title. (US Presswire)  
Les Miles' 2007 LSU team lost twice -- and still went on to claim the BCS title. (US Presswire)  

The SEC has won five straight BCS national championships and Gary Danielson of CBS played a role in getting it all started. A little history lesson:

On Championship Saturday, 2006, Ohio State was 12-0, ranked No. 1 and idle after a breathtaking 42-39 win over Michigan. The Buckeyes were a lock for the BCS championship game.

USC (11-1) was No. 2 and all the Trojans had to do was beat 7-4 UCLA to earn a spot against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz.

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Michigan (11-1), also idle, dropped to No. 3 after the loss to Ohio State and was rooting like crazy for UCLA, thinking it might get a rematch with the Buckeyes with everything on the line.

Florida (11-1), in its second season under Urban Meyer, was No. 4 and meeting No. 8 Arkansas (10-2) in the SEC championship game.

UCLA upset USC 13-9 earlier in the day and by halftime the argument was going strong: Should Michigan get a rematch with Ohio State or should Florida, if it won the SEC championship to go 12-1, get the bid to play the Buckeyes?

I saw Danielson in the press box at halftime and asked him what he thought. He said there was a compelling case for Florida and that he planned to make it in the second half of the game. And he did. The Reader's Digest version: Florida had one more win than Michigan (12-1 vs. 11-1), played a tougher schedule in a tougher conference, and Michigan had already had their shot at Ohio State. Florida was just the better team.

Florida beat Arkansas 38-28 and the next day the Gators jumped over Michigan to finish No. 2 in the BCS Standings. Florida then validated Danielson's argument by dominating Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS Championship game.

The next season LSU jumped from No. 7 to No. 2 after No. 1 and No. 2 both lost on championship Saturday. LSU had two losses, including one to Arkansas on the day after Thanksgiving. But LSU showed it was the best team in the country by beating Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS Championship game.

Now that the SEC has won five straight national championships, it appears the conference has put itself into a position where, if all else is equal, it will get the benefit of the doubt from the voters. In fact, said Danielson, this is the season where the SEC champion, even with one loss, could jump over an undefeated team into the big game.

"Look at the games the SEC has to play in the first month or so of the season," Danielson said. "If the SEC does very well in those games it could set up a very interesting scenario."

Those games (using the rankings of the preseason Coaches poll):

 No. 4 LSU vs. No. 3 Oregon, Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas

 No. 22 Georgia vs. No. 7 Boise State, Sept. 3 in Atlanta

 No. 4 LSU at West Virginia, the Big East favorite, on Sept. 24

 No. 14 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Texas A&M, Oct. 1 in Arlington

 No. 5 Florida State at No. 23 Florida, Nov. 26

"If the SEC goes 4-1 in those games I think a one-loss SEC champion would have a legitimate chance to jump over an undefeated conference champion," Danielson said. "I would argue that and I would stand by that."

You say you want a scenario where this comes into play? How about this: No. 1 Oklahoma runs the table and finishes 13-0. The Sooners are in. Alabama loses a tough game at Florida on Oct. 1 on a last-second field goal but comes back to dominate the rest of the schedule to win the SEC championship and finish 12-1. Alabama has at least six wins against the Top 25 and is 5-0 in the SEC West, the toughest division in football.

Wisconsin, with Russell Wilson at quarterback, beats Nebraska for the second time in the Big Ten championship game to finish 13-0. Wisconsin has four wins against the Top 25.

Who gets in: Alabama or Wisconsin?

"You can't make the decision in a vacuum, but after watching the SEC win five straight championships you have to factor that in," Danielson said.

Here are a few other SEC tidbits from Danielson:

 Alabama has question marks at quarterback. It will either be AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims or both. "It's tough for first year quarterbacks in this conference. They have to learn how to handle the pressure of everybody talking about their every move. It’s especially tough at a place like Alabama." But the rest of Alabama looks very strong. "They have guys on their scout team who would start for just about everybody else."

 In one year Georgia's Aaron Murray has gone from a question mark to probably the best quarterback in the conference. "In the spring of 2010 two of the best looking young quarterbacks I saw were both at Georgia -- Aaron Murray and Zack Mettenberger. Now Mettenberger is at LSU and he'll be a storyline to watch. But keep your eye on Tyler Bray [of Tennessee]."

 The most interesting storyline in the SEC this season is what is going to happen at Florida. "Last year Florida was one of the most dysfunctional football teams I've ever seen," said Danielson. He believes that Florida is doing the right thing in moving away from the spread offense as Charlie Weis takes over as the coordinator. "I've said for a couple of years that the spread doesn't work for the elite programs because you can't recruit to it," said Danielson. "Alabama proved it and now Florida is going to prove it."

 The second-most interesting storyline in the SEC will be which team takes the next step up. A year ago it was Auburn. "I like Tennessee. I like the way Derek Dooley runs his team. They’ve got game breakers at wide receiver and I really like what Bray did last season when he became the starter. I think Arkansas can take the next step but that was a blow losing [running back] Knile Davis. Mississippi State will be better. Somebody is going to step up that we might not expect and that's fun to watch."

The Tony Barnhart Show returns on Aug. 31 on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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