Alabama going 12-1 and not reaching title game? Never rule out anything in BCS

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The first BCS standings of the season come out Sunday which, of course, is the perfect time to turn the sport upside down (nine of the Top 25 lost last Saturday) and to speculate, perhaps excessively, about what could happen. Watching the weekly machinations of the BCS is like waiting for Football Armageddon. Highly entertaining.

And if there is one thing we have learned during the BCS era (1998-present) it is this: Don't ever say "Nah, that ain't gonna happen."

Because it will. I learned my lesson once and for all in 2007 when one of the numbers crunchers told me that LSU could jump from No. 7 to No. 2 in the final BCS standings if and only if No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia both lost on Championship Saturday.

I wrote it but, of course, the smart aleck sportswriter had to add: "But that ain't gonna happen."

Well it did. Despite two regular-season losses, including one to Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving, LSU jumped to No. 2 and went on to beat No. 1 Ohio State in New Orleans for the BCS national championship. Lesson learned.

So in the spirit that anything can happen and usually does in the wide, wonderful world of the BCS, we bring to you our first burning (and potentially annoying) question about the initial set of BCS standings.

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This much we know. In Jerry Palm's projected standings, the SEC has three of the top five teams: No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 South Carolina, No. 5 Florida. If any of those teams goes 13-0, it will be in the BCS championship game. Given the fact that the SEC has won six straight national championships, this point is not even debatable. (Feel free to try, but you would be wrong).

But what if we get to the night of Dec. 1 and these teams are in play near the top of the standings:

 12-0 West Virginia, the Big 12 champion.
 13-0 Oregon, the Pac-12 champion.
 A 12-1 SEC champion. Just for fun let's say it's Alabama, which had lost at LSU on Nov. 3 but still wins the Western Division and then beats undefeated and No. 3-ranked Florida or South Carolina in the SEC championship.

So who's the odd man out?

Oregon would have beaten Stanford once and (probably) Southern California twice in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

West Virginia would have beaten Texas (No. 11 when they met) on the road, Oklahoma State on the road, (No. 6) Kansas State at home and (No. 13) Oklahoma at home. They would have the likely Heisman Trophy winner in Geno Smith.

Alabama is the defending national champion and has won two of the past three BCS titles. They have a national brand and will have emerged as the champion of a conference that has won six straight BCS titles. Would the voters in the coaches and Harris Interactive polls really be able to tell Nick Saban that he was being left out?

Don't get mad at me. I'm just asking the question, because in your heart of hearts you know that it could happen.

It's called SEC Fatigue, and it's very real and very simply defined. A lot of college football fans outside of the Southeast footprint are simply tired of seeing the SEC win everything. They don't like SEC fans. They think SEC fans think they invented football. There is no getting around the fact that SEC fans are loud and they are proud. They don't go to college football games to spectate. They go to participate.

Having lived in the South all my life, I can tell you that fans down here are enthusiastically confident about the brand of football their teams play. They look at the spread offenses of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 and see it as a namby-pamby approach to the game born out of seven-on-seven camps that are out of control.

It is not, as Missouri's Sheldon Richardson so famously said, "Old Man Football." It is Grown Man Football, and most of the teams in the SEC play this way. Last season four of the top five defenses resided in the SEC. Through five games this season it is four of the top 12 and again, Alabama is No. 1 at shutting people down.

And you will never convince the Alabama fan base -- or Saban for that matter -- that a spread team, while entertaining, deserves to go to the BCS championship game ahead of an SEC team that plays football the way that the Good Lord intended it to be played -- great defense, a powerful ground game and solid special teams.

What we need is a BCS championship game that would settle this argument once and for all -- one that pits these two contrasting styles, or as the late, great Lewis Grizzard once wrote, "Our way of life against theirs."

Can you image Alabama sitting at home while Oregon and West Virginia play a 70-63 game to decide the national championship? Is this, to quote the great Saban, what we want football to become?

Seriously, can you imagine the nuclear explosion that will take place in Tuscaloosa if a 12-1 SEC champion Alabama gets left out of the big game because of West-By-God-Virginia?

But that ain't gonna happen. Is it?

All of this, of course, is written with tongue in cheek. At least I think it is.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET 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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