What we learned: Thanks to big upsets, SEC title game's relevant again


Let this be a lesson to all of us: When it comes to the BCS narrative, it ain't over until the final standings come out on the first Sunday in December.

Last Saturday showed us again why college football, for all of its flaws, is the best sport in the world. That's because the third Saturday in November had arrived and we thought we had this season all figured out.

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As the day began, the SEC and its fans were lamenting that the conference was going to get shut out of the BCS national championship game for the first time since 2005, when USC and Texas played in Pasadena. Because there was simply no way that No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon could both lose down the stretch.

Well, here we are after a Saturday night where No. 1 and No. 2 both lost. The last time it happened, in 2007, LSU jumped from No. 7 to No. 2 and then went on to win the BCS championship.

So what did we learn from it?

SEC title game matters

The price on those SEC championship game tickets is going back up.

It was going to be strange playing an SEC championship game between Alabama and Georgia with neither team having a shot at the big game. But now, if Alabama (vs. Auburn) and Georgia (vs. Georgia Tech) take care of their business this Saturday, the Dec. 1 meeting in Atlanta again becomes basically a national semifinal.

I've been to every SEC championship game since it started in 1992 and the toughest tickets I've ever seen were the first game in Birmingham (Alabama was ranked No. 2) and for the 2008 and 2009 meetings between Florida and Alabama. This game could absolutely rival those.

Vols reportedly want Gruden, but why?

Derek Dooley inherited a bad situation at Tennessee and from a structural standpoint made it better. There are now systems in place that are going to benefit current and future players at Tennessee. But this is a bottom-line business and Dooley knew that after watching his father, who was the head coach at Georgia for 25 seasons, it would be difficult to come back for a fourth season.

Dooley was 1-14 in his final 15 SEC games and was in position to win a number of those games in the fourth quarter. But for whatever reason Dooley's teams could not close the deal and win them. So Dooley is gone and Tennessee is looking for its third coach since 2008, when Phillip Fulmer was forced out.

The early word is that Tennessee wants Jon Gruden and about that we must simply ask: Why? One of our NFL insiders, Jason La Canfora, reports Gruden sees the college game as more of a lifestyle balance than the pro game. Really? The college game might have more balance if you're at Boise State. But there is no such thing as any kind of lifestyle balance in the SEC where it is 24/7/365.

Jimbo Fisher unhappy today

The Florida State coach simply doesn't understand why his team (10-1) is No. 5 and No. 6 in the human polls but No. 10 in the BCS behind three teams (LSU, Stanford, and Texas A&M) with two losses.

Fisher is not going to like the explanation, but here it is: Florida State's nonconference schedule to date includes Murray State and Savannah State of the FCS and South Florida (3-7) of the Big East. Of its eight ACC opponents only one (Clemson at 10-1) has more than six wins. Florida State is not even ranked in one of the computers (Massey). Its highest computer rating is 15 and its average is 17.

Now is Florida State as good or better as the two-loss teams ahead of it? You bet. Florida State is really good and has to kick itself every day for losing to NC State (17-16). To me, it will prove one of the most costly losses in Florida State history. The computer numbers will go up substantially after FSU plays No. 4 Florida on Saturday.

Fans should thank Tom Osborne

Tom Osborne arrived at the University of Nebraska in 1962. A graduate of tiny Hastings College, he came to Nebraska to pursue a Master's Degree. He then earned a Ph.D. in Educational psychology in 1965. In his spare time he decided to try coaching football. He offered to join Bob Devaney's staff as an unpaid assistant whose only compensation was eating in the team’s training table. As it turned out, Osborne was pretty good at coaching football.

Last Saturday, some 50 years from the day he arrived, Tom Osborne said good-bye to the University of Nebraska. He was an assistant coach for nine years, head coach for 25 years with 255 wins, 13 conference championship and three national championships. He took six years away from Nebraska to serve three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He then came back to Nebraska as athletics director. Saturday's game with Minnesota was his 500th as an employee of the school. He will retire on Jan. 1, 2013. Amazing.

Miami prepares for NCAA hammer

Miami is passing on a chance to play for the ACC championship. I'm not sure what that tells us, but it tells us something. Miami (6-5, 4-3 ACC) plays at Duke on Saturday where a win could clinch the ACC's Coastal Division for the Hurricanes. Miami would certainly be a substantial underdog to Atlantic champion Florida State in the ACC championship game on Dec. 1. But just the chance to play in the game would be a big deal for Al Golden in his second year as head coach.

But on Monday morning Miami announced it would self-impose a bowl ban for the second successive season. What that means is the Hurricanes cannot play in the ACC championship game and Georgia Tech, which lost to Miami 42-36 way back on Sept. 22, will represent the Coastal Division in Charlotte.

By staying at home the second straight year, Miami is trying to reduce the blow of the NCAA sanctions that are coming down the road next year. It's one thing to pass on a secondary bowl trip. It's another thing to deny your players, who have been through a hell of a lot, the chance to play for the championship. That tells me that Miami is worried -- big time worried -- that the new get-tough NCAA is about to bring the hammer down.

It's just one man's opinion. Am I wrong?

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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