Can the SEC win No. 8? As long as it has the BCS chance
The rest of college football doesn't have to beat the SEC to prevent the league's eighth straight national title -- it just has to quit losing the games it shouldn't that would shut the SEC out of the process.
|Can anything stop the SEC from leaving another fan base wondering what went wrong in the BCS title tilt? (US Presswire)|
First, the bad news for the rest of college football: It's about time to give up on the idea of beating the SEC in the BCS national title game.
Maybe it's not impossible; it was just three years ago that Oregon was busy taking Auburn to the limit. But after Alabama's demolition of Notre Dame, it certainly doesn't seem likely and doesn't seem likely to get any more likely in the near future. Not only did the Tide's 28-point victory improve the SEC's record against non-SEC competition in the BCS title game to a perfect 8-0, but -- per Beyond the Bets -- it also moved the league's BCS championship mark to a perfect 8-0 against the spread. Not only has the SEC prevailed against all comers with the crystal football on the line, all those comers haven't even been that close.
And there's a good chance the SEC could produce a team just as potent as those previous eight champions in 2013. Alabama returns its skill-position weapons nearly intact and the bulk of their top-ranked defense. Texas A&M will lose a handful of stars on both sides of the ball but will still boast the single-best player in college football (QB Johnny Manziel), an assortment of explosive options with which to surround him and possibly two All-America tackles. Georgia will return virtually its entire offense, Aaron Murray included. Florida should be even better in Will Muschamp's Year 3. LSU can never be counted out despite the underclassmen exodus. South Carolina has Jadeveon Clowney.
With those six bullets in the metaphorical chamber, the odds that one of them will lift itself up to the same caliber of the SEC's previous nine BCS champions are very, very good. So what does the rest of college football do to prevent one of them lifting yet another Coaches' Trophy? It's pretty simple: Make sure they never get a chance to play for it.*
That's the good news for the SEC haters -- this is a far, far easier goal to achieve than it might sound and is in any case (as Alabama so demonstrably proved in Miami) a far easier goal to achieve than beating the SEC head-to-head for all the marbles. Of those eight BCS Championship Game victories over outside opposition, only three came via an undefeated SEC champion -- Tennessee in 1998, Alabama in 2009 and Auburn in 2010. What that means is if the Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC and Notre Dame could collectively produce two undefeated teams instead of just one or none, their chances of shutting the SEC out of the title game would be better than 50/50.
Producing those two undefeated teams isn't nearly as difficult as the rest of college football has made it out to be in recent years, either. It did it this season, in fact; Ohio State just happened to be on probation. And Oregon would have made it three undefeated teams if it had scored more than 14 points in regulation at home against Stanford. Mighty as the Crimson Tide were, they were a mere Buckeye brain-freeze and a Zach Ertz touchdown catch from finishing the regular season ranked No. 4.
In 2011, Oklahoma State could have prevented the all-SEC title game simply by beating Iowa State. In 2008, Texas was seconds from beating Texas Tech to finish undefeated, Penn State seconds from beating Iowa and USC many more seconds (but still) from beating Oregon State.
Go further back, and there are still more opportunities to have stopped the SEC streak in its tracks. West Virginia only had to defeat heavy-underdog Pitt in the final week of the 2007 season to prevent two-loss LSU from advancing to the title game -- and that was only one of a half-dozen results that season that could have done the same. Even with a loss, USC had only to beat UCLA in the final week of the season in 2006 to stop Florida from ever facing Ohio State.
You get the point. The SEC might be the biggest hurdle for the rest of college football to clear in order to reclaim the national championship, but that's a hurdle it wouldn't even have to clear if it could quit tripping up over the much smaller hurdles along the way. It's true that the SEC champions have sometimes tripped up in similar fashion. But ever since the Gators' annihilation of the Buckeyes that started the streak, they've received the all-important benefit of the doubt from the pollsters. And it's hard to argue, given the SEC's BCS record, that it hasn't deserved it.
So will the SEC win its eighth consecutive national championship a year from now? If it has any say in it, where "it" is the final BCS Championship Game, the answer looks to be an emphatic yes. Just ask Notre Dame or any of the other bruised and battered challengers to the throne that the SEC has left in its recent wake.
But all the bruises and blowouts in the world won't matter if the SEC doesn't even get that say. The rest of college football has had its chances to prevent that say in past seasons; to stop No. 8, in the end, all it might take is ensuring those chances are finally, finally seized.
*Also, it would be a really good idea to go ahead and do it in 2013, before the playoff field expands from two teams to four. Shutting the SEC out of the BCS title game is one thing, but hoping the SEC beats itself up so badly that it can't snag one of four playoff berths is a fool's errand. Starting in 2014, the SEC's champion (or second-best team) will have to be beaten on the field ... and, as detailed above, that currently appears to be a task too tall for even the best contenders the rest of college football has to offer.
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