The BCS Era: Year of realignment (2011) ends with SEC on top again

Alabama gets revenge against LSU, winning 21-0 in the title game. (USATSI)
Alabama gets revenge against LSU, winning 21-0 in the title game. (USATSI)

Throughout June and July and to commemorate the final year of the BCS era, Jerry Palm will be taking a year-by-year look at the machinations and controversies of the postseason system unleashed upon college football in 1998. Previous installments of the series can be found here.

Format: The championship game was played at the Sugar Bowl.

Number of bowls: 35.  New bowls: None.

Number of Division I-A teams: 120. New schools: none.

Conference realignment: Conference realignment ended up being a bigger story than anything that happened on the field in 20111. Nebraska joined the Big Ten, which gave the league 12 teams and brought with it a conference championship game.  The Pac-10 became the Pac-12 with the addition of Colorado and Utah, allowing that league to play its own title game.  BYU dropped out of the Mountain West and decided to play football as an independent.

The loss of Nebraska and Colorado from the Big 12 nearly led to the breakup of the league.  There were rumors that Texas, Texas A&M, and both Oklahoma schools were eyeing the Pac-12, but that never materialized.  Missouri had lobbied very publicly for a spot in the Big Ten, only to get rejected in favor of the Cornhuskers.  Missouri and Texas A&M would eventually agree to join the SEC in 2012.  The Big 12 would then raid the Big East for West Virginia and TCU. The Horned Frogs had announced a move to the Big East the year before, but never had to play there and ended up as a major realignment winner.

Also, Pitt and Syracuse announced they would leave the Big East for the ACC, a move that will take place in 2013.

It got so ridiculous that Boise State and San Diego State, along with SMU, Houston and UCF announced they would join the Big East, which would make the league big, but not so much East.  The Broncos had just moved to the Mountain West for the 2011 season and were already announcing their departure.  Eventually, with further instability and the eventual dissolution of the Big East for football, Boise State and San Diego State would change their minds and stay in the Mountain West.

Formula changes:  None. With teams changing conferences every week, who had time to mess with the formula?

The talk for much of the 2011 season was whether it was possible to have an all-SEC title game.  Alabama and LSU looked like the two best teams for much of the season.  The problem was they were in the same division of the SEC, so one of them wouldn’t even play for the SEC title.  LSU won the head-to-head, regular season matchup in a field goal battle (9-6 in overtime).  The Tigers would go on to win the league championship, leaving Alabama hoping for the best at 11-1.

The most serious contender for Alabama’s spot was 11-1 Oklahoma State, which won the Big 12.  The computers said the Cowboys played the stronger schedule, but voters gave Alabama the edge, and in this system, that put the Tide in the title game in a rematch with LSU.

It was the second time a team that didn’t win its league (or even its division) got a chance to play for the title.  The first time was when Nebraska earned a spot in the 2000 championship game.

Oklahoma State had three things working against them.  One was that its loss was to Iowa State in double OT came late in the season and to an average team.  Another thing working against the Cowboys was that the SEC was on a five-season BCS championship streak, which meant voters were much more likely to give Alabama the benefit of the doubt, especially since its only loss came to the No. 1 team in overtime.  Finally, Oklahoma State suffered because of the word “State” in its name.  No way voters would have disrespected the tradition and brand of Oklahoma this way.

The 0.0086 margin between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma State was the closest margin since the formula was changed in 2004.

In the BCS championship game, Alabama got its revenge, shutting out LSU 21-0.  The first touchdown by either team in two games didn’t come until about five minutes remained in the game.

If the soon-to-be-launched four-team playoff were in place:

Like Alabama, the No. 4 team in the BCS didn’t win its division or league.  Stanford finished 11-1, but the Cardinal’s only loss came to Oregon, which went on to win the Pac-12.  Because of a non-conference loss to LSU, the Ducks ended up 11-2 and fifth in the BCS.  No. 6 BCS team Arkansas lost only to LSU and Alabama, but finished third in the SEC West.  The expectation here is that the selection committee respects the conference championship, and Stanford gets left out.

Orange Bowl: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oregon

Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Oklahoma State vs. No. 3 Alabama

Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Wisconsin

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson vs. Arkansas

Sugar Bowl: South Carolina vs. Kansas State

Fiesta Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Boise State

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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