28 November 2011
The penultimate BCS standings are in, and Alabama has a decent lead over third place Oklahoma State. It's not in the bank, but it seems solid that Alabama will have a chance to play LSU in New Orleans for the BCS Championship.
But that scenario is not without objections. Let's run them down.
Objection One: Because LSU won the head-to-head, they're "punished" by having to play Georgia while Alabama rests - it's not fair
Yes, LSU is "punished" by getting an opportunity to win an SEC Championship.
No one at Alabama needs to be told the importance of SEC Championships. The Tide has won 22 of them - more than anyone. The first goal of any season at the Capstone is to win an SEC title. You can bet if LSU called and wanted to cede their SEC Championship game berth to Alabama, Nick Saban would have his guys on the field in a quick second, and they'd relish the oppportunity to collect championship number 23.
Life isn't fair, and the BCS certainly isn't. But it's the law of the land for now.
Objection Two: Alabama's not a conference - or even division champion
The extension of this logic says a 6-6 UCLA team that fired its coach has a better claim to play for the title than Alabama.
Seriously, UCLA is officially the champion of the PAC-12 South. Add to that a Clemson team that has collapsed down the stretch - your 2011 Atlantic Division Champions. And, let's not forget the Big East, whose conference champion will either be a 9-3 Cincinnati team or a 7-5 Louisville team. OK, let's forget the Big East.
My point here is that the luck of playing in America's toughest division isn't really a reason to keep a team from playing in the BCS Championship. The SEC West was an absolute bloodbath this year. Consider the fourth place team in the west - Auburn. They lost to the "big three" (LSU, Alabama, Arkansas), a super hot Clemson team and a super hot Georgia team.
Even Mississippi State, roundly dismissed as a huge disappointment, dropped all of the big three games, plus the top two teams from the East (Georgia and South Carolina) and an absolute heartbreaker to Auburn.
There's no division in college football remotely as tough as the SEC West. And the top five in the SEC are as good as the top five from any other conference in the land.
Objection Three: Alabama had its chance, let Oklahoma State get a shot
The (potential) conference champion that has the best argument to play instead of Alabama is Oklahoma State - assuming they beat Oklahoma on Saturday. This team beat 6-6 Texas A&M by 1, and 9-2 Kansas State outfit widely considered to have played no one by 7.
Compare - Alabama beat Mississippi State by 17. No other conference game was within 24 points (except, obviously, LSU). The computers are no longer allowed to take margin of victory into account, but you're foolish if you don't at least consider it when you're thinking about teams this close.
What happens when you factor margin of victory into the computer formulas? Take a look at Jeff Sagarin's ratings at USA Today. They're part of the BCS formula.
But Sagarin openly notes that the "Predictor" score (which factors in margin of victory) is a better formula than the "ELO Chess" score that's used by the BCS. Oklahoma State actually falls behind Oklahoma in Predictor scores. Alabama is ahead by 2.38 points in ELO Chess score, but ahead by nearly 5 points when you factor in margin of victory.
Now, let's compare losses. Oklahoma State lost in overtime to a currently 6-5 Iowa State team that was a 21 point underdog. The Cyclones are presently an underdog to finish with a winning record (they host #11 Kansas State this weekend, and are expected to lose).
LSU - the 100% consensus number one team in the country - beat Alabama in overtime by 3. I don't have to tell anyone who's a Bama fan that the Tide missed four field goals that day.
But even more salient than that was the pass from Marquis Maze to Michael Williams to the LSU one yard line. I'm not among those who argue it was a clear interception. I argue it wasn't clearly anything. If that play happens 100 times, it's a catch 50 of them and it's an interception 50 of them. And not once does it get overturned. It's as close a call as I've ever seen. It's a coin flip.
And if Alabama had the ball on the one of LSU with first and goal... well, even Alabama special teams on that day connects from inside the five (see Jeremy Shelley's unblemished extra point record this year). That's the difference in the game.
Alabama and LSU played an epic game that went to overtime and was amazingly close - it essentially turned on one play that could have gone either way. My point here isn't that Alabama should have won that game - they lost it fair and square. My point here is that there's no other team that deserves a shot at LSU more than Alabama does.
Bring on the rematch.