Alabama was the big loser on Saturday in their 29-24 loss to Texas A&M, falling from the #1 spot in the BCS standings down to #4 and putting themselves in need of substantial help to get back into the national championship picture. But there were other losers to. Let’s run through teams and conferences that are up against it, as we begin another round of BCS bowl projections.
*Florida’s narrow escape against UL-Lafayette—the Gators needed a blocked punt return on the final play of regulation to win 27-20—may have kept them alive for a major bowl game, but it put a crimp in their chances.
Coming into Saturday, Florida was in position to get into the top four nationally, which would have made them an automatic qualifier for a BCS at-large. They’re still sitting on sixth, but the Gators are behind both Alabama and Georgia—one of whom is guaranteed to win in the SEC Championship Game. Florida also lost considerable marquee appeal—the reality is they haven’t played a good game since they blew out South Carolina.
The end result is that the bowls are likely to have a choice as far as which SEC runner-up they want to pick. Florida will certainly be in that discussion. But they are now less attractive than Texas A&M, which has the marquee scalp of the season and the latest trendy quarterback in Johnny Manziel. I know we’re looking at a scenario where the Gators would be 11-1, the Aggies 10-2 and Florida beaten A&M head-to-head in College Station. But if you’re the Fiesta Bowl, who looks like a more marquee choice to you right now?
And if the SEC champ plays its way back into the title game and the Sugar gets to make a pick, doesn’t either A&M or LSU make more sense given geographic proximity? Florida needs help, and more importantly, they need to start playing better football before their finale against Florida State.
*The SEC in general is again being hurt by the ridiculous limitation of the number of at-large teams that can come from a single conference (A league can only send one additional team after its champion). I was as harsh as anyone on the idea that the league needed get both spots in the BCS National Championship Game last year. I’m all for the notion that all major conference champions should get a chance on the big stage, and I’m for making it easier to get midmajor conference champs into the BCS.
But when it comes to runner-ups, do we really need a rule that ensures the Big Ten actually has a chance at an at-large spot? It’s frightening and horrific thought, and before you slash your wrists, it’s not likely. But Michigan is #21 and if they win out—which would include a road win at Ohio State—they could move up to #14 and become eligible. The SEC has the following teams in consideration for an at-large—the Alabama/Georgia loser, Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and LSU, all in the Top 10 of the BCS. With four at-large spots available, give one to Notre Dame, maybe one to Oklahoma or Clemson and let the SEC have at least two—in fact, give them three if South Carolina beats Clemson in a couple weeks.
*Which brings me to another loser and that’s Louisiana Tech. The WAC leader is the best hope for a midmajor crasher of the BCS, but they barely survived Texas State, 62-55. The Bulldogs held at 20th in the rankings, but they still need to move up four spots to qualify. And even at that they would need to pass a BCS conference champ in the rankings (La Tech is only an absolute automatic if they get to the top 12, which won’t happen). And when Nebraska survived a stiff challenge to Penn State and moved up to #14 in the process it removed the best chance for Louisiana Tech to pass a conference favorite. There’s still hope—Tech is ranked ahead of Wisconsin, who might pull an upset in the Big Ten title game. Tech is ranked ahead of everyone in the ACC’s Coastal Division, whose champ could upset Florida State in the ACC championship battle. But Tech’s chances of getting to the BCS without an upset realistically ended on Saturday.
*The Pac-12 knows now the only they can get an at-large bid is if they blow their national title hopes. When Oregon State lost to Stanford, it means that if Oregon wins out, all league runner-ups will have three losses. Oregon State still has two defeats, as does UCLA who leads the Pac-12 South. But the only way the Pac-12 can get two bids is if Oregon loses to one of them. A three-loss Pac-12 team likely isn’t even eligible, and even if they are, it wouldn’t compare to the prospect of bringing in undefeated Notre Dame as a replacement choice for Oregon.
*Louisville wasn’t going to play for the national title even if they were undefeated, but critics of the system would surely have loved to seen an unbeaten Cardinal team frozen out. It won’t happen now. Louisville’s ground game was non-existent in a 45-26 loss at Syracuse and they fell into a three-way tie with Cincinnati and Rutgers for the Big East lead. Louisville’s already beaten the Bearcats, so this league likely still comes down to Louisville-Rutgers on the final Thursday night, November 29.
Before we go into the final BCS bowl projections, a closing word on Alabama. Don’t write off the Tide just yet. Oregon has a gauntlet of three games to run, with Stanford, Oregon State and the Pac-12 title game (UCLA-USC winner). Kansas State has to play Texas on December 1. The game will be in Manhattan, but the Longhorns have talent, they can score points and with an 8-2 record, they could be in position to play their way into a BCS game themselves if they get help and Oklahoma loses. And Notre Dame has the season finale against USC. The Trojans look less imposing with each passing week, but the Irish don’t blow out Pitt or Boston College, so we should still expect a war in the Coliseum. Is it all that unthinkable that two of the three unbeatens lose and the SEC champ ends up back in?
The bigger question that has to concern Nick Saban is how good his team really is. I’ve been talking here at TheSportsNotebook how Alabama really hasn’t played anyone. But while I never thought they were head-and-shoulders above the competition, I also can’t say I thought the pass defense would be this bad. Both LSU and Texas A&M have exposed the Tide secondary and Georgia’s Aaron Murray is more than capable of doing the same.
I’m still giving ‘Bama the benefit of the doubt and picking them to win the SEC because I think Saban will have his team motivated for a prove-it-to-the-nation kind of performance, even if they can’t win the national title. But Dawgs-Tide looks a lot better right now than it did a couple weeks ago.
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Oregon-Kansas State
Rose: Nebraska-Notre Dame
Fiesta: Oklahoma-Texas A&M
Orange: Florida State-Rutgers
Selection Note: I am presuming Oregon will end up #1, as BCS experts say winning those last three games will push them past Kansas State. This would give the Rose the first selection and the opportunity to get Notre Dame. The Fiesta would then pick to replace Kansas State, and then the selection order for this season also puts that bowl first in line, so under this scenario, the Fiesta makes two straight picks.