The SEC West is getting all the love in the BCS Standings, with LSU-Alabama-Arkansas holding down the top three spots in that order. It adds to the drama of the already-huge LSU-Arkansas game coming up on Friday and then Alabama-Auburn on Saturday, both games nationally televised on CBS in the mid-afternoon time slots. The question now appears to be not which SEC team will play for the national title, but which two will play. Before we get to that though, let’s consider one other possibility—can Georgia, the champ of the SEC East, throw a big monkey wrench into the mix and pull an upset in the conference championship game on December 3? And if so, what happens? What should happen? The Notebook weighs in all three points…
*Georgia is playing very good football right now and the defense in particular is shutting down the run. In games against Tennessee, Florida and Auburn, the Dawgs gave up an average of four yards per game on the ground. While the Volunteers haven’t run well on anyone, the Gators and Tigers had been getting good production from the Jeff Demps/Chris Rainey duo, along with Michael Dyer, respectively. Georgia also held Ole Miss to (-20) rush yards and Mississippi State to 56. The one fly in the ointment here is the 200 yards the Vanderbilt running game piled up in a game that the Georgia defense apparently overlooked. Nonetheless, the overall body of work tells us that none of the three SEC West contenders should just expect to run right over the Bulldogs in Atlanta.
*Georgia’s running game appears to be rounding back into form, after a strong start than a midseason dip. Freshman back Isaiah Crowell has been the key player and in November, the Dawgs have gotten 100-yard games from Carlton Thomas and Brandon Harton. The Bulldogs won’t run over anyone themselves in Atlanta, as the 150-200 rush yards they’ve generally gotten in SEC play will be considerably less against whomever they play, but at minimum, the run must be respected.
*If the run is respected, sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray can get the job done. The risk is that he has had some interception-laden games, most notably last Saturday against Kentucky and earlier in the season against Mississippi State. But he also does a good job at spreading the ball around to several receivers and if he can avoid the mistakes—admittedly a tough challenge against the defense he’ll play in two weeks—there’s no reason Georgia can’t manage the game effectively.
*After losses in their opening two games against Boise State and South Carolina, Georgia has won out since. Even those defeats showed the development of the defense. They were able to stop the run against Boise and do a respectable job against Kellen Moore and the passing game. They completely took away South Carolina’s passing game at a time when the Gamecocks still had Stephen Garcia playing. The Dawgs were overrun by South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, but prior to his knee injury that was something Lattimore was doing to just about everybody, including last year’s game against Alabama.
In summation I think that while one would not pick Georgia to beat LSU or Alabama, it’s also likely to be a much better game than originally anticipated several weeks ago as the superiority of the SEC West over the East seemed to be growing with each game. Now it’s time to ask the question—what if the Dawgs pull it off?
The early reports I’m seeing suggest that the runner-up in the SEC West is virtually a lock for the national title game, simply because they wouldn’t have to risk getting beat and the lead in the BCS standings is large enough. Presuming LSU beats Arkansas on Friday, they would likely be in a strong enough place to ensure that a loss to Georgia would still keep them in the top two. If Arkansas beats LSU, the Tigers probably still end in the national championship game, while Alabama would likely risk it all against Georgia. The only way it looks possible to stop an all-SEC West title game is for Arkansas to win on Friday and then Georgia to knock off Alabama on December 3. That sets up LSU with one spot and leaves the other up for grabs, with Stanford being in the best shape—because like LSU in this scenario, they would finish in second place in their division, and not have to risk an 11-1 record in a title game.
Am I the only one who sees the utter lunacy in all this? We are talking about teams not wanting to play in the championship game of their own conference! Commentators solemnly tell us that the decision about who should play in the BCS title game is about picking the best two teams, regardless of whether they won a conference title. But what’s the point of having a league championship game if you’re going to take someone who didn’t even qualify? And if we believe in using an overall body of work to override the results on a league championship game, what exactly is the point of a one-and-done playoff system? The whole concept of a playoff is the idea of threshold contests, which one has to win or whatever happened before that no longer matters.
I believe if Georgia wins the SEC Championship they should play for the national championship. They would have won 11 straight games and beaten the champ of the consensus best division in the country on a neutral site. Undefeated teams would be gone, so the issue of taking a two-loss team is mitigated. I would have the Dawgs play Virginia Tech, if the Hokies win the ACC, or failing that have them play Oklahoma State if the Cowboys win the Big 12. Failing that…well, I’ll get back to you.
Regardless of how it does or should shake out though, it’s important for fans to keep Georgia on their radar screen. Because the SEC’s championship battle in Atlanta on December 3 is far from an automatic coronation for the winner of the West.
Here’s how the Notebook projects the BCS bowl matchups actually shaking out…
BCS National Championship: LSU-Alabama
Fiesta: Oklahoma State-Michigan
Orange: Virginia Tech-Rutgers