AUBURN, Ala. -- First, the good news for those suffering from an acute case of SEC fatigue: An SEC team is finally going to lose in the BCS title game.
Now for the bad news: An SEC team is also going to win the BCS title game.
Barring a revolt from voters in the Coaches' and Harris polls, Alabama rendered next week entirely meaningless by whipping Auburn, 42-14, in Saturday's Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide set the (re)matchup for the BCS title game by suffocating the Tigers to the tune of 44 yards and two first downs through the first three quarters. Now, prepare to be suffocated for a week by arguments from the SEC side for Alabama-LSU, Part Deux and from the anti-SEC side for an LSU-Anybody Else matchup.
Alabama players and coaches cannot control what happens now. They can only wait eight days to find out whether they'll play a second game against LSU, which beat the Tide, 9-6, in overtime on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. "We really want that next shot now," Alabama offensive tackle Barrett Jones said. "We're excited about what we did tonight. We hope what we did was enough."
As one of 59 voters in the Coaches' poll, Alabama coach Nick Saban is one of a handful of people who will help decide whether Alabama gets its rematch. Saban feels his team has done enough. Asked whether he believes the Crimson Tide are the nation's second-best team, Saban said, "I do." So chalk up at least one No. 2 vote for Alabama.
Alabama played Saturday exactly as it has all season. The defense dominated, and the offense mostly stuck to the basics. Tailback Trent Richardson ran for 203 yards on 27 carries, and quarterback AJ McCarron found tight end Brad Smelley six times. Alabama got fancy once, when McCarron handed off to Richardson, who pitched back to McCarron, who threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell for the Tide's first touchdown.
Auburn, too young and too inexperienced, could not match Alabama's muscle. It also didn't help the Tigers that Tide players had spent a year stewing over last season's Iron Bowl meltdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium when Auburn, en route to a national title, roared back from a 24-0 deficit for a 28-27 win. More than a few eyebrows went up Saturday when Alabama went into the locker room with the same halftime lead (24-7) as a year ago. "We noticed that," Jones said. But Cam Newton was nowhere to be found.
Playing Auburn probably helped the Tide to focus. Saban worried about his team concentrating on the wrong things, so he advised against watching Friday's LSU-Arkansas game, which might have allowed Alabama to win the SEC West had Arkansas won. Saban wanted the players to worry about what they could control.
"There was an article about Oregon's players having a party when Oklahoma State lost," Saban said. "They got beat the next day." Against anyone else, Alabama players might have let the outside noise distract them. Against Auburn, nothing else mattered. "You lose this one, you've got to hear it for 365 days," Alabama defensive end Damion Square said. "Now we can celebrate for 365 days."
The Tide also should be able to celebrate in eight days, when the BCS matchups are set.
The chief argument against Alabama is that it will not win its conference. Actually, the Crimson Tide didn't even win their own division. Here's the problem with that argument. Alabama would have won the ACC. Alabama would have won the Big East. Alabama would have won the Big Ten. Alabama would have won the Pac-12. Alabama would have won the Big 12. When Alabama and LSU helped found the SEC in 1932, it's safe to assume they didn't envision a day 79 years in the future when their shared interests and geographical proximity would be the chief reason why they shouldn't be considered the two best teams in the country -- even though they are the two best teams in the country.
Maybe Oklahoma will beat Oklahoma State next week and render this squabble moot. For now, as Tide fans chant "L-S-U" and dream of New Orleans, Alabama and Oklahoma State will be weighed against one another.
Alabama has beaten three teams ranked in this week's BCS Top 25 (No. 3 Arkansas, No. 19 Penn State and No. 24 Auburn). It's possible blowout losses by Penn State and Auburn will knock both out of the Top 25. Alabama's only loss is to top-ranked, 12-0 LSU by three in overtime.
Oklahoma State has beaten three teams ranked in this week's BCS Top 25 (No. 11 Kansas State, No. 18 Baylor and No. 25 Texas). If the Cowboys beat the Sooners at Bedlam next week, they will add a fourth to that list. Oklahoma State's lone loss came by six in double overtime to Iowa State, which is 6-5 and ranked No. 8 -- in the Big 12.
The Cowboys rank No. 2 in the nation in passing offense, No. 3 in the nation in total offense and No. 2 in the nation in scoring offense. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, rank No. 1 the nation in all four major defensive categories. Oklahoma State's defense? No. 105 in total defense and No. 67 in scoring defense. Alabama's offense? No. 20 in scoring and No. 32 in yardage.
Five of seven computer polls prefer Oklahoma State to Alabama. The human voters, meanwhile, ranked the Cowboys No. 6 in each of their polls. The human voters apparently rank BCS title contenders the way former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart ranked obscenity: They know them when they see them. Alabama simply performs better on the eyeball test than Oklahoma State.
For example, your eyeballs did not deceive you Saturday. Auburn, which entered the day averaging 25.2 points and 345.3 yards, could not move the ball on the Crimson Tide until Saban began sprinkling in second-teamers in the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, the Tigers averaged 1.5 yards a play. Their only points came on a fumble recovery in the end zone following a sack and an 83-yard Onterrio McCalebb kickoff return. Auburn's offense, like all the others that played Alabama this year, did next to nothing.
It would be better if we didn't have to argue about this. It would be better if Alabama, because it didn't win its league, was forced to go on the road in a playoff the way NFL wild card teams do. That would allow the Crimson Tide to prove their mettle, and it would allow Oklahoma State -- should the Cowboys finish 11-1 and win the Big 12 -- a well-deserved chance to compete for the national title.
But that is not how the leaders of the sport have chosen to crown a champion. Instead, powerful people such as the Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, whose league has been rendered nationally irrelevant by the BCS, continue to block a playoff at every turn. If you don't like watching two SEC teams play for the national title, you can thank those people.
Until they see the light, we're stuck with this system. Not that everyone minds, of course.
"We don't know how it's all going to play out, but we put on a show today," Alabama tight end Smelley said. "I feel like the odds are in our favor."