SEC West flexing its BCS muscles following wild weekend of upsets

Publish date:

I joked going in that ESPN might as well coin this weekend "Bye Week." Instead, it turned in to Goodbye Week for the No. 2 (Oklahoma State), No. 4 (Oregon), No. 5 (Oklahoma) and No. 7 (Clemson) teams in the BCS standings.

On Friday night, after Iowa State pulled off the weekend's first stunner, we were left pondering the increasingly likely possibility that the BCS National Championship Game is going to be a regular-season rematch. The only question was which one: LSU-Alabama or LSU-Oregon?

Now, a rematch seems almost unavoidable -- only there are now three possibilities, not two, and one of them hasn't even been played yet. They are: LSU-Alabama, Arkansas-Alabama or Arkansas-LSU.

Welcome to the SEC West Invitational.

That's what the top three will be when the new standings are released Sunday night: Divisional foes LSU (11-0), Alabama (10-1) and Arkansas (10-1), in that order. The Tigers beat the Tide. The Tide clobbered the Razorbacks. The Razorbacks visit the Tigers on Friday.

Any remaining hopes of avoiding an all-SEC championship matchup -- something no one outside of the Southeast actually wants to end up with -- likely went out the window this weekend. We have only Joe Tessitore to blame. The ESPN analyst with magical upset-conjuring powers was on hand to broadcast both Iowa State-Oklahoma State and Oklahoma-Baylor. He was the voice coming through the screen both when Brandon Weeden threw his dagger third interception in overtime against the Cyclones and when Robert Griffin III threw a game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass against the Sooners with eight seconds left that may well land him a December trip to New York.

One or both the Cowboys and Sooners figured to be playing for a spot in New Orleans come their Dec. 3 Bedlam game in Stillwater. They'll still be playing for a championship, but it won't go beyond the Big 12.

Meanwhile, despite losing its first conference game in more than two years and its first home game since Sept. 20, 2008, not much changed for Oregon, which will still get that chance to go to Pasadena if it beats Oregon State next weekend to reach the Pac-12 championship game. There was some sentiment going in for the Ducks to surpass Alabama for No. 2, but it was hard to justify when the LSU beat Oregon so much more handily than it did the Tide. The game will be remembered more as Lane Kiffin's first signature win at USC, a 38-35 upset in which the Trojans manhandled the Ducks for much of the game, the nearly gave it away, only to survive on a missed field goal at the end.

For the first time in three years, SEC fans have reason to love Kiffin. His team's victory helped open the door for that league to make history.

Not since the end of the 1971 season, when the Big 8's Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado finished 1-2-3, has one conference occupied the top three spots like the SEC likely will come Sunday night. One division of one conference? Unprecedented.

Right now it's hard to see past those three in calculating BCS scenarios. If LSU beats both Arkansas and Georgia in the SEC title game, it will almost certainly rematch Alabama come January (assuming the Tide defeat rival Auburn on Saturday). However, if the Razorbacks beat the Tigers, the SEC's three-way tiebreaker will likely send Alabama (which beat Arkansas 38-14 on Sept. 24) to Atlanta. If the Tide beat Georgia, they will presumably head to New Orleans, and there will be much sentiment to keep the thus-far dominant Tigers in the top two.

Note that Alabama doesn't have a particularly overwhelming resume. As of today they've defeated just three teams -- 9-2 Penn State, 10-1 Arkansas and 6-5 Florida -- with winning records. LSU, by comparison, has six such victories. But the Tide are sitting pretty because they started No. 2 in the polls, they took the top-ranked Tigers to overtime in the Game of the Century ... and because there aren't a lot of other options.

The next highest-rated one-loss team Sunday figures to be Virginia Tech. The Hokies played Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall in their nonconference season. In their lone game to date against a highly ranked team, they lost 23-3 to Clemson. It's hard to get excited about that.

Next up after Virginia Tech is Stanford, but the Cardinal are only a week removed from a blowout loss to Oregon and have just one win over a notable foe (USC) all season. Oklahoma State will likely fall somewhere around here, and while it can still finish as the 11-1 champion of this year's deepest conference, the Iowa State loss may be a deal-breaker. After that are Boise State and Houston. The Broncos would be sitting pretty right now had that field goal gone in. The Cougars' schedule is simply too weak to be taken seriously.

That leaves us with the SEC trio. But what happens if Georgia -- winner of nine straight -- takes down LSU or Alabama on that final Saturday? Your guess is as good as mine.

Arkansas would presumably get one spot if it beats LSU and then Alabama suffers a second loss. But could the Tigers withstand losing on the last night of the season? It's been frowned upon in the past, but this is an unusual scenario.

Much can change between now and then, as we saw this weekend. Maybe Virginia Tech will be viewed more legitimately if it beats 8-3 Virginia next week and 9-2 Clemson in the ACC title game. Maybe Alabama will lose to Auburn.

Or maybe they should just go ahead and hand LSU the crystal football if it beats Arkansas on Friday. We're running out of challengers.