While Saturday night in Starkville may have proven relatively boring and uneventful, that monotony did not permeate throughout the rest of the college football landscape. Alabama came into the evening with exceedingly slim hopes with regard to the BCS Championship, but thanks to two key upsets 'Bama heads into mid-November with a still-muddied path but an overall far more bullish outlook.
With that in mind, there are still three weeks of football remaining until BCS selections are made, so let's take a revised look at the various BCS scenarios as they relate to Alabama and any hopes the Tide has of reaching New Orleans in the second week of January. We'll start with the obvious caveat:
Either LSU or Oklahoma State Must Lose
For 'Bama, or any other team outside of LSU or Oklahoma State, to have any chance whatsoever of getting back into the BCS Championship Game, either LSU or Oklahoma State must lose. Style points are wholly irrelevant for these two teams at this stage, and even the ugliest wins over the weakest of opponents will prove sufficient this time of year. Undefeated teams from BCS conference will invariably prevail over one loss teams, so barring a loss by either of these two the obvious result is an LSU v. Oklahoma State championship game. No real insight required here.
Combined, LSU and Oklahoma State have four meaningful games remaining in which they could conceivably suffer a loss, and those games includes Iowa State (Ames) and Oklahoma (Stillwater) for Oklahoma State, and Arkansas (Baton Rouge) and Georgia (Atlanta) for LSU. Quite obviously LSU travels north to Oxford to take on the SEC this weekend, though while a loss is theoretically possible it's of such infinitely small probability that it does not warrant any serious discussion.
Those games in large part were discussed last week and for the most part nothing of substance has changed in the meantime. The Cyclones had an off week to prepare while Mike Gundy and company were busy thrashing Texas Tech, but even so Oklahoma State remains a heavy favorite (roughly 27 points as of this writing). LSU now having to face Georgia creates more of a road block than South Carolina simply because the Dawgs have the raw talent necessary to theoretically pull off the upset, but they too figure to be heavy favorites should they reach Atlanta. For better or for worse, in all likelihood any real hopes hinge directly on Oklahoma and Arkansas.
In any event, though, regardless of how a loss may occur, the point remains that at least one of these two has to lose or this is a completely pointless exercise.
Either LSU or Oklahoma State Loses, Then What?
The short answer: Hell breaks loose. Any loss by either LSU or Oklahoma State guarantees that a one-loss team will reach the BCS Championship Game, and at no time in BCS history has such a scenario played out without significant controversy. Such a situation would theoretically give an opportunity to no less than five teams, namely Oklahoma State / LSU, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Let's take a closer look at each of those teams, their current situation, and their paths moving forward.
Alabama looks to be in the catbird's seat at the time being, sitting third in the BCS standings with a relatively comfortable lead over Oregon, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. 'Bama, however, faces two major difficulties that most other teams do not, namely the lack of a quality opponent on the remainder of the schedule which could boost its standing and the near certain presence of a heavy bias against the Tide in the eyes of many voters who will refuse to vote a team into the national championship game that lost the Game of the Century and which did not even win its own division, much less its own conference. Unfortunately in this case, there is nothing that 'Bama can do to overcome either of those two limitations, and in the interim Alabama can do little more than try to annihilate both Georgia Southern and Auburn while hoping that all of the remaining pieces fall in place around them. At absolute best 'Bama hopes to pull out a BCS squeaker over a fellow one-loss team on December 4th.
Oregon vaulted into fourth spot after easily dismantling Stanford in Palo Alto, and a handful of national pundits have already started banging the drum of the LSU v. Oregon rematch. Having said that, Oregon faces an uphill battle for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to the fact that they loss handily to LSU in the season opener, that they have no real marquee match-ups left (USC will likely drop from the polls with a loss to Oregon), a weak Pac-12 which hurts them in the computer rankings, and an overall lack of quality wins outside of Stanford. Oregon's historic weakness in big games will probably also be used to denigrate their standing. Voter insurrection is a possibility, of course, but Oregon figures to need more in the way of upsets to teams like Alabama or Oklahoma to reach New Orleans.
Oklahoma currently sits fifth in the BCS, but despite the relatively low ranking they arguably have better odds than any other one-loss team of reaching New Orleans, and unlike Alabama and Oregon they largely control their own destiny from here on out thanks to the showdown in Stillwater in three weeks time. A win in Stillwater over an 11-0 Oklahoma State team ranked no lower than second nationally, less than 24 hours before the final BCS standings are released, would provide a massive boost to the Sooners, and in that scenario they will at the very least make a serious run at any one-loss team currently ahead of them. Likewise, the strength of the Big XII in the computer polls will give them a step-up over both Alabama and Oregon. The stench of an ugly loss at home over Texas Tech lingers on their resume smelling like a week old corpse, but the odds are that many voters forget all about that with a win in Bedlam and staring down the possibility of an Alabama v. LSU rematch.
Arkansas is dragging up the rear at the moment, but in the interim they have the potential to do the most damage. A win in Baton Rouge over this LSU team would easily constitute the biggest single win by any college football team this season, and not only would that catapult them up the BCS standings it would also force a three-way tie atop the SEC West between 'Bama, LSU, and the Hogs such that there would be BCS Armageddon just to determine who reaches Atlanta. Arkansas still figures to be the relative longshot here given their current standing, their blowout loss to Alabama, and their close wins over Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt, but without doubt the Hogs have an opportunity to create a great deal of chaos and possibly propel themselves into the thick of the discussion.
As for Oklahoma State and LSU, both would still have an opportunity to reach New Orleans even with a loss. The relative odds of that seem low for the Cowboys, but for the Bayou Bengals it's very much possible they could lose and still be the top one-loss team over Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma. Given the current level of hype and the strength of its neutral site win over Oregon, the assumptions by many that LSU would plummet below 'Bama and Arkansas with a loss in Baton Rouge are probably more wishful thinking than anything else. In all likelihood, LSU would have to lose and lose ugly against the Hogs -- or lose close in back to back weeks to Arkansas and Georgia -- for that to realistically happen. Even with a loss to Arkansas, LSU is likely headed to Atlanta where they can have a rebound against Georgia, though admittedly even a 12-0 LSU team falling at the hands of Mark Richt in the Georgia Dome would probably cause voters' heads to explode with all of the ensuing chaos.
Some have argued that Alabama would be best served by upsets to other current one-loss teams, though it should be noted that is an outcome which could possibly doom the Tide. If, say, Oregon lost to USC, Oklahoma lost to Baylor, and Arkansas lost to LSU, that would probably on net put 'Bama in a very strong position. On the other hand, however, if only some of those upsets came to fruition while others petered out, that could actually work to the great detriment of Alabama's chances as it would allow the bloc of voters who are fundamentally opposed to seeing an Alabama v. LSU rematch to easily unite behind a common team, whereas in a scenario with several one-loss teams with a legitimate claim on a trip to New Orleans that bloc could be divided accordingly amongst the several teams. Perhaps for Alabama the best scenario is one where the anti-'Bama v. LSU bloc becomes highly fragmented. Alabama could conceivably win in such a scenario, but any end game that gives voters a concrete choice between 'Bama and another one-loss team where the winner gets LSU in New Orleans is unlikely to be one with a happy ending for those who bleed crimson.
On the whole we are left with one constant theme: uncertainty. It's easy for Alabama fans to nonchalantly assume that the Tide would be the beneficiary in such a situation where either LSU or Oklahoma State loses, but that outcome is far from a given and frankly may still be an unlikely proposition. All five teams which could theoretically be in contention have a case that can be made in their own right, and in the end it will largely be decided for better or for worse by the whims of the voters.
And it is within that insight that we have the underlying problem trying to analyze exactly how this will play out moving forward. You have to understand that the BCS is comprised of a combination of human and computer polls, where the two human polls (Coaches' and Harris) make up 66.66% of the overall rankings. While the computer polls tend to be relatively stable and predictable, the human polls are inherently volatile due to the fact that individual voters tend to be highly impressionable and can drastically alter their selections on limited feedback. The results of one week can quickly be thrown in total disarray seven days later by very slight external changes.
The real impact of that underlying reality is that any projection or prediction made at this point is almost bound to be wholly unreliable. In recent days, ESPN BCS guru Brad Edwards, for example, stated that in the event that Oklahoma State loses while LSU remains undefeated, the odds are that we see an LSU v. Alabama rematch in New Orleans. Others, though, have stated other such various scenarios that do not include the Tide getting one final shot at redemption. In either situation, though, those making such prognostications are really doing little more than making raw, unqualified guesses at collective voter responses to hypothetical events, and frankly if any of those people could legitimately predict individual human behavior patterns they would be applying that ability to topics far more important than college football rankings. In other words, any such projections should be viewed as providing little more than discussion fodder.
For Alabama, as mentioned earlier, all that can be done is to win and win convincingly against Georgia Southern and Auburn. Everything else is simply beyond the Tide's control and even with a loss by either LSU or Oklahoma State -- no foregone conclusion its own right -- 'Bama may still find itself on the outside looking in. Truth be told, 'Bama has to be simply hoping for chaos at every turn in the next three weeks, all the way from Stillwater to Atlanta and all points in between. Clearly the outlook is far more bullish for the Tide than it was this time a week ago, but many pitfalls remain in the road ahead.