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Opening Weekend Brings National Championship Implications

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While the season opener for Alabama against Kent States figures to be an obligatory affair unless injuries strike, let it not be said that the opening weekend is without national championship implications. With LSU v. Oregon and Georgia v. Boise State on the primetime schedule Saturday night, the results of both games could have a significant impact on the selections for the BCS National Championship Game in early December.

Stated simply, for both Oregon and Boise State the season-opening match-ups figure to be easily the most difficult games for both teams on their respective schedules. LSU and Georgia expect to dwarf the remainder of the competition that Oregon and Boise will have to overcome in the final twelve weeks of the regular season.

Oregon still has to navigate the Pac-12 schedule, but it's a relatively easy stretch which pales in comparison to the path that a team like Alabama or Oklahoma must take to reach New Orleans. Back-to-back games in mid-to-late November against Stanford (Andrew Luck) and USC (Matt Barkley) will be the most difficult test, but on the whole the schedule is largely filled with relative patsies and several contests could require little more than the Ducks to make an obligatory appearance to secure a victory. The truth of the matter is that the Pac-12 is a one team conference, and that one team has been previously decimated by coaching turnover and NCAA sanctions; all that is left now for the Trojans is Lane Kiffin and the smoldering remains of a once great program. What now remains for the rest of the Pac-12 is a conference with no true powerhouse and a very short list of quality programs.

The Pac-12 Championship Game brings an added difficulty missing a year ago, but with the paucity of the Pac-12 South (especially with USC still under postseason ban) that looks to be a mere paper tiger barring an epic collapse by the Ducks. If Oregon can make its way past LSU in Arlington, the odds are high that they can once again run the table in conference play and return to the BCS National Championship Game for a second year in a row.

Boise State has an even easier path, with a schedule that would probably be more fitting for a high-end FCS program than a supposed national championship contender. Outside of the season opener against Georgia, the only true test remaining on the schedule November 12th home game against TCU, and notwithstanding TCU the "tough" games include little more than match-ups against Fresno State, Tulsa, and San Diego State. The long-term status of Mark Richt has gotten most of the attention at the prospect of a potential loss to Boise, but the demise of Richt will not come as the result of any one game, and in any event a loss to Boise would create far more concerns for those in the national championship race than anything relating to the job security of the Georgia head coach.

It is not difficult to see how Oregon and Boise could parlay season opening victories into national championship appearances. The Ducks hail from a automatic qualifier conference and would be assured a spot in the national championship game unless both Alabama and Oklahoma also runs the table. Boise has more of a muddled path, but a path nevertheless. A victory over Georgia would bring months of adoration in the national media as they run roughshod week in and week out over the Sisters of the Poor. Yes they would need the rest of the major powerhouse programs to suffer at least one loss, but it's highly possible (perhaps even probable) that an undefeated Boise State team would be given a berth in New Orleans over a one-loss Alabama or Oklahoma.

The concern here is the same as it always is, i.e. teams from middling or non-qualifier conferences running the table against a weak slate and thereby edging out superior one-loss teams from the true powerhouse conferences in the BCS calculus. West Virginia, Boise, and Cincinnati have threatened to do just that in recent years (arguably Oregon did something to that effect a year ago), and the truth of the matter is that if the current system remains in place at some point in the future there will be a relatively weak, undeserving team that somehow finds itself in the BCS Championship Game. Oregon and Boise may be those teams this year, and the easiest way to avoid that possibility is to simply remove those teams from contention in the opening weekend. Far more than mere conference bragging rights is directly on the line when LSU and Georgia take the field Saturday night.