LITTLE ROCK — Predicting participants in the BCS title game, there is a realistic possibility that the Southeastern Conference will not be represented.
Notre Dame’s solid and surprising victory over Oklahoma ruined assumptions that the Fighting Irish’s dream season would end in Norman. I wrongly figured OU would be able to run the ball and had moved on to whether Oregon or Kansas State, or both, would lose in November, concluding that a once-beaten SEC champion would trump all other one-L teams and play in Miami on Jan. 7.
Now, Notre Dame, Oregon, and Kansas State are involved in weekly elimination contests and, if two survive, a 12-1 SEC champion will settle for the Sugar Bowl. An apology to Lou Holtz for second-guessing his 12-0 prediction for Notre Dame accompanies the assessment that the Irish have the easiest road to perfect, with Pittsburgh (4-4), Boston College (2-6), Wake Forest (4-4), and USC (6-2).
Oregon’s path is the most difficult with Pac-12 games vs. USC (6-2), Cal (3-6), Stanford (6-2), and Oregon State (6-1), plus the league championship game. Kansas State is a tweener on degree of difficulty with Big 12 games against Oklahoma State (5-2), TCU (5-3), Baylor (3-4), and Texas (6-2).
Pencil in the Fighting Irish for one of the spots in Miami. A 13-0 Alabama is a lock for the other spot, but consider what happens if the Crimson Tide stumbles and the Ducks or Wildcats are unbeaten.
With a clear conscience, voters weary from the SEC’s run of six straight national titles would endorse two unbeatens over LSU, Alabama, Georgia, or Florida. SEC backers would cry foul and cite the strength of league teams; the antis would revel in the situation.
The Crimson Tide’s chances of getting through the regular season without a blemish are wrapped up in the next two weeks — first LSU in Baton Rouge and then Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide exposed Mississippi State’s 7-0 start as a combination of inferior opposition and Tyler Russell’s superior play. A 60 percent passer in the first seven games, Russell was good on only half of his 30 attempts vs. the Crimson Tide and threw his second interception of the year.
Compounding the problem, LaDarius Perkins, who had rushed for 100 yards or more four times, netted 38 on 15 tries against Alabama. LSU will run the ball better than MSU and the Tigers’ defense is close to the trumpeted Alabama group. If Zach Mettenberger can avoid turnovers, LSU has a chance.
For the sake of argument, give LSU the nod, an outcome that would leave the SEC without an unbeaten team. Even if Alabama goes 12-0, an 11-1 Georgia or Florida could beat the Crimson Tide one of out of five times and that one could be in Atlanta.
Weighing on Notre Dame, Kansas State, and Oregon is the media’s unending review of teams in position to make it to Miami. For instance, Oregon has won its last two games by 113-35 and dropped two spots in the BCS. Already, there is talk about how losses by USC and Oregon State will eliminate the Ducks if they are one of three unbeatens.
Although such things are out of the players’ control, speculation can be a distraction. In addition, students in South Bend, Manhattan, and Eugene are reminding athletes on campus that they are counting on them for a trip to Miami.
The unpredictable happens in November. A year ago, second-ranked Oklahoma State led Iowa State 24-7 in the third quarter, but the Cyclones, loser of four straight in October, won in two overtimes. The Cowboys became the first team in the top two of the BCS to lose to an unranked team in November or later since 2007.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.