The question has crept into every corner of the college football world in recent years as teams from the SEC added crystal footballs to their collection: Who will end the SEC’s streak?
If the final BCS standings came out today, the answer would be the SEC. The Pac-12 cannibalized itself Nov. 7, when Stanford beat Oregon. The Big 12 followed suit two weeks later, when Oklahoma State beat Baylor. The SEC’s quest to continue its run of seven consecutive national titles might have ended early Saturday evening on The Plains, as Auburn’s Chris Davis raced down the sideline for the most unlikely winning touchdown in recent college football history.
Auburn’s Iron Bowl triumph over Alabama doesn’t put an ironclad lock on the SEC’s quest for an eighth straight championship. Auburn, Alabama and Missouri occupy spots three through five, respectively, in the latest BCS standings.
But the SEC likely needs some help to re-enter the top two when the final standings are revealed a week from now. Lobbying from Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs and others might not be enough.
Auburn is a healthy distance behind No. 2 Ohio State in the latest standings. The Tigers are just 25 points behind the Buckeyes in the coaches’ poll and 66 points behind in the Harris poll, gaps that could be closed with an impressive win against Missouri in the SEC championship game. But the computers also favor Ohio State, which is No. 2 in four of the six electronic rankings, No. 1 in a fifth and No. 3 in the Sagarin ratings. Auburn is No. 3 in four computer rankings and No. 1 in the Colley Matrix but No. 6 in the Sagarin.
It’s hard to envision the computer numbers changing too much if Ohio State beats No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday in the Big Ten championship. Michigan State is the highest-ranked opponent the Buckeyes will have faced this season, and a strong showing would make it hard to leave Urban Meyer’s squad out of the title game.
The folks in SEC country will do all they can to sway opinion, and it might work. They’ll point to the seven consecutive titles, the greater quality of wins by Auburn or Missouri and a weak Big Ten.
“An SEC team can't get left out of the [championship game] with one loss,” Jacobs told USA Today after the Tigers’ latest improbable win.
Jacobs referenced the 2004 Auburn team, one of three major-conference squads with perfect records that season but the only one left out of the title mix. He told reporters it “would be a disservice to the nation” if Auburn were on the outside again.
But can’t Ohio State make the same case? Meyer steered clear of lobbying Sunday, preferring to keep the focus on Michigan State and its top-rated defense. But the Buckeyes are one of two major-conference unbeatens left standing. Like the SEC folks, Ohio State also will point to the past and how it has won a team-record 24 consecutive games under Meyer.
By the way, Florida State is on top of the standings, a step away from playing for a national title for the first time since the 2001 Orange Bowl. Quarterback Jameis Winston's legal issues remain in question, but if the Seminoles can handle Duke in the ACC championship, they’ll be headed to Pasadena on Jan. 6.
Which team would they play? If Ohio State falls to Michigan State, Auburn or Missouri almost certainly would take on the Noles. Few could have seen either group of Tigers in this position before the season.
The BCS at-large race should provide some drama this week. No. 9 Baylor can help itself with a strong performance against No. 25 Texas. Clemson remains eligible for at-large selection at No. 13 despite its 14-point loss to No. 8 South Carolina, but the Tigers have no more chances to strengthen their case.
Michigan State had a very good weekend and might be a lock for the Rose Bowl no matter what happens in Indy. If Ohio State wins and goes to the title game, the Rose would take Michigan State as long as the Spartans remain in the top 14.
Northern Illinois is the only BCS-buster left, and the Huskies remain at No. 14 heading into their MAC championship matchup with Bowling Green. If NIU prevails, it will essentially lock up its second consecutive BCS berth, as American front-runner Central Florida remains a good distance behind in the standings.
One week remains until Selection Sunday, and for the first time in eight years, the SEC is in danger of being left out of the final two. Expect some noise from down South this week and a lot of folks pulling for Michigan State and Duke.
Will it be enough? We’ll soon find out.