[Bumped from FanPosts.--ed]
Just a refresher on the games of the magnitude of this week's LSU-Alabama game.
- November 16, 1991 – Miami 17, Florida St. 16
- November 13, 1993 – Notre Dame 31, Florida St. 24
- November 30, 1996 – Florida St. 24, Florida 21
- November 18, 2006 – Ohio St. 42, Michigan 39
Those are the last four November meetings between numbers 1 and 2. All among the greatest games in college football history. All with incredibly high stakes (though only Miami would actually manage to win the national title among the winners, while two losers would of these games would rebound to win). This is the expectation that LSU and Alabama are stepping into. Anything less than a classic is a disappointment. That is the subtext for the next No. 1 vs. No. 2 November game. Luckily for us, it takes place this Saturday.
Previous entries: The Higher Stakes for LSU on Saturday
Is the loser out of the national championship chase?
Look again at those four games listed at the top. Some would say bizarrely, others can come up with a litany of legitimate reasons -- whatever the case, two of the four LOSERS in the previous four November No. 1 vs. No. 2 games won the national championship. Knowing that, is the loser really out of the chase? Here, I'll take a look at the the two No. 1 vs. No. 2 loser national champs and the prospects for both Alabama and LSU should they lose Saturday night.
1993 Florida State: Bobby Bowden's first national championship team is one of the more controversial in the modern era. Or at least it should be. It isn't because the team that got screwed was Notre Dame and pretty much everyone likes to see Notre Dame get screwed. Remember that Notre Dame lost the next week and ran the table. Both teams finished with one loss, but Florida State got the national championship from the poll voters as a present for Bobby Bowden, who many thought wouldn't coach for too much longer at that point (how wrong they were). That doesn't change the fact that if voters voted then like they do today, Notre Dame would likely have won the national championship by virtue of the head-to-head victory. Also, Notre Dame losing the very next week allowed many voters to throw the win over Florida State out as a fluke victory (even though the loss to Boston College the next week was a lot more fluky). For LSU or Alabama, winning the championship in this scenario is near impossible. For one thing, there was no BCS in those days. It was still a novelty to have the top two ranked teams play each other in the bowl game, and these two were actually ranked one and four as Florida State was ranked in front of undefeated Nebraska and Notre Dame was also behind undefeated West Virginia (undefeated and probation-saddled Auburn was number 5). Given the way voters vote now though, head-to-head takes more precedence as does being undefeated. It is likely that Nebraska would have been the top ranked team, followed by West Virginia in the two slot. What this means though, is that the loser is likely out of the race barring two losses by the winner before the SEC Championship game since the voters want conference championships as well (see 2007 Georgia being jumped).
1996 Florida: The more likely scenario if the LSU-Alabama loser is indeed still in the race, as this team got a rematch in the championship after losing in the regular season. Still, it comes with some major differences from what this season's loser will face. For one thing, Florida still had a conference championship, as they lost a non-conference game. For another, they had good fortune. 1996 Florida was placed in the top bowl game because the Rose Bowl, Pac-10 and Big Ten were not yet in the BCS. Just to get the rematch there even with the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions unavailable, Florida still needed a massive upset, which they go when five-loss Texas upset two-time defending national champion Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game. In addition, the Gators watched fourth-ranked Ohio State beat second-ranked Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, leaving the door open. Based on what happened in 2006, the loser here will need a similar run of good fortune to even have a chance. In particular, a two-loss Big 12 champion, one-loss champ in the Pac-12 and Boise State taking a loss are going to be needed (a one-loss SEC team gets the nod for the title game over Boise unless taking that team would cause a rematch). In other words, like the case was with Florida, there needs to be no other viable option.
If LSU loses? The Tigers are most likely cooked. Unless you believe Alabama is going to lose to both Mississippi State and Auburn (and anyone who actually believes this is far more delusional than any Auburn fan I personally know, and I went to Auburn), there is just no way for LSU to make the ground up. The way the voters vote has changed since 1993 and 1996. If they still voted now like they voted then, all LSU would need is all the remaining undefeated teams to lose while not falling behind Oklahoma and Oregon after losing. That isn't the world we are in any longer.
If Alabama loses? Things are more interesting. Obviously, LSU needs to lose to open the door. But if that loss comes to Arkansas and all finish 11-1, we are headed to a 3-way tiebreaker. Given the way the voters voted in 2008 in the Big 12 South tiebreaker and the way they have historically voted, Alabama gets the nod there. In 2008, the team that won by the biggest margin got the vote. That was Oklahoma. Here, that would likely be Alabama, given that they beat Arkansas by 24 points.
Going further back to 1993, the bias would be in favor of the preseason vote. Alabama was ranked higher in the preseason. It's just hard for voters to admit they were wrong. One way that happens (and it happened to some degree in 2008 as well) is by voting for the team that was ranked higher to start with. That was Alabama, even if LSU passed them early in the season.
So given what we know, is the loser out of the race? Most likely. It would take an incredible string of upsets to give the loser a chance to get back in the race, except in one scenario. Also, for those who want a rematch, it won't happen. Historically, it hasn't happened, even in situations where it might have been warranted, without extraordinary circumstances. Given what we know about the rest of college football this season, those kind of extraordinary circumstances seem highly unlikely.
What this also means: Saturday night's loser is done.