Full speed ahead.
After LSU beat Arkansas on Friday and Alabama beat Auburn on Saturday, it appears we're just about all set for a rematch of the two. I'll get to more on that later, but it looks fairly secure.
After all, what are the other options? Oklahoma State still lost to Iowa State after already having been judged an iffy national title candidate by many when it was still undefeated. Stanford will not own a win over a ranked team. Virginia Tech, if it beats Clemson in the ACC title game, won't have even played a ranked team. And Houston? Please.
Alabama's slate isn't as eye-popping as you'd think for how solid it appears in the No. 2 spot. Its second best game from a resume evaluation standpoint could be its overtime loss to LSU by a field goal, and it's certainly no worse than third. However, its wins over top-10 Arkansas and top-25 Penn State put it far and away ahead of anyone but an Oklahoma State who has beaten Oklahoma. Even then the Tide is still ahead (though not by as big a margin), and I don't know if you've heard, but Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State.
This week in silicon.
The computers still love the Big 12, which could still come into play in the season's end game. Oklahoma State's two human poll averages are 0.8712 and 0.8397, but its computer poll average is 0.93. OSU is behind Alabama in the computers for the first time this season, but with a game against computer poll No. 5 Oklahoma still left to go, the Cowboys will probably head north of Alabama in that component with a win. According to the CPUs, K-State is seventh (11th in the overall rankings), Baylor is 13th (17th), Texas is 17th (22nd), and Missouri pulls an Auburn by being in the BCS rankings entirely due to the computers despite being unranked in the human polls.
Stanford has finally cracked the 0.80 barrier in the computers, but with its season over, it has basically no shot of climbing into the national title picture. The same goes for Virginia Tech, who is 10th in the computers despite being third and fourth, respectively, in the two human polls. Both Boise State and Houston are ahead of the Hokies, if that gives you an idea.
The SEC teams are on solid ground, though. The computers have four of the five in the same rank as the standings overall. The lone exception is Arkansas, who is sixth in the CPUs but eighth overall.
Chances of an LSU-Bama rematch: 90%
By all accounts, LSU could probably lose to Georgia and still play for the national championship. Its wins over Alabama, Arkansas and Oregon have probably afforded the team that luxury. In most years that wouldn't be the case, but 2011 is a unique season.
So what's that extra 10% about? Two things. First, human poll voters can be loose cannons. Second, they haven't actually been asked to determine who plays for the national championship yet.
Consider this when it comes to the variability of voters. The only movement around the Cowboys was Arkansas plummeting below them following their bad loss to LSU. Among the relevant teams here, OSU was idle, Stanford beat Notre Dame by two touchdowns, Virginia Tech blew out Virginia, and Alabama blew out Auburn.
Last week, Oklahoma State had average ranks of 6.2875 and 6.4075 in the two human polls. This week, it has average ranks of 5.0075 and 4.8975 in the two human polls. Oklahoma State's average rank increased by more than one spot in both polls even if their absolute spot only increased by one. That means the Cowboys gained more ground than merely passing up the fallen Arkansas.
Stanford also saw its average rank increase by more than one spot. VT's increased by more than one spot in the Harris Poll, while it increased by a little less than one spot in the Coaches' Poll. Alabama's average rank meanwhile declined ever so slightly in both human polls.
All of these teams won by two or more scores except Oklahoma State, who didn't even play. All of them gained more ground in each poll except VT in Coaches than is explained merely by Arkansas' fall, while the Tide slipped slightly. Given that LSU remained the unanimous No. 1, that tells me that at least a few voters dropped Alabama in favor of one or more of these other teams for reasons not related to what happened on the field last Saturday.
Whether a whole lot of voters will do the same thing next weekend, I don't know. However, voters have not been truly asked if they want a rematch yet. Only the final regular season ballot matters in that regard, which makes it fundamentally different than every other ballot during the season. This week, as in every other week, they've been asked to rank teams in the order they think is best. Next week, the structure of the BCS essentially asks them to pick who they want in the national title game followed by the order of who they think is best. LSU will presumably get all the No. 1 votes again if it beats Georgia as expected, which means there is no cushion for this week's No. 2 in holding off all comers.
I still think that Alabama is going to play for the national title; that's where the 90% figure comes from. Oklahoma State has three big things going for it though: some voters are philosophically against a national title game rematch, some voters are philosophically against teams without conference titles playing in the national title game, and the Cowboys will be playing a top-10 team while Alabama is idle.
The best thing for Alabama, other than an OSU loss to OU, would be a Virginia Tech win in the ACC title game. That would potentially split the vote with Oklahoma State among those opposed to an LSU-Bama national title game on philosophical grounds. If the Hokies lose, the anti-LSU-Bama crowd will all unite under the orange and black banner. Keep in mind that OSU will likely have the slim, tiebreaking vote of the computers and that ESPN has plenty of loud voices who like to be contrarian for contrarianism's sake. The big four-letter holds a lot of sway among voters, for better or worse.
I'm not saying that a large scale anti-rematch, anti-no-conference-championship revolt among voters will happen; I'm just pointing out that voters haven't truly been asked the question of who they've got playing for the title. Alabama is in great shape, but all doubt won't be gone until next Sunday.