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Road to the BCS Championship: Week 12

This man and his predecessor are the last bastions of stability we have left. No, really.
This man and his predecessor are the last bastions of stability we have left. No, really.

So we all agree on this, then.

All three components of the formula in this week's BCS standings agree on the top six teams and what order they go in. This is not common. For instance, the Harris and Coaches' Polls have disagreed on whether Stanford or Oklahoma State should be higher up until this weekend. Hamstrung by not being able to consider margin of victory, the computers often come up with, um, let's call it counterintuitive rankings. Plus, Boise State creates considerable noise in the human vote but is no longer in the ranks of the unbeatens.

So, we head into the final three weeks of the regular season with a consensus on the pecking order at the top. I don't expect that to last, this being the BCS and all.

Steady as she goes.

The only ones who can save us from chaos are Les Miles and Mike Gundy. Pause a minute and think about that.

Matt Hinton posted to Twitter yesterday what the resumés would look like if we ended up with six one-loss teams at the top. All we need is an LSU loss to Arkansas and an Oklahoma State loss to Oklahoma to get there. OSU would be at a disadvantage thanks to not having won a conference title, as would two of the three SEC teams. Given that the SEC West tiebreaker would go to the final stage where the BCS standings are involved, we can't know who that would be just yet.

You can throw out the Cowpokes thanks to them not having a signature win or a conference title. The rest? They're awfully same-y. LSU would easily have the best two wins, having defeated two of the other five. Oklahoma would easily have the worst loss. The only common non-conference opponent between any of them is I-AA Missouri State, who took home paychecks to lose to Arkansas and Oregon. It's not a puzzle that can easily be solved now, especially not without knowing who the SEC champ is.

Of course, the Tigers and Cowboys could just win out and save everyone the trouble. It wouldn't quite be an uneventful ending like in 2005, but it certainly would qualify as a reasonable historical rhyme with last year.

The computers are unrepentant.

I sound like a broken record here, but the computers still love the Big 12. Every team from the conference below the Oklahoma schools is ranked higher in the computer average than the overall rankings. In fact, the disagreements are huge. Kansas State, Baylor and Texas are ranked 7, 15 and 16 in the computer component. They are at 13, 22 and 23 in the poll as a whole.

Fear not, the computers do seem to like the SEC too. Four of the six SEC teams are the same in the computers and in the overall rankings, which isn't much of an indicator. However South Carolina is 10th according to the algorithms, higher than its ranking of 12 overall. Plus, the only reason Auburn is in the poll at all is due to it being 21st in the computers despite being unranked in both human polls.

The fact that those preferences haven't changed in weeks means they're unlikely to change as we close out the year. That gives the Oklahoma schools and the SEC West schools an advantage. It also puts Oregon at a disadvantage, particularly because the only other Pac-12 school (Stanford) is lower in the computers than overall rankings. The CPUs will probably not come to the Ducks' aid.

LSU-Alabama rematch odds: 20%

I'm leaving this at the same 20 percent as last week despite two undefeated teams getting knocked off. I'll give you two reasons why.

First, I might have been underestimating Oklahoma State's chances in the Bedlam game. State will be the home team there, and it has a bye the week before. OU does not have a bye, and it has lost its best running back and receiver in recent weeks. Those things matter when it comes to keeping up with OSU's high octane attack. I've been kind of assuming an Oklahoma win in that game all season, but I'm not so high on that possibility anymore.

Second, I probably underestimated how much the rest of the country hated the LSU-Alabama game. I thought it was a great defensive duel that could have used some more aggressive offensive play calling, but I couldn't fault the game plans given how well both defenses were playing. Speaking for many it seems, the Solid Verbal guys gave it the tongue-in-cheek title "Lame of the Century".

Rather than being the intriguing consequence of the possibility that the nation's best two teams really are in the same division, an LSU-Alabama rematch is increasingly being seen as a last resort. If the voters have to end up going for this rematch, those outside the southeast will largely do so while holding their noses.

There really are five possibilities for the national title game if LSU wins out and saves us from chaos. I present them in what I think is the order of palatability to voters:

  1. LSU vs. undefeated Oklahoma State
  2. LSU vs. one-loss Oklahoma
  3. LSU vs. one-loss Oklahoma State (Sooners get upset by Baylor but beat OSU)
  4. LSU vs. one-loss Oregon
  5. LSU vs. one-loss Alabama

I put the Oregon rematch ahead of the Alabama rematch because Oregon is in a different conference, it played in the national title game last year (so it's seen as an established power), and because LSU beat them on the first weekend. Voters could talk themselves into the premise that Oregon has gotten better as the season went along, especially after its demolition of Stanford, whereas you can't fashion that narrative out of a game lost in the month of November.

What the Tide has going for it is the computers' preference for the SEC and distaste of the Pac-12. Bama is comfortably ahead of Oregon in the computers, and it could easily stay that way despite the Tide playing Georgia Southern this weekend. If it comes down to those two, there will be a considerable amount of disagreement among voters over who gets another crack at LSU. Alabama will probably have the tiebreaking computer vote in its back pocket heading into that debate.

What you should pay no heed to right now is the fact that the voters presently have Alabama ahead of Oregon. It's well established that voters don't think beyond the first two teams when it comes to who gets to play for the national title. That Bama is third in line doesn't necessarily mean that they'll just move up a spot to second if Oklahoma State loses on the final weekend. That would absolutely happen in September, or if these teams were ranked in the teens. That's not going to happen in the top three on the first week December.

The best example of the effect I'm talking about is LSU's infamous jump from No. 7 to No. 2 in the final regular season poll of 2007. When it was sitting in the seven spot, LSU was behind teams that couldn't win their conferences in Georgia and Kansas and a team it destroyed already in Virginia Tech (though the Harris did have LSU ahead of KU and VT, to its credit). That LSU was behind the Hokies despite them having identical records and LSU having won the head-to-head game shows that typical lazy voting rules were in effect in the Coaches Poll. The national championship wasn't on the line, so the voters did their normal thing.

When both of the top two teams lost, a full-scale reevaluation went into effect. Voters had to consider the entire body of work of several teams, and LSU made its leap. LSU did jump from seventh to second in the computers too, showing that big changes can happen in one week among the CPUs as well. That is why I didn't say that Bama will hold an edge in the computers for sure over Oregon. I call it likely, but not certain.

We'll still have to wait and see, but I wouldn't start counting on an LSU-Alabama rematch just yet.