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Road to the BCS Championship, Week 13

It's all coming up Tigers and Tide right now.
It's all coming up Tigers and Tide right now.

Help us Obi Wan Ken-Hokie. You're our only hope.

Those folks who are opposed to a rematch on principle need a hero, and that hero looks like the main course you're statistically likely to have for dinner on Thursday.

Yes, Virginia, there is a potential one-loss AQ conference champion that didn't gag away a game to Iowa State. The Hokies of VPI are that team, and they're not a bad pick as long as you don't look too closely at some of their games (They beat ECU by seven? And Duke by just four?).

The team's loss to Clemson is a completely respectable one. VT's not the "Tech" school in the ACC known for LARPing. Plus, is has a great running back in David Wilson, an up-and-coming quarterback in Logan Thomas, a typically good Bud Foster defense, and almost no shot of beating LSU in the bowl game.

But hey, it's not a rematch, right?

On second thought, is there another option?

If your goal is purely to avoid a rematch, your best bet is this week the same as it was last week: Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys fell from a tie for first all the way to second in the computer rankings despite the loss to Iowa State. They're only ahead of Alabama by a sliver, but they play the computers' No. 6 team in two weeks while all Alabama has left is the computers' No. 22 team. If OSU beats the Sooners, it should remain ahead of the Tide in that component of the formula.

By comparison, VT is seventh behind two-loss Oklahoma and two-loss Kansas State. If it was to finish with one loss, it would beat Virginia and Clemson over the next two weeks. The algorithms don't care much about those two, which means the Hokies have no real shot of making a computer poll surge.

The Cowpokes would need a tidal wave of help in the human polls which may or may not come, but their support in the computer polls is very secure.

Chances of a LSU-Alabama rematch: 70%

Before we continue, let's establish this as the foundation for the rest of this piece: human voters are lazy, emotional, short-sighted, and distracted by shiny things. There's a messed up kind of logic that applies to them that is different from standard, reasonable logic.

With that said, I can imagine only one way to avoid a rematch if both LSU and Alabama win this weekend. Alabama wins closely against Auburn, perhaps even in a sketchy manner. A week later, Oklahoma State blows out Oklahoma. Voters will have soured on Bama a bit due to the manner of the close win, and they'll have had an extra week to stew on that as Alabama's season will be over. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's big win over OU will be fresh in voters' minds, and many of them are against a rematch on principle.

If, somehow, that confluence of events results in Oklahoma State and Alabama being roughly even in the human polls, the computers might cast a tiebreaking for the Cowboys. That may be a far-fetched scenario, but as I said, the BCS is not an institution where sense is always made. Having extra time without playing was undoubtedly a factor in Michigan not getting to rematch Ohio State in 2006.

If anti-rematch voters can in any way add "should have lost to Auburn" on to Alabama's resume, anything is possible. Keep this in mind as well: Auburn will be a 7-5 team with a loss to Bama. If Iowa State can upset either Oklahoma or Kansas State in the next two weeks, it will also be a 7-5 team. That might just be enough.

For right now though, an LSU-Bama rematch is looking likely. They will both have very strong computer rankings, and they're huge favorites this weekend. Even if LSU loses to Arkansas, a Tide-Tigers rematch is still the most likely result (assuming Georgia doesn't then beat LSU in the SEC title game). Let's unpack why that's the case.

LSU has a non-conference win over the Pac-12's likely champ Oregon and a victory over Bama. Alabama has a non-conference win over one of the Big Ten's best teams in Penn State and a big win over Arkansas. Arkansas has no signature non-conference win thanks to Texas A&M's inability to hold second half leads, so its victory over South Carolina will have to do as its biggest win other than LSU.

I think voters will consider those South Carolina and Penn State wins a wash. If Arkansas beats LSU close, they'll probably think of that win and Alabama's loss as close to a wash. Alabama's big win over Arkansas would then carry most of the weight in the discussion of the two teams, giving the Tide a huge advantage.

I contend that the occurrence that would shake things up the most is not a Georgia win over an undefeated LSU in the SEC Championship Game. In that case we get either LSU-Alabama or LSU-Oklahoma State depending on how the human votes shake out. Alabama-Oklahoma State is a possibility, but I think voters would keep LSU ahead of Bama based on the Tigers' head-to-head win.

No, the real thing that would make everything confusing is a big Arkansas win over LSU. I mean, one where the final margin is more than one score and no one thinks it was a fluke. Voters would probably feel obligated to put Arkansas ahead of LSU, but would they keep LSU ahead of Alabama? Would they keep Alabama ahead of Arkansas? After all, the Hogs would have just beat in November the team that Bama lost to in November, while Alabama's win over Arkansas came in September. The Razorbacks would win the "best team right now" argument and would also try to make some kind of "we got better as the year went along" case to sand off the rough edges of that bad loss to the Tide.

That is the one scenario that I don't feel like anyone could accurately predict. Ultimately, I don't think we'll get there.

Alabama will probably get a good game from Auburn this weekend; even the 2009 national title squad struggled with a 8-5 Tiger team. Bama will probably win though. It's true that Arkansas knocked off LSU last year, but that was not in Tiger Stadium, and Arkansas' offensive line this year is not as good as it was last year. LSU's defense will likely carry the day.

If those two teams win out, they'll almost certainly play for the national championship. Welcome to the SEC's apex of power.