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BCS Rankings: Alabama Checks in at No. 3 After LSU Loss; What Does That Mean?

It turns out that LSU didn't knock Alabama that far down.
It turns out that LSU didn't knock Alabama that far down.

The big headline coming into this week was supposed to be what happened behind LSU and Oklahoma State after the Bayou Bengals took care of Alabama in the Game of the Century. Who would grab the No. 3 spot, and could anyone actually leapfrog the Pokes to come in at No. 2 and take over the driver's seat for the BCS National Championship Game.

And when all the polls were taken and the dust had cleared, the No. 3 team in America was determined by the BCS formula to be -- Alabama?!? Yep.

2 Oklahoma State
3 Alabama
4 Stanford
5 Boise State
6 Oklahoma
7 Oregon
8 Arkansas
9 Clemson
10 Virginia Tech

Let's take a look at some of the wonkiness taking place here. Beyond the Alabama thing, Arkansas fell from No. 7 to No. 8 despite having defeated the then-No. 9 team pretty convincingly Saturday. That's probably because the Alabama loss knocked a bit of the luster off of Arkansas' only loss and Texas A&M's second straight defeat took away from its value on the Hogs' resume.

But mostly it's Alabama: How did the Tide end up remaining No. 3, ahead of three undefeated teams (if you count Houston) and in prime position to re-assume the No. 2 spot if Oklahoma State loses a game somewhere. Or are they?

First, Stanford could get a pretty sizable bump in its schedule strength if it manages to defeat Oregon this weekend. That could help the Cardinal move past Alabama, because the computers are the only thing hold Stanford back right now, and the chips love it when teams take on highly-ranked squads. The computers love Boise State, but the humans aren't going to put Boise State ahead of Alabama.

So we're probably talking about Oklahoma State, Stanford or a rematch. What about Oregon? At that point, it becomes a question of whether voters would rather have a rematch between Oregon and LSU or Alabama and LSU, and the Alabama game was far more competitive and is far more likely to create a different outcome than a return engagement with Oregon.

The only possible exception to that is Oklahoma. If the Sooners knock off Oklahoma State, they might be able to revive the preseason buzz and make the No. 2 spot. The problem is that the Big 12 doesn't appear to be quite as strong as we thought before the season, and the Sooners' loss is far worse than Alabama's.

The rankings could become an even bigger issue if LSU loses to Arkansas, creating a three-way tie at the top of the SEC West. The highest team in the BCS rankings would then be declared the division champ -- unless the other two teams are at least five spots ahead of the third, in which case it's head-to-head. But if Arkansas beats LSU, it looks unlikely that any of the teams would face a five-team gap. What is possible is that Alabama could leapfrog LSU and claim the division title. Expect to hear a lot of 2008 Texas-style head-to-head arguments if that happens.

The caveat on all of this is that Alabama could soon start to lose ground in the computer polls. The Tide's remaining schedule is: at Mississippi State, Georgia Southern and at Auburn. Auburn's grasp on the Top 25 is tenuous, and the Tigers might drop out of rankings altogether if they lose to Georgia this weekend. In any case, the computers' view of Alabama could begin to dim with that schedule.

Alabama fans might want to join South Carolina fans in rooting for Auburn this weekend, hard as that might be.

As for our weekly bowl-seeding exercises -- again, rankings are used to determine conference champions and head-to-head, and it is meant to be a snapshot if the bowls were seeded now, not a projection of what they will be when the final rankings come out.

BCS Championship Game: LSU vs. Oklahoma State
Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Penn State
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Oregon
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Boise State
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Cincinnati

I'm assuming here that Oregon and Oklahoma's losses are close enough that they don't fall out of eligibility for an at-large spot. None of these match-ups are all that new or even all that bad, except for the Orange Bowl once again getting stuck with the ACC champion vs. the BIG EAST winner, and that winner for now being Cincinnati. There will be a decent Orange Bowl one of these days.

Billingsley watch: Nothing all that egregious this week, though he really hates Georgia (unranked; next lowest is No. 19) and Texas (No. 23, ten spots lower than the next most pessimistic machine) and Houston, although he's not alone on that last one.