[Bumped from the FanPosts. -Ed.]
When Wes Byrum kicked a 19 yard chip shot field goal to win the 2010 BCS National Championship game, he not only capped an unforgettable season for the Auburn Tigers, but a decade of dominance by the Southeastern Conference. During the last 10 years, the league has won 6 BCS National Titles, including 5 in a row, a remarkable feat in today's college football world where parity is at an all time high. And with the league showing no signs of slowing down, many people are asking the same question: Can they do it again in 2011?
At first glance, it would certainly appear so. The SEC has 3 teams, all in the West, with the talent to do so in Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas. And it wouldn't even be out of the question to include South Carolina - a talented team playing a favorable schedule in the down East.
Oklahoma appears to be the only legitimate contender in the Big 12 now that Nebraska is gone and Texas is still recovering from last season's disaster. The Big 10's poster child is currently dealing with an NCAA cloud hanging over their head, and not many believe Wisconsin and Nebraska have what it takes to win it all. The only real threat in the Pac-12, Oregon, returns many of the pieces that got them to the championship game in '10, but face LSU on opening weekend, a game that could determine the league's title chances right away. The ACC will more than likely be a two-horse race between Florida State and Virginia Tech, two almost-but-not-quite teams, and the Big East is, well, still the Big East.
So it looks like the SEC should be primed for 6 in a row, right? Not so fast.
What makes the BCS unique is that the way the system is set up almost necessitates that a team goes undefeated in order to even reach the exclusive national title game. Sure teams have won the title with 1 and even 2 losses (let's be honest, though, only Les Miles could have pulled that off), but to be guaranteed a spot in the championship, finishing the season without a loss is, for the most part, a must (and even then it's not guaranteed. Just ask Auburn). And for teams playing grind of an SEC schedule, that is no small task.
Besides the obvious factors - the defense, the quarterback, the coaching staff - finishing an SEC schedule undefeated undeniably requires a little bit of luck as well; every recent champion has at least a few of those moments they can point to where the bounces went their way and Lady Luck was on their side. For Auburn last year there was Mark Ingram, and the fumble that rolled 20 yards parallel to the out-of-bounds line preventing what could have been the put-away touchdown in the Iron Bowl, and Michael Dyer's is-he-or-isn't-he-down run in the National Championship Game. In '09 it took two Terrence Cody blocked field goals for Alabama to merely escape with a win over Tennessee. The list goes on and on...
Others, however, have not been so fortunate. In 2008, Texas was seemingly one play away from going undefeated when Michael Crabtree made the play of his life to crush the Longhorns' title hopes and dreams. Just last year Boise State seemed on their way to yet another undefeated season when sure kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a glorified extra point that would have won their game over Nevada. Call it what you want - luck, chance, fate - but a bounce here, or a call there can drastically change a game, week, and season in college football.
The other issue with an SEC team winning a sixth National Title in a row for the conference is, of course, the schedule. Nobody's perfect, and that's why we watch the games - if games were won on paper, there would be no reason to tune in, right? Good teams have bad weeks, and bad teams have good weeks. For teams like Boise State and TCU this works in their favor. Playing the schedule that these teams do, they really only have to "show up" for one or two games a year because, more often than not, their bad weeks are better than most teams' good weeks.
Not so for those teams playing in the bigger conferences, especially the SEC. LSU will have to survive a trip to Starkville and Tuscaloosa, and finish with a visit from Arkansas, on top of their non-conference matchups with Oregon and West Virginia. Alabama visits Starkville, Auburn, Happy Valley and Gainesville, while welcoming Arkansas and LSU to Bryant-Denny. And those are just the co-favorites in the conference. While it's certainly achievable, surviving that kind of a slate is no gimme, either. And in the BCS system, just one slip up could spell the end of a team's national title hopes.
On paper, it looks like the SEC is set up for yet another national championship. But whether or not it actually comes to fruition will be another story. But we do know a few things. There will be thrilling victories, and crushing defeats. There will be wild bounces and exciting plays. As for who actually comes out on top? Nobody can tell you. But that's why they play the games, right?