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SEC At Risk of Dilution--And Not From the New Members

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The so-called Game of the Century (hey, it's a young century) was actually a little bit of a yawner, even by supreme SEC over-defensively-schemed standards. Not much of the end zone did we see, unless it was an errant Tide kick landing short or astray like a winged AFLAC duck falling in the marsh. This game was more or less a Mexican standoff involving field goals, crazy-looking punts and uncharacteristic turnovers. Neither coach attempted a grasp for the other's jugular. It was like a chess match played entirely with pawns. If it were a poker match, Alabama had one of a kind--Trent Richardson. LSU had two of a kind--ineffectual quarterbacks. The only saving grace for either was the full house--Bryant-Denny Stadium--showcasing the best of the SEC to a national audience.

Admittingly, I kept peeking over at USCe-Arky to get some oxygen because at least that game featured touchdowns. I really wanted either LSU or Alabama to score a safety to really liven things up with that one point differential but I guess the football gods (or CBS management) destined it for overtime. A 9-6 victory on penalty kicks is the football equivalent of paper covers rock--you're not really quite sure how that wins but it's accepted that it does. In a monumental defensive showdown like we saw, it really makes you feel homesick for the TIE game.

We knew one of the two would be left as a one-time loser. If you thought that Oklahoma was a media darling ( I do) and was the top pick for a one-loss team in the country to be elevated into the BCS CG, you hadn't seen anything until Alabama plummeted one whole spot in the BCS standings Sunday night from second to third. Now before you nod or shake your head on that last statement, know that #4 Stanford, currently the most aggrieved party, fully controls it's ranking against a one-loss team with a victory over Oregon this weekend and presumably one in the PAC12 CG. Same with #2 Oklahoma State. They play Oklahoma in three weeks and winning out should be enough to stave off a one-loss team in the standings.

The problem with Stanford and Okie State running the table is which team would then take the #2 spot in the BCS assuming LSU remains undefeated? If Stanford plays 13 games and survives their conference title game, then I think you have to give them the edge over the Pokes who no longer have that luxury enjoyed now by the rest of the BCS conferences (save the Big East). As we in the SEC have known for quite a while, the title game trial by fire is the extra oomph you need to vault over the pretenders and the anachronistic non-divisional players.

Where the problem in the BCS scenario will come is if we have a large contingent of one-loss teams left at the end of the year. Then, when you lose is as important as who you lost to. I'm old school. I think losses later in the season should be death knells, but as we've seen in the BCS era as people have put more validity into the hands of both the polls and the computers, that's no longer the case. In 2003, Oklahoma lost the Big 12 CG to Kansas State but then went on to play LSU for the BCS crown (which resulted in a split champion that year with USC winning the AP title). In 2007, LSU lost their last regular game of the season to Arkansas, their second loss, but still advanced to and won the BCS title.

I think it's entirely possible that LSU could lose to Arkansas this year. Petrino and Tyler Wilson will challenge the vaunted Tiger secondary and I think it'll be a close contest. But forget that for a second. Let's assume for simplicity that LSU wins out and is the #1 team in the BCS. The looming problem I have was revealed in all the talk this weekend about somehow elevating Alabama back to #2 and having the conference provide both national title game participants in a rematch from this past Saturday. I think it's a horrible idea but it's entirely possible with the right teams losing the right games.

Although fans of SEC teams might seriously question why it's a bad idea to have two teams from the conference play for all the marbles, I have fundamental problems with it. Allow me to present my case. First, the practical. Rematches are rarely the barn-burners they're made out to be. Harken back to the Alabama-Florida SEC title games of the 1990s. Many of those were rematches, and they seemed anti-climatic because the teams weren't natural rivals. Was there any doubt that Auburn would stomp South Carolina in the rematch last year? It was more or less a formality since the game had to be played and Auburn needed it's ticket to Glendale punched. The Gamecocks, as if on cue, simply mailed it in.

Jealousy from the rest of the nation is a real hazard to avoid. It's universally known that the SEC fields the toughest football conference in the land. It's virtually guaranteed now that our champion gets a slot in the national title game. Our second best team still gets a BCS bowl bid. They wrote the rule capping conferences from fielding more than two BCS bowl teams primarily because of us. We send six to seven teams to bowls anyway. Let's not rub it in and try to lobby to get a rerun of a regular season game to decide the national crown. Leave that to 2006 Michigan. That's being stingy and it will breed resentment. Don't think there's resentment in college football? Look at what Texas accomplished in less than one year. They BLEW UP college football, from greed and the ensuing resentment. We the SEC don't want to pull a Texas.

For the fundamental side, most readers in the blogosphere are pro-playoff for our sport. While the details of an eventual one are melded out, the de facto first rounds of a playoff are the conference championship games. For 20 years our very conference has led the nation in advancing that protocol. We believe that the SEC champ is capable of beating anyone in the country. So now does the rest of the nation. Therefore it is not unreasonable to expect that any team that isn't capable of winning it's own conference is not worthy of playing for the national crown. It just doesn't make sense to fair-minded folks.

Yes, I know the purpose of the BCS is to marry the one and two teams in a bowl game regardless of where the chips fall, but we need to change the dialogue in the game to get away from that notion. Specifically outlaw it if you must. If you want a playoff, having the current BCS placing two teams from the same conference reaks of cronyism and will poison not only future playoff plans, but the very validity of the BCS as it stands today.

And most importantly, for the SEC, it would toxically dilute the very product and brand that it works so hard to field every year and make the strongest in the land. It took many years and a whole bunch of blood, sweat and Bourbon, but the SEC got the whole country convinced that their champ is a lock for the national title game. Don't allow the BCS to damage that image by alllowing you to hog the whole trough. Yea, I know--it would be hard to turn it down. Maybe it'll play out in the end and we won't be faced with this scenario. But if we are, know that it's a road we don't want to go down.