No one is ready to concede another national championship to the Southeastern Conference, but the odds of another banner being hung by one of its teams is looking fairly likely.
In the latest BCS standings released Sunday, the SEC had the top three squads — LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. It marked the first time in BCS history that one conference held the top three spots. It goes beyond just one conference earning that distinction — it’s one division in one league.
While SEC officials and its fans are elated about this accomplishment, one of those teams will fall off the board because the Tigers and the Razorbacks will go head-to-head Friday afternoon.
If LSU pulls out the victory, then all that separates it from making another appearance in the BCS Championship Game is the SEC title tilt against Georgia. With a win Saturday against Auburn, Alabama will more than likely keep the second spot in the BCS standings and advance to New Orleans for a shot at winning it all with an opponent to be named later.
A win over LSU would allow the Razorbacks the opportunity to march towards the Superdome and a national title.
There is one team which stands in the way of the SEC’s total domination in college football this year — Auburn, last year’s champion. If the Tigers were to knock off Alabama, then the door would crack open for a handful of one-loss teams including Oklahoma State, Stanford and even Virginia Tech to state their case for making the BCS Championship Game.
While everyone expected the Cowboys and the Cardinal to be in contention, the Hokies are the real surprise this season because most of the focus in the Atlantic Coast Conference has been on Clemson. Virginia Tech stands one win away from returning to the ACC Championship Game and a rematch with the Tigers.
The Hokies had an opportunity to put themselves in the national title picture but stubbed their toes against Clemson earlier this season. Since that 23-3 loss at home to the Tigers, Virginia Tech has done just enough to keep winning. It hasn’t been pretty, but it’s been effective for Frank Beamer and his crew. In the BCS standings, the Hokies are ranked behind Oklahoma State and just ahead of Stanford.
A win over Virginia Saturday and another against Clemson in the ACC title contest would keep Virginia Tech in the conversation for a BCS Championship berth, but ho-hum performances against Miami, Duke and North Carolina will make it a very brief one.
Like its conference brethren Virginia Tech, Clemson had a golden opportunity to cruise through the ACC and toss its hat into the ring for a spot in the BCS title game. Instead, the Tigers have dropped two of their last three games. The loss to Georgia Tech dropped Clemson in the standings, but after a hard-fought win over Wake Forest the next week, the Tigers were still in a good position at seventh to state their case.
After a weekend which saw Oklahoma State fall on Friday, the Tigers knew a win over N.C. State would catapult them up the BCS board. Instead of flying high and getting out of Raleigh with a big victory to set up a huge showdown with Palmetto State rival, South Carolina, Clemson fell flat on its face and dropped all the way to 17th and out of contention.
Just like everyone else in what seems to be a three-horse race. Conferences like the ACC and Big 12 had schools in position to battle for the national championship but in the end, those teams dropped off the radar screen, leaving only the SEC and its three squads atop the mountain.
While the BCS is not a perfect system, it is designed to give us the best two teams in the country at the end of the season fighting it out on field. And this year it just could be two SEC powers battling on the bayou for the title.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org