1. Planting the seed
If the No. 3-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-1) can defeat No. 13 Oklahoma (9-2) on Saturday night, the real game begins. You want Bedlam? Cowboys coach Mike Gundy can set it in motion by stepping to the news-conference microphone and saying something like this:
“We DESERVE the opportunity to play for a national championship.’’
It might be the only way to avoid the rematch of LSU against Alabama in the BCS Championship Game.
Remember 2006? It was just a few weeks after No. 1 Ohio State had defeated No. 2 Michigan 42-39. For a few weeks, there was talk of a rematch for the national title. Michigan was idle, but on the final day UCLA beat next-in-line, one-loss USC.
“That other team (Michigan) had its shot,’’ then-Gators coach Urban Meyer said that night. “We belong in the game.’’
The voters chewed on that for a while.
When the final BCS standings came out, Ohio State was No. 1, Florida was No. 2 … and Michigan was No. 3 — on the outside, looking in.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, largely biting his tongue, said Meyer’s tactics were “slick.’’
Will history repeat?
Gundy, at least so far, hasn’t gone the political route. In fact, he said if he had a vote in the USA Today coaches poll (he doesn’t), he’d put Alabama at No. 2 and Oklahoma State at No. 3. His reasoning seems sound. After all, Alabama’s loss was in overtime to top-ranked LSU. Oklahoma State’s loss was against Iowa State, which is now 6-5.
Gundy said he was uncomfortable politicking for his team, knowing that the first priority must be defeating the Sooners, not engaging in a pre-game war of words that could blow up in his face.
“So, to be fair,’’ Gundy said, “I don’t think I could put us in front of (Alabama) right now.’’
Maybe those are words to remember.
The Cowboys are No. 5 in the USA Today coaches poll, behind Virginia Tech (11-1) and Stanford (11-1). By beating Oklahoma, the Cowboys almost certainly will leap ahead of the Hokies and Cardinal.
It would be Oklahoma State’s fifth win over a team currently ranked in the BCS top 25. Alabama has beaten just two BCS top 25 teams.
Oklahoma State can sell how it had a bad night (five turnovers), how it walked into a Friday night double-overtime ambush at Iowa State. It can point out how Alabama had every opportunity to defeat LSU, but couldn’t get it done with a series of missed field goals and turnovers.
One team (Oklahoma State) will be a conference champion. The other (Alabama) will not have even won its division.
See how the perception can change? Particularly when Oklahoma State has the Saturday night stage and Alabama is idle?
Make no mistake, Oklahoma State must take care of business against Oklahoma. If the margin it decisive, that would be very helpful.
After that, it will largely be in the hands of voters in the USA Today coaches poll and Harris Interactive poll. If Oklahoma State has a good performance — and if Gundy, particularly, has an exceptional performance in the post-game news conference — Sunday’s BCS final standings might carry more suspense that anyone anticipated.
2. LSU has incentive
No. 1 LSU (12-0) doesn’t have a layup in the SEC championship game, facing the No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs (10-2), who have won 10 straight games, and emerging sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray.
What if Georgia pulls the unthinkable upset?
Then LSU would lose … nothing?
Apparently, that’s true.
So we could have a national-title game — presumably LSU-Alabama — with neither team winning its conference championship?
It’s an interesting concept, an intriguing storyline, to suggest that LSU has little incentive on Saturday.
Except for one minor point:
It’s not true.
LSU is playing for a national championship. It’s also playing for history.
The Tigers already have defeated seven ranked opponents, including three in the top five. They have victories against three teams (Alabama, Oregon, West Virginia) that could be headed for BCS bowl games.
You could easily visualize a 14-0 LSU team standing on the Superdome turf on Jan. 9, justifiably claiming to be the best college football team of all time. They would have the goods.
But that wouldn’t happen without the SEC championship.
There’s no reason for LSU to take its foot off the pedal. There’s no need to rest any starters (the BCS title game is six weeks away). It’s weird that Alabama was defeated, but might have an easier road. But LSU is prepared to finish the job. The Tigers want SEC title rings. Then they want the crystal-football trophy.
To suggest anything less than LSU’s maximum effort is ridiculous.
3. Big Ten drama
Sometimes, these conference title games work out beautifully.
And sometimes, they don’t. The Pac-12 had No. 8 Oregon (11-2) crushing UCLA (6-7) and it's lame-duck coach. The ACC has No. 5 Virginia Tech (11-1) against one-time BCS-contender Clemson (9-3) that has lost three of its last four games.
Saturday night’s inaugural Big Ten championship game worked out beautifully on paper.
It’s a cut-and-dried formula. Winner goes to the Rose Bowl. Loser probably goes to a lower-level bowl game in Orlando or Tampa.
It’s a rematch of perhaps the season’s most unforgettable moment, the Kirk Cousins-to-Keith Nichol “Hail Mary’’ pass on the final play that lifted Michigan State past Wisconsin 37-31 on Oct. 22.
Before that gut punch, the Badgers realistically entertained thoughts of the BCS Championship Game. That quickly disappeared. But for Wisconsin and Michigan State, short of a national championship, the achievable goal is still tremendous. There’s a Rose Bowl trip against Oregon and the opportunity to win 12 games.
Michigan State hasn’t played in the Rose Bowl since Lorenzo White led the Spartans into Pasadena following the 1987 season.
Wisconsin has played in back-to-back Rose Bowl games only once.
There’s plenty at stake here.
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Former Penn State President Graham Spanier is asking a county judge to throw out criminal charges accusing him of helping to cover up abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
HBO Real Sports: Bill O'Brien
Penn State football coach and 2012 National Coach of the Year shares the challenges in turning around a program shattered by scandal. Real Sports premieres Tuesday, May 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
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