It’s been all but settled. The votes haven’t quite been tallied but by all estimations, LSU and Alabama are already planning their January 10 trips – albeit a short one for both schools – to New Orleans for the BCS Title game.
Many experts and fans across the country have expressed displeasure in the possibility of a rematch for the championship. Everyone knows that repetition is stale and true football fans want to witness some variety when crowning a national champion -- although Alabama head coach Nick Saban would kindly disagree.
Although dissension in the ranks of opinion continues on, the opposition has become increasingly quieter in recent weeks. Much of the country has realized that both Alabama and LSU are arguably the two best teams in the country this season and that it would be darn entertaining to see the straw hat master, Saban, square off yet again with the grass munching mad hatter, Miles.
But while everyone remains enthralled by the possible SEC 1 vs. 2 rematch in New Orleans come January, there is still one major obstacle standing in the way of the much hyped sequel.
That obstacle comes in the form of a steaming hot Georgia Bulldogs squad, who are rolling into Saturday’s SEC Championship showdown at the Georgia Dome on a 10-game win streak.
Now, LSU may have done them one better so far, sitting undefeated with 12-straight wins here in 2011, but Georgia still seems to be the forgotten variable in the national title equation.
No, Georgia doesn’t have a prayers chance to make the title game but the Bulldogs could throw a great big wrench in the pundits plans for a rematch.
It seems unlikely that Georgia even gets close to a ‘W’ over the mighty Tigers, especially with how LSU was able to demoralize a talented Arkansas team last week. But the Dogs’ are feisty and have been one of the hottest teams on the gridiron since mid-September, which at least gives them a fighting shot.
So, given the circumstances and semmingly talent discrepancy could Georgia even pull the upset?
A SHOT IN GEORGIA
The start of this 2011 season was a rough one for Georgia. After dropping their home opener to then No. 5 Boise State in one of their worst offensive showings of the season, the Bulldogs then let reigning SEC East champ, No. 12 South Carolina sneak by with a 45-42 win.
The 0-2 start, Georgia’s worst since 1996, had them looking at yet another underwhelming season and caused for a lot of chatter surrounding Georgia head coach Mark Richt’s future at the school. But, since then, the Dogs’ are on a 10-0 run that has kept them in the SEC race and Richt at the helm – at least for the time being.
Georgia’s streak may partially be due in part to their powder puff schedule post the Boise/South Carolina start. A run against FCS foe Coastal Carolina followed by a stretch including four of the SEC’s bottom six teams – Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt – surely aided the Dogs’ as they sought to right the ship.
Now, sitting at 10-2, following a stretch that included wins over SEC foes Auburn and Kentucky as well as in state rival Georgia Tech, the Dogs’ are as primed as ever for the challenge LSU presents on Saturday afternoon.
Georgia sophomore QB Aaron Murray has put together a fantastic season, throwing for more than 2600 yards and posting a 3:1 (32-10 in fact) Touchdown to Interception ratio, while leading the Bulldogs to a top-25 offensive ranking. Meanwhile, over the past 10 games, the Dogs’ Defense has been just as dominant, allowing just 13 points per game to opponents, which falls very closely in line with that of LSU (10 ppg) and Alabama (9 ppg).
So given all that noise, what happens if Georgia actually plays David to LSU’s Goliath this weekend in an almost home game at the Georgia Dome?
THE CHAMPIONSHIP SUITORS
On the road to the national championship, most teams across the country have shot themselves in the foot and consequently blown any chance at a title shot.
Boise was the first to really stumble, missing a last second field goal in a loss to dreaded rival TCU in Week 12. That same night, Stanford’s championship hopes were all but dashed in an utter dismantling at the hands of Oregon. Losses by Oklahoma at Texas Tech in Week 10 and most recently to Baylor eliminated the Sooners, Oregon fell to USC a week after the Stanford win, dashing their hopes of a repeat title appearance and of course previously unbeaten Oklahoma State dropped a heartbreaker in overtime to a mediocre Iowa State team, dropping them below fellow one-loss contender Alabama.
There aren’t many teams left clinging to the slim hopes of a title game berth but, if any, there are only two schools remaining who could make a legitimate case to jump either Bama or LSU, given a Tiger loss this weekend.
1. Oklahoma State Cowboys – A double overtime loss to Iowa State was a near backbreaker for the Cowboys in Week 13. State’s chances for the title seemed dashed, even with their lone loss coming in a 2OT thriller this late in the season. But, don’t look now, there may actually be a fighting chance left for these Pokes.
It’s a slim chance for Oklahoma State moving past either the Tigers or Tide, but as fact has it there is still a chance.
OK State has been consistently dominant all season long – aside from the aforementioned hiccup – scoring each of their 10 wins by an average of 24 points, beating all but Texas A&M (30-29) by double digits. The Pokes’ offense has been near unstoppable all year, primarily behind the brilliant play of senior QB Brandon Weeden and junior wideout Justin Blackmon.
Weeden, a front-running Heisman candidate for much of the season, has thrown for over 4,000 yards for the second straight season and tossing 34 Touchdowns while ranking 4th nationally with a 73 percent completion percentage. As for his favorite target, Blackmon, the favorite to repeat as the Biletnikoff award (Best WR) winner, has put up his second straight 100-catch (103), 1,000-yard (1,241) campaign while hauling in 15 TD’s on the season.
The Pokes’, especially the Weeden-Blackmon connection, are tons of fun to watch any given Saturday. But with a much stouter defense on it’s into town, will the Boys’ 50 points per game average and video game like statistics be enough to push them past in-state rival Oklahoma on Saturday night?
Better yet, even if Oklahoma State finds a way to pull out the victory and LSU magically falls to Georgia, will the voters be swayed by a close game on both ends or will it take a blowout to convince the jury?
2. Houston Cougars – Probably the less likely of the two schools, Houston is still hanging on to the dreams of a miraculous change of heart by the voters. Other than LSU, the Cougars remain as the only other unbeaten left this season (12-0).
The 6th ranked Cougars have quality out of conference wins over Pac-12 South champion, UCLA, in their season opener and a close defeat of WAC champions Louisiana Tech in Week 3. Houston has also put a whoopin’ on the top talent in C-USA this year, drudging SMU 37-7 in a College Gameday showdown and then walloping a strong Tulsa team with a 48-16 beatdown in back to back weeks.
The strength of schedule won’t score the Cougars much in terms of voter support, but the way they went about those wins is certainly something worth more than just a passing glance.
In their 12 wins this season, Houston has defeated opponents by an average of nearly 32 points per-game. That includes beating each of their opponents by at least 30 points or more during their past seven games.
This utter demolition is a result of the dynamic offense that Houston coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have put together this season, most notably the sensational senior tandem of QB Case Keenum and WR Patrick Edwards.
Keenum has completed a career high 73% of his passes this season and has tossed better than 14 touchdowns (43 total) for each of his three interceptions so far this season, all while setting new NCAA career records for total offense (19,217 yards), passing yards (18,312), touchdown passes (150) and completions (1,460). Meanwhile, Edwards has been an absolute stud, catching 74 balls with an NCAA-high 18 TD’s and ranking No. 2 nationally with 1,496 yards (trailing the leader by just 31 heading into Saturday).
This weekend Houston will face possibly their most challenging bout of the season - and best chance to prove their worth to the BCS - in a meeting with No. 24 Southern Mississippi for the Conference USA Championship.
Even with a win it seems unlikely the Cougars would make a four-spot jump and it would likely take much more than a few votes to sway the BCS. Even if there is a sudden jump onto the bandwagon by USA Today and Harris voters, the computers still aren’t in love with the Cougars resume – an average rank of 8th -- and would likely keep Houston from the title game.
Neither team’s chances are very good to overtake either Bama or LSU at any point and the chance that Miles’ Tigers take a dive against Georgia is even less likely.
So feel free to keep hope for a fresh championship matchup alive, but with a lot of variables in play, I sure wouldn't hold my breath.