The West Division of the Southeastern Conference easily lives up to its claim of being the toughest division in the toughest college football conference. Big 12 fans are tired of hearing this mantra, but the undisputable fact is, the last five BCS champions have come from the SEC and three of those five were from the SEC West (Florida, 2006; LSU, 2007; Florida, 2008; Alabama, 2009, Auburn, 2010).
Nothing really has changed this season. Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Al., the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the BCS standings and in all the national polls will meet head on in what some are calling the national championship game, despite its schedule placement with a third of the regular season still remaining.
The conventional wisdom says that the losing team in the LSU-Alabama civil war will most likely drop in the standings and be jumped by third-place Oklahoma State, assuming, of course, that the Cowboys are able to take care of business against visiting Kansas State. As ESPN College GameDay's Lee Corso would say, however: "Not so fast, my friend!"
As bad as every college football voter and prognosticator in America would like to see these same two teams go at each other again in a rematch in the BCS title game scheduled for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 9, I would be very careful about ruling out the possibility that the only thing that may change when the BCS poll is released on Sunday is the one-two order.
At the very least, unless one of the teams wins in a blowout, I wouldn't expect the loser to drop much further than third, possibly, fourth place in the weekly BCS rankings. Needless to say, this would not be good news for Oklahoma State or the Big 12's chances of having a representative in the 2012 BCS National Championship game. OSU would still need to get past Kansas State this weekend and Oklahoma in the Bedlam game Dec. 3 to keep its championship dreams alive, but if LSU and Alabama continue to hold down the one and two spots, in whatever order, after this weekend, it probably won't matter if Oklahoma State were to run the table. If that is the case, Cowboy fans can start making travel plans for Phoenix and the Fiesta Bowl, because that will be the best the Pokes can do.
Even if coach Mike Gundy's Cowboys' team were able to finish out the season with a record-setting 12 wins and be one of only a handful of undefeated FBS teams, it still does not guarantee that a third-place LSU or Alabama wouldn't be able to jump Oklahoma State in the final BCS standings based on strength of schedule and overall body of work, as the college football experts like to say.
Now, before the Oklahoma State fans get all lathered up over this, I'm simply posing the possibility of this conspiracy-driven scenario. You can't argue that we haven't seen something like this before. Only that time (2003) it was a Big 12 school (one beaten and Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma) that drew the tall straw over an SEC school (unbeaten and conference champion Auburn).
In fair balance to the state of Oklahoma, it's also necessary to point out that a win by Oklahoma State over Oklahoma in the Big 12 regular-season finale - strategically moved on the schedule to co-exist with what ESPN calls Championship Saturday to give the now 10-team league similar exposure to what it had when there was a conference championship game that weekend - is no sure thing. After all, the Sooners have won the last eight consecutive meetings between the two schools, including the last four in Stillwater. Should that happen again this year, the aforementioned argument is moot.
The way things look now, Oklahoma State should make it to the Bedlam Series game undefeated at 11-0 against, most likely, a 10-1 Oklahoma team. We all know what can happen in any rivalry game, let alone one with such potential high stakes as this one.
Bob Stoops' Sooners, the preseason No. 1 team and No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll until 10 days ago, have much to lose, as well, if Oklahoma State isn't playing for a spot in the national championship when the Pokes meet up with OU. If Oklahoma State were to win out and advance to the BCS Championship in New Orleans, Oklahoma is the likely choice to be an at-large choice to represent the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl. This would come about because the conference's automatic BCS qualifier would be OSU. Because the Cowboys would be playing in the BCS Championship, the Big 12's contracted AQ spot in the Fiesta Bowl would shift to the second highest seeded Big 12 school. By rule, no more than two teams from any conference can appear in a BCS bowl the same year.
Given that Oklahoma's chances of appearing in the BCS National Championship as a one-loss team are virtually nil in my book, the best they can do is one of the four other BCS games.
Oklahoma State against the winner of the LSU-Alabama game in the BCS Championship game and Oklahoma to the Fiesta Bowl is what a number of experts are projecting, incidentally. If OSU breaks its eight-game losing skid to the Sooners but still doesn't get the invite to the Big game, the second of two BCS games in the Sugar Bowl this holiday season, the Cowboys will receive the Big 12's automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma consequently would be pushed out of the BCS picture and force to settle for the Cotton or Holiday Bowl. That would also push the other bowl-eligible teams in the conference into lesser bowls than where they might get to go otherwise.
If a team from the Big 12 is good enough and, frankly, lucky enough to make it all the way to the national title game, that team will be Oklahoma State. That's why it would behoove all of the other teams in the conference that are bowl bound or have postseason aspirations to get behind the Cowboys in their bid for perfection - unless, of course, you're that other Oklahoma team that claims "There's Only One Oklahoma."
Allow the rising tide to lift up everybody.