Oklahoma State's stunning road loss at Iowa State two weeks ago just may have averted yet another year of BCS chaos over which two teams should play for college football's top prize: the national championship.
The Cowboys were unbeaten through ten games heading into the Iowa State game and sitting solidly in second position in the BCS standings, which are used to determine the country's top two teams and the combatants for college football's prestigious, invitation-only final game of the season. OSU controlled its own destiny. All coach Mike Gundy's troops had to do was win their final two games and a spot in the BCS Championship Jan. 9 in New Orleans was all but assured.
Then, as everyone knows by now, fate intervened, and the Cowboys were bitten by the unexpected upset bug and the will of a determined Iowa State team that refused to lose despite committing five turnovers. The loss, albeit in double overtime, sent the Cowboys tumbling to fifth in the BCS standings and catapulted the Alabama Crimson Tide into second place from third.
Although not as bad as previous years in the BCS era, a controversy still exists about how things will ultimately end up by the time BCS Selection Sunday rolls around a week and a half from now. Top-ranked LSU still has a game to play, against Georgia in the SEC Championship, but most of the experts say it doesn't matter what LSU does in that game, the Tigers' impressive season-long body of work will allow them to stay at No, 1 and contend for this season's national championship, most likely in a rematch with Alabama.
That is probably a reasonable assumption at this point in time, but I suggest to you that an LSU-Alabama All-SEC matchup for all the marbles this college football season is not necessarily the "lock" that everyone seems to be projecting.
Why do I say that? Because computer analyses and data crunching represents only one-third of the much-maligned BCS formula. Human voting - that is, the USA Today coaches' poll and the weekly national poll conducted by Harris Interactive - constitutes two-thirds of the outcome. Computers take subjectivity out of the equations, but it is the human bias in the human vote that may turn the final BCS averages upside down for the contending teams.
All year long, the college football world has been pointing to the Bedlam matchup between in-state rivals Oklahoma State and Oklahoma as one of the biggest games of the year - which, without a doubt, it has been the past couple of years - with a good chance that the outcome not only would determine the 2011 Big 12 champion but also one of the teams who would play for the national championship. The game will still determine the Big 12 champion and is still a huge game, with Oklahoma also ranked in the BCS top 10 at No. 10. But unless the Cowboys totally annihilate the Sooners (a style points win, if you will), it's hard to imagine that they will jump Alabama, or even LSU should the Tigers lose in the SEC title game.
Which brings up another interesting point. Alabama sits comfortably at No. 2, but because the Crimson Tide did not win their division, losing out to LSU, they don't have to play an extra game before the postseason, thus avoiding the risk of losing as well as untimely injury to any key players. It also reasonably assures Bama of one of the two spots in the BCS title game unless something totally crazy unexpected occurs. But this begs the question: Is the extra game that LSU has to play a reward, which is the way it is intended, or an inequitable risk that Alabama, a team that LSU beat in Tuscaloosa fortuitously gets to avoid as a reward for ironically not winning its division.
And then, of course, there's always the argument that a team that doesn't even win its conference should not be allowed to compete for the national championship as one of the two best teams in the land. That became a giant controversy back in 2003 when No. 1-ranked Oklahoma lost 35-7 to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game. Despite this embarrassing loss, the Sooners first of the season that year, OU remained one of the top two teams in the BCS, thus preventing unbeaten Auburn from moving up to No. 2 in the final BCS standings.
So what's the crazy thing that could happen to throw this entire discussion into total chaos and a year's worth of controversy: The first thing that has to happen, or all bets are off, is: Oklahoma State must defeat its Sooner State archrival, which it hasn't beaten in the last eight tries and only 16 times in over a century of heated gridiron competition.
Then the question becomes, has Oklahoma State done enough to jump Alabama (or possibly a one-loss LSU) in the standings? Probably not enough to win over the computers, but what about the human voters?
It would be unrealistic to think that all of the voters are interested in seeing a rematch between LSU and Alabama, given that the Purple and Gold Bayou Tigers have already faced and beaten the Crimson Tide, notwithstanding the fact that the contest was a total defensive struggle won by only three points in a game in which there were no touchdowns. How much this dissenting factor might weigh on the minds of the Harris voters and the coaches who participate in the USA Today poll, and whether it would outweigh simply voting for the teams considered to be the two best in the country this season, is hard to say. Should the factor that both are from the same league that they had previously played each other this season have any bearing on the natural selection process if, in fact, they are the two best teams?
There may also be a difference of opinion on which teams are the two best. "A convincing victory over Oklahoma would be huge. I like Oklahoma State's resume," George Schroeder, who formerly wrote for the Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman but now is a columnist for the Eugene (Ore.) Register said this week. "I think Alabama's really, really good, but the Tide hasn't played quite the same schedule this year as most years."
It all comes down to this: If LSU and Alabama are deemed the two best teams in the country, it should not matter who the fans, media or anyone else in the college football universe would like to see in the New Orleans Superdome the night of Jan. 9, regardless of what happens to LSU and Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Not many are thinking this way, but should the Sooners prevail Saturday for a ninth straight time over the Cowboys, instead of being part of the national championship conversation, Oklahoma State would finish second in the Big 12, earning the consolation prize of an invite to the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma, on the other hand, would salvage its season with its seventh Big 12 Championship and the conference's automatic bid to the BCS Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix.
Still much to play for. A lot could change by this time next week.