Saturday night’s matchup between #1-ranked LSU and #2-ranked Alabama has been hailed by most sports fans as the de facto National Championship game for this season of college football. While ‘Bama and LSU are currently the best two teams in the country by a wide margin, that doesn’t mean that this game will inevitably determine this year’s champs.
In September of 2010, few people thought that Auburn had any shot of winning the SEC. This was back when Cam Newton was still unknown and everyone mistook Cam’s smile for the face of a kid who loved the game instead of the shit-eating grin of someone who got away with massive recruiting violations. Even when the Tigers were undefeated toward the end of the year, most people expected them to lose to Alabama, who had reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram, along with #3 overall pick Marcell Darius and several other future NFL players. But Auburn did beat ‘Bama, and then went on to win the SEC and National Championship games.
There were also a lot of arguments last year about whether Boise State deserved to be in the National Championship game. After Boise defeated Virginia Tech in September, it was assumed that they wouldn’t lose a game all year. After all, the Broncos schedule consisted of Oregon State, 8 teams from the Big West Conference, Montana State Community College, Phoenix Online and the Franklin D. Roosevelt High School Boys JV Intramural Squad. In mid-October the debate turned to whether or not an undefeated Boise team was worthy of a title shot over a one-loss team from a major conference, given Boise’s very weak strength of schedule. Of course, none of the talk mattered when Boise lost to Nevada after a series of missed field goals from one of the nation’s best kickers.
Back in 2006, #1-ranked Ohio State faced #2-ranked Michigan in the final game of the season for both teams. At the time, they were considered easily the best two teams in the country. The already-heated rivalry was coined a de facto National Championship game. People in the Midwest hadn’t been that excited since they invented deep-frying. After Ohio State won an instant classic, people clamored for a rematch, claiming that Michigan was still worthy of a title shot, that they should have a chance to play the Buckeyes on a neutral field, and that the Wolverines were still more deserving than any of the other 1-or-2 loss teams out there. It was basically assumed that Ohio State would win a title that year, no matter who they faced. Instead, LSU ended up in the title game, and we all know how that worked out for Ohio State. If you don’t remember, find an OSU fan and ask them, then slowly step away as they begin swearing and banging their head into a wall. Ohio State was crushed and we ended up with an improbable 2-loss champion.
There’s no need to rehash the entire history of college football, but look around and you’ll find plenty of other similar situations throughout the years. The point is that you can’t take anything for granted in college football. Even a sure thing can go wrong. Unlike the NFL, which is filled with seasoned professionals, college football is a bunch of 18-22 year old kids, and therefore you can’t predict what will happen. Just a couple weeks ago, most people thought Oklahoma would cruise into the National Championship game, but then the Sooners had a horrible night and lost to a mediocre Texas Tech team. It was reminiscent of the “Varsity Blues” strip club game; all we needed was an angry Bob Stoops yelling, “HOPE LAST NIGHT WAS FUN!!!” Now it seems that Oklahoma State and Stanford control their own destiny, but all it takes is a couple big plays to change that. Three weeks ago, Wisconsin looked unbeatable, but now they’ve lost two straight and are barely ranked in the top 20. Even Boise State, who many people have already written it at 12-0, struggled against Air Force and is susceptible to upset against any decent team.
Whoever wins the LSU-Alabama game on Saturday has the inside track to the title game. That’s undeniable. But that’s no guarantee either team will win out.
LSU still has a difficult schedule remaining after the Alabama game. On 11/19 they play at Ole Miss, a team that can be pretty feisty when they feel like it. That’s followed by a home game against #8-ranked Arkansas, then the SEC Championship game against either #9 South Carolina or a streaking Georgia team. And let’s not forget, Les Miles is still the coach of LSU, and Jordan Jefferson is still on the team, so there’s always a chance of something crazy happening.
Alabama’s schedule is a little easier than LSU’s, but they still have to play their rival Auburn. In the south, football rivalries are more important than careers or children, so the Tigers play the Crimson Tide tough every year. This year’s game is at Auburn. Don’t think for a second that the Tigers aren’t capable of an upset. Then there’s the SEC Championship game, which is never easy. Quarterback A.J. McCarron has looked good so far this season, but he’s still a first-year starter and he’s yet to be tested the way he will be over the next month. We’ll see if he can respond.
If LSU or Alabama wins out the rest of the regular season, they’ll definitely make the National Championship. There, they’ll likely play the Big 12 winner, Stanford, or possibly even Boise State. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both have the firepower to beat anyone, and unlike previous years, this year both have a respectable defense. Not LSU-level good, but decent. Stanford has Andrew Luck, the best QB prospect in ten years, so you can’t rule them out. Boise State has proven they can pull off a major upset on the right day.
You can’t simply hand a team the trophy just because they’re the most talented. LSU and Alabama are better teams and have more NFL players than anyone they’ll face the rest of the year. They’re hands down the best two teams in the country. But that doesn’t mean they’ll always win. This is college football, and crazy stuff happens all of the time.
Tom Z’s college football gambling picks for 11/5:
LSU +5 over Alabama
Oregon -16½ over Washington
Oklahoma -14 over Texas A&M
Stanford -21½ over Oregon State
Houston -28 over Alabama Birmingham
*Disclaimer: These are my picks and mine alone. They do not represent the company and no one should trust me with their money anyway.