Conference play is over. Rivalries have ceased. Only one more game remains–to determine who the conference champion will be. Never before have we seen such an inequity between the two divisions. Not since LSU in 2001 has a three loss team gone to the conference championship. Every single ranked team in the SEC right now save for the Gamecocks is in the west. But by no means should you take it that I am overlooking South Carolina and the game Saturday. I mean, who could even if they wanted to? With every other CFB prognosticator on TV spinning stories about how the Old Ball Coach is going to conjure up some pre-2001 magic and have some surprise retribution waiting in store for the Tigers, you’d think the Persians were headed into Thermopylae. We can have that conversation later in the week as we preview the game. Assume for a second that Auburn does win the SEC. It’s not that difficult to imagine now, especially after Friday.
Besides, with Boise losing this weekend and more folks getting off the weak-scheduled TCU bandwagon, CFB looks hungry to have a good-old fashioned BCS versus BCS national title game anyway. Tony Barnhart lays out his case today that Auburn could suffer a loss in the SEC CG and still have the BCS points to go to Glendale. After Boise’s defrocking Friday, I believe it’s true. TCU is a fraud. The establishment wants major college football. Read that any way your little conspiracy-theory mind wants to. As was mentioned by me last week, Oklahoma went in 2003 after not only losing, but getting blown out by Kansas State in the BIG 12 CG. After that, the BCS changed the poll formula to give the human polls two thirds of the sway, not the other way around. But by no means did they forbid a CCG loser from going to the big game. It just hasn’t happened again since. Again, the merits of whether or not that’s fair can be debated another time. It’s simply the reality for the moment.
At any rate, the conference championship game isn’t mandatory, as half the BCS conferences only have such a game to date. Granted, the Pac 10 and Big 10 have now drafted a requisite number of teams to do just that, having finally seen their national profile waning to that of the SEC. Don’t you think the Big 10 wishes they had that game right now? They’ve got THREE conference champions as of Saturday. Isn’t that so 1989-ish? And none have the oomph to get propelled into the title game. You can’t tell me that the winner of a Wisconsin-Ohio State (or even Michigan State) title game would not be elevated to Glendale if either Auburn or Oregon fell, over TCU or Boise if they were still in it. Same for Stanford. Give them a CCG shot at Oregon and the whole landscape could change. Conference championship games will be the de facto first round in a future playoff once all the BCS conferences have them (and keep them).
Regardless, now is the time for SEC fans to put away their petty squabbles and unite behind their conference, which continues to dominate the sport like no other in the age of the BCS. Five of the last seven national titles have been won by the SEC, and that doesn’t include a pretty damn good Auburn team getting totally left out of the equation in 2004. Like I’ve always said, that hosing created a wealth of political capital for the conference and probably went a long way towards landing Florida in 2006 and LSU in 2007 into the title games. The continued crowning of quality SEC champions through the conference championship game is slowly conditioning the CFB world to think that virtually any SEC champion is deserving of playing for all the beans.
Suck it up. I did last year, openly calling for supporting Alabama after they vanquished Florida in the biggest SEC CG in history–#1 versus #2. I know it’s bitter–I’m an Auburn man who pulled for Alabama to win it all–I understand your trepidation. Tactically, it sucks. You get ribbed a little and your schedule the following season looms a little darker. Recruiting is harder, and the taste of resentment is often regurgitated a little in your mouth. But you must think strategically in this situation. It’s group-think at work. Conference socialism. Think of us all as Soviet-like client states, each with it’s own petty beefs and squabbles, but all striving for our little communistic conference football good–except without the Stalinist overtones (not including Urban Meyer).
If you’re a bottom-half conference school, then you probably don’t have much to benefit from except for pride– the fact that you play in the toughest conference in the land and you have all your great rivalries. If you’re in the top half, then you are always cognizant of the fact that your time is coming. One year when the schedule is right or all the pieces are together or the messianic coach comes, you’re poised to make your move to the top. But in the absence of a true playoff, the politicking is always in play, and your stablemates who won these championships before you will have paved the way and made your road to national success a little less rocky. Yes, they are rivals, to be envied and perhaps loathed, but they are your steppingstones sometimes, too.
I know your reluctance to back Auburn. You think we’re suspect because of the Cam Newton recruiting controversy. You think we’re a fraud, that we’re not real. Cousin, we’re the real deal and we’re moving ahead with you or without you. Know this: we are playing under the assumption that everything is fine–like there’s no tomorrow. Call it naive or stupid, but we have no choice at the moment. Until something is proven, or a hard decision made, there simply isn’t any other way to play the hand we’ve been dealt except to keep winning. And you’d do it the same way too if you were in our position. If Cam is ineligible for one game, he’s ineligible for all of them. Sitting him now doesn’t matter, especially with investigations that can take months or years.
If Auburn wins the national championship and it’s found later that the university is culpable for having paid a player or lacked institutional control in that area, then let the punishment befit the crime. I’ll be the first one to stand and say we deserve it. But rarely are cases so black and white. More probable, if some infraction didoccur–like a minor technicality perpetuated by third parties–it could possibly retroactively remove eligibility and require the vacation of games. Vacation of victories will not change the fact that teams were beat, and a technicality like that would do little to slurry the good name of the conference.
The SEC would vacate the conference crown, but what about the national one? As you know, the NCAA doesn’t sanction a national title in FBS football, only the BCS and major polls do, and in most ambiguous fashion, historically, I might add. After the egregious case of the Reggie Bush incident came to light earlier this year, how many of them went to remove the name of USC from their national champion lists? None of them. Like the vacation of games never even happened–and all the while with a perfectly deserving alternate candidate–Auburn–waiting in the wings. If Auburn wins the NC this season and games are later required to be vacated, that national title is in the barn. It simply won’t go back. That’s not bragging or being bold, it’s just the precedent that was established just a few months ago, evidently.
But don’t let that be a distraction. Allow Auburn to carry the conference banner on to victory and national glory for us and you. Kick your petty differences with us aside. Cameron Newton is likeable and Nick Fairley really didn’t body-slam your backfield nearly as hard as you thought he did. Unite as the SEC family because we’re paving the way for your team to make the run itself very soon. I just hope like the four different SEC BCS champions that came before us that we can bring home a win.