Texas could be frozen out by BCS again

To the great dismay of those living anywhere but south of the Mason Dixon line, December 5th’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta may end up serving as nothing more than a heavily attended scrimmage against two teams with bigger goals in their sights.

The ol’ rehearsal dinner in the Peach City, a month before the big black tie wedding under the Pasadena night sky.

“Who’s college football’s real No. 1 — Alabama or Florida?! Florida or Alabama?!” The debate may dominate cable TV talking head scream-a-thon shows and sports radio conversation for the next two months. Brace yourself. But don’t lose your breath screaming along; all that time and energy could be for naught.

Though the AP poll gave the Tide the nod in Sunday morning’s Top 25 rankings, the Harris Interactive Poll, the USA Today Coach’s Poll, and the computer rankings — each consisting of one-third of the BCS standings — had Florida as their No. 1. When the season’s first BCS standings were released late Sunday afternoon, Florida had a .0360 edge over ‘Bama. The two should seesaw back and forth for ownership of the No. 1 ranking from here on out.

But the truth is, by the time the BCS standings are released the Sunday following the final week of college football’s regular season, the order of Alabama-Florida/Florida-Alabama could end up being nothing more than semantics. At that point, the two squads could have such an edge on the rest of the field in the BCS standings that the outcome of the SEC Championship Game might be of little to no circumstance. As long as it’s a well played game — competitive to the end — ‘Bama-Florida could end up being the marquee matchup of both the SEC and BCS title contests.

Yes, seven weeks into the 2009 college football season, it appears as though the Gators and the Tide are teams 1 and 1-A in college football.

After that? Well, there are a bunch of other teams that happen to play college football on Saturdays.

Relax Texas fans, I’m just kidding!

Well, kinda.

Even the biggest UT fan would agree that No. 3 ranked Texas’ 16-13 win over Oklahoma on Saturday was anything but a showcase of the Longhorns’ capabilities. Texas struggled mightily against a banged-up and beleaguered Sooners team playing without its starting quarterback. Will Muschamp’s defense was outstanding in the effort, but the Texas offense was sloppy and anemic. Colt McCoy had his worst passing day as a college quarterback (127 yards) and penalties and turnovers tarnished what, on paper, may have appeared to have been an all-time classic victory. Texas had its moments on Saturday, but they hardly looked BCS title game worthy. Quite frankly, aside from a dominant effort vs. UTEP, they haven’t looked it all season.

The commonly shared belief in college football circles is that Texas “controls its BCS destiny” this season, and that if they “survive and advance” from here on out, an undefeated record and a Big 12 title will be enough to guarantee one of the two berths in January’s BCS Championship Game.

That’s fine.

Folks, however, also seem to believe that a 1-loss Texas team that wins the Big 12 Title will be in line to take on the SEC champion in Pasadena, as well.

But is that really the case?

And if it is, why the heck should it be?

If Alabama continues to steamroll opponents and loses to Florida on Dec. 5, are they suddenly no longer the second-best team in the nation? On the flip-side, if Florida enters the SEC Championship Game as winners of 22 straight games and loses to a loaded ‘Bama squad in December — does it mean they’re not worthy of another shot at the Tide in January?

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In the 11 years of the BCS bowl system, we’ve never seen two teams from the same conference finish 1-2 in the final BCS standings or square off in a BCS title game. There have been close calls in each of the past three years, though, with Michigan nearly facing Ohio State for a rematch of their 45-42 regular season finale thriller in ’06, red-hot Georgia nearly sneaking in to play LSU in ’07, and these very two teams — Alabama and Florida — almost battling it out for a rematch after their hard-fought SEC Championship Game showdown last December.

This could be the year.

And oh, what a riot that would cause in Austin.

If Cincinnati, Boise State, Iowa, or TCU finish the season undefeated and a 1-loss SEC team plays in the BCS Championship Game over them, there will be disappointment and anger stemming from each of their respective fan bases. You’ll get the state officials writing letters to whomever, some peeved fans going bonkers on the Internet message boards, and a local sportswriter drafting up a lengthy proposal for a college football playoff system “that works” in the local paper.

If USC and/or Penn State wraps up the season with one loss, wins their respective conference titles, and find themselves on the outside looking in, there will be frustration in SoCal and Happy Valley, too.

Yet, if Texas were to win the Big 12 — whether with an undefeated or 1-loss record — and a 1-loss SEC team got the nod over them . . . well, it would be an entirely different story.

There wouldn’t merely be disappointment and anger boiling out of Austin — it would be viewed as a state-wide natural disaster.

Texas was burned by the curiosities and exquisite wrinkles of the BCS system last season, beating rival Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout in October, finishing with an identical 11-1 record, and yet seeing the Sooners play in the BCS title game in January instead of them. A last-second loss to Texas Tech ended up costing the Longhorns a Big 12 Championship Game berth, a Big 12 title, Colt McCoy a Heisman, and an opportunity to play in the school’s second BCS title game in four years.

If Texas were to finish the season as Big 12 champions and got burned again by the cockamamie “system,” UT might secede from the world of college football altogether.

Mack Brown spoke with a hint of disdain against the way things worked out last year in Saturday’s postgame press conference, telling reporters “We’re going to try really hard not to let the ‘system’ control our fate this year. We’re not big fans of the ‘system’ here.”

An undefeated 13-0 record would ensure the Longhorns a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

A 12-1 Big 12 championship campaign? It might not be enough.

Though No. 2 Alabama’s .0615 point lead over No. 3 Texas in this week’s BCS standings isn’t colossal, it’s a lot larger a margin of differential than one might have expected. Texas needs their next two opponents — Missouri and Oklahoma State — to play big in November, thus bolstering the Longhorns’ strength of schedule. UT also has No. 25 Kansas up ahead, who the Longhorns would be much better suited playing as a highly ranked team in late November than one with a few losses on its resume.

You’d hate to think Texas needs assistance from its opponents already, but with the way the Big 12 has been shaking out this season — with Oklahoma a 3-loss team in mid-October, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech both losing to Houston early on, and Nebraska falling woefully short last weekend vs. Texas Tech — the Longhorns may just need that: a little help from their Big 12 “friends.”

Though it may seem a little premature, Texas fans may want to go against everything they were reared to believe in, and start rooting for the Jayhawks and Cowboys on a weekly basis.

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III’s midseason injury certainly doesn’t help the Texas cause much either, making the Bears — a squad most pundits penciled in for six wins and a bowl berth prior to the season — nothing more than a below-average, conference basement-dwelling team.

Critics of the SEC will shout from the tallest buildings that this is more of a down year for the SEC than any other conference in the land. Georgia, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Tennessee have been some of college football’s greatest disappointments. Aside from Alabama and Florida, no team — including LSU — has been all that impressive.

But the SEC is the SEC, and if Alabama and Florida continue to win out, I can see this very scenario unfolding.

Which leads to Dec. 5. You hate to look ahead just yet (Florida’s still got Georgia and Florida State; Alabama still has LSU and Auburn), but you can’t help but think that the date is being circled by everyone in Gainesville, Tuscaloosa, and yes, Austin, too.

The way that game is played — not so much the outcome — may make all the difference in the world.

Let’s say Florida or Alabama beats the other one in a blowout. Well, then that makes it a lot easier to go to sleep at night for the next month knowing a 1-loss Big 12 champion Texas squad will be playing in the BCS Championship Game against the winner. But what if the two SEC powerhouses — who, in my estimation, have been far and away the most impressive teams seven weeks into the season — enter the SEC Championship game undefeated and have a classic bout that comes down to the final possession?

Could you really eliminate the game’s loser from BCS title game conversation?

More importantly, perhaps, would be the fans. Would a nation want to see the same two teams square off again, a month later? Or would an SEC Championship showdown be more than enough Alabama-Florida for one college football postseason?

All great things to consider.

As seems to always be the case, the “system” is going to burn some fan base — more like, fan bases — in the end.

You’d hate to think that the Texas faithful could be ones on the receiving end of that burn two years in a row.

But looking at things now, a mere few months away from the title game, it’s more than just a long shot from happening.

Alabama-Florida Round 1 in Atlanta, followed by Alabama-Florida Round 2 in Pasadena — it’s a scenario that may very well come true in ’09.

It’s a scenario that some would even say is a year overdue.

There’s a way Texas can avoid this nightmare, though. They can win out the rest of the way.

Hook ’em, Horns.

It may be your only option.