Thursday, November 24, 2011

SEC chaos theory

As of right now, there's no question that LSU should be No. 1 and Alabama should be No. 2. Nobody else has a comparable resume; Arkansas being third says way more about the middle-of-the-top-10 implosion than it does about Arkansas being some kind of terrifying juggernaut. We're talking about a team that beat Ole Miss and Vanderbilt by a combined eight points and hasn't really done anything more impressive than rally from 18 down to beat Texas A&M (now 6-5) by four points.

But since it's November and crazy/unpredictable/WTF things are guaranteed to happen, the question of the week is this: What happens if Arkansas beats LSU on Friday? OMG CHAOS:


I've been arguing this week that a hypothetical one-loss LSU would still have to be No. 1 because every other contender would have at least one loss and nothing close to LSU's resume. Think about it: With the head-to-head tiebreakers irrelevant since all of the top three teams would've beaten each other, wouldn't you have to zoom out and vote on overall quality? Pending a totally improbable Arkansas blowout Saturday, I don't see any way Arkansas can stake a claim to No. 1 given the aforementioned meh-ness this season (not to mention the four-touchdown loss to currently higher-ranked Alabama).

The computers apparently agree (this is from BCS expert-type guy Brad Edwards):
"When I was able to study the details of the computer ratings, it became obvious that those numbers are so heavily in LSU's favor that it would be difficult for the Tigers to fall outside of the BCS top two, even if they drop to No. 3 in both polls."
Translation: LSU is golden. There's no way they drop lower than No. 2, which is really the only spot that matters.

What I've assumed all along is that the SEC divisional tiebreakers are the same as the Big 12's: the highest-ranked team in the BCS wins. But that's not the case. It's actually kinda the opposite: The lowest-ranked team gets thrown out of the equation, and the remaining two teams default to the standard head-to-head two-team tiebreaker. If LSU doesn't fall out of the top two, Alabama can't win the tiebreaker and Arkansas would have to jump Alabama to win it; that seems wildly unlikely given that Bama is currently way higher in both the polls and the computers and beat Arkansas by a gajillion points like six weeks ago. In other words, it's pretty likely that LSU will "win" the SEC West even with a loss Saturday. Bama sliding up to No. 1 wouldn't matter.

Edwards thinks the human votes will be split somewhere close to evenly between the three, although that's probably an Arkansas-friendly estimate given that LSU is currently a unanimous No. 1. If he's right and it comes down to the computers or he's wrong and the voters say "oh yeah, Alabama killed Arkansas," Bama is gonna come out ahead. Who's gonna drop Alabama (after beating Auburn, obviously) behind Arkansas? Again: Alabama 38, Arkansas 14.

Back to Edwards for the upshot:
... a seemingly improbable event is certain to happen -- either Alabama will beat Auburn and drop from 2 to 3 in the BCS standings or Arkansas will beat LSU and remain at No. 3 in the BCS.
In my e-pinion, that last scenario seems way more likely than the first, which means the result of the Arkansas-LSU game matters not at all. That seems totally illogical on the surface but a lot more logical given the big-picture view of what all three teams have done this year and which one-loss versions would be most deserving of spots in the title game.


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