This is a critical week in college football. This weekend will determine who plays for the National Championship, as well as the other BCS bowls as well as the lesser bowls.
No. 2 Oregon will play unranked Oregon State in Corvallis in the Civil War; if they win, they will almost certainly play for the National Championship. Despite going on the road against a team that is desperate to gain bowl eligibility, I don't expect the Ducks to have a problem against a 5-6 Oregon State team that lost to lowly Washington State at home. I'll give it to Oregon by at least two touchdowns.
That battle in Atlanta is what has everyone talking.
No. 1 Auburn will play No. 19 South Carolina in the SEC Championship. The Tigers, led by controversy-laiden quarterback Cam Newton, will look to secure a place in the National Championship Game. The 12-0 Tigers, who bested South Carolina 35-27 in Auburn on September 25, are favored by 5.5 over the 9-3 Gamecocks, who will look to gain spot in the Sugar Bowl.
The overwhelming consensus is that if Auburn wins (which I expect them to, but by a tight margin), they will play in the National Championship. That's obvious to anyone who's at least seen Newton run their offense and seen what they can do in an extremely hostile environment. However, the more important question is this:
What if Auburn loses?
We've had one-loss SEC teams go to the National Championship before (2006 and 2008 Florida Gators), and even a two-loss team (2007 LSU Tigers).
Although, SEC teams have lost the conference championship and gone on to the NGC in recent history. The 2003 Oklahoma Sooners lost in a 35-7 blowout upset to Kansas State and (controversially) faced LSU in the NGC (eventually losing 21-14); so there is precedent for a team to lose the conference championship and still having a shot at the Championship.
Prior to today, the thinking among some was that if Auburn kept it close against the Gamecocks and only lost by a few points, they could still go to Glendale on January 10.
Today, however, the Big Ten and Pac-10 commissioners Jim Delany (Big Ten) and Larry Scott (Pac-10) criticized the NCAA's decision to declare Cam Newton eligible for the SEC Championship game. Controversy has erupted about Auburn's fate in the event of a loss.
In the wake of revelations that Newton's father, Cecil, asked for $200,000 from Mississippi State in exchange for Cam's commitment, many have wondered whether Newton would be ruled ineligible at some point during the season. However, the NCAA refused to do so, leading to Delany and Scott's criticisms.
With the SEC garnering resentment from the other conferences, many are left to wonder what the voters from these conferences (who vote in the Harris and Coaches' polls, which make up a large portion of the BCS formula) will do if Auburn loses.
It is very possible that there is enough suspicion of Auburn and the SEC as a whole, which has been criticized for not holding schools accountable for violations, that the non-SEC schools may not vote the Tigers into the NGC, throwing the BCS into chaos.
If these events come to pass, and the anti-Auburn movement is strong enough, who would go to Glendale?
Many would point to No. 3 TCU, who is 12-0 and is next in line for the NGC. However, they may be weighted down by their weak schedule and lack of any true quality wins. After that, it's No. 4 Stanford and No 5. Wisconsin, both 11-1.
Despite each having a loss, they came against tough opponents on the road; the Cardinal lost to Oregon in Eugene, and the Badgers lost to 11-1 Michigan State in East Lansing. Any of these choices would leave a lot of people angry, especially Auburn fans, who despite a loss, would still be one of the best teams in the nation in what is probably the nation's toughest conference.
However, if the SEC resentment is widespread enough, the Tigers may very well find themselves on the outside looking in on January 10.
Unlikely? Yes, it appears that way.
But possible? Absolutely.