Should LSU and Alabama face each other again in the BCS National Championship Game?
Turn to almost any media outlet—including this one—and you'll see any number of reasons why the teams should or should not play each other in the title game in New Orleans. I'll let you decide which side of the argument states the better case.
Instead of looking at a rematch of these teams in the BCS National Championship Game as the only possibility, what if the argument could be resolved with a simple adjustment of policy by the SEC?
Currently, the SEC decides its champion by matching the top team from the East against the top team from the West. Simple enough, right?
However, consider this: Is the SEC Championship Game matching up the two best teams using this format?
In at least nine of the SEC title games since 1992, the league has indeed showcased the two best teams in Atlanta. That means in 10 other title games, the two best teams in the conference did not square off. If the current trend this season holds, the two best teams in the SEC won’t meet in Atlanta once again.
Rather than matching up the best teams from each division, the conference should consider pairing the two teams with the best overall conference records against each other—regardless of division.
The purpose of the divisions would be primarily for scheduling purposes, and in years in which there is a clear winner in each division, those teams would meet in Atlanta.
Using this approach to decide the SEC champion, take a look at how the 10 title games in question would have looked if the conference had used this method.
Spoiler: If you are a Florida or Tennessee fan, you'll really like the next six slides.
Actual opponents: Florida (7-1) vs. Alabama (5-2-1)
Actual top teams: Florida (7-1) vs. Tennessee (6-1-1)
Summary: Auburn was 8-0 in conference play that year, but probation kept the Tigers out of the title game in Birmingham and off the television. Instead, Florida beat Alabama 28-13 during a driving rain in what would be the last year the title game would be played at Legion Field. The Gators then beat West Virginia 41-7 in the Sugar Bowl.
What could have been: The top teams that year were Florida and Tennessee. The Gators beat the Vols 41-34 in Week 3 of the regular season. A rematch in the title game no doubt would have proved exciting.
Actual opponents: Florida (8-0) vs. Arkansas (6-2)
Actual top teams: Florida (8-0) vs. Tennessee (7-1)
Summary: The Gators, led by future Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel, made quick work of the Razorbacks, going up 17-3 at the half and coasting to a 34-3 win. Florida would then go on to lose handily to Nebraska 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl.
What could have been: Florida had no problem with Tennessee in the regular season, winning 62-37 in Gainesville. A rematch at least would have provided incentive for sophomore QB Peyton Manning to even the score and possibly take the Gators’ place in Tempe.
Actual opponents: Florida (8-0) vs. Alabama (6-2)
Actual top teams: Florida (8-0) vs. Tennessee (7-1)
Summary: Florida’s Heisman-winning QB Danny Wuerffel led the Gators past the Crimson Tide 45-30 and was named MVP of the game. The Gators went on to beat Florida State in the Sugar Bowl 52-20, avenging a regular-season loss to the Seminoles and winning the national title.
What could have been: Vols QB Peyton Manning nearly led a second-half comeback against the Gators in the regular-season match, coming up short 35-29. The focus of this rematch no doubt would have been on Manning trying to get his first win over the Gators while simultaneously crushing Florida’s national championship hopes.
Actual opponents: Tennessee (7-1) vs. Auburn (6-2)
Actual top teams: Tennessee (7-1) vs. Florida (6-2), by virtue of beating Auburn in the regular season
Summary: Peyton Manning, MVP of the SEC Championship Game, led the Vols to a fourth-quarter comeback over Auburn, 30-29. Tennessee would go on to lose to eventual national champion Nebraska 42-17 in the Orange Bowl.
What could have been: The only blemish on the Tennessee schedule that year was a 33-20 loss to Florida in Gainesville. With Manning going winless in his college career against Florida, how might that have played into the psychology of the championship game and the rematch between these two teams?
Actual opponents: Tennessee (8-0) vs. Mississippi State (6-2)
Actual top teams: Tennessee (8-0) vs. Florida (7-1)
Summary: Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead the Vols past the Bulldogs 24-14. Tennessee won the inaugural BCS National Championship, beating Florida State 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl.
What could have been: The Vols broke a five-game losing streak to Florida with a 20-17 overtime win in the regular season. The difference in that game was four Florida turnovers. A shot at revenge in the SEC Championship Game might have been what the Gators needed after losing to rival Florida State in the final game of the regular season.
Actual opponents: Tennessee (7-1) vs. LSU (5-3)
Actual top teams: Tennessee (7-1) vs. Florida (6-2)
Summary: LSU, coached by Nick Saban, shocked the favored Tennessee Vols 31-20, ending No. 2 Tennessee’s chances of playing in the BCS National Championship Game against Miami.
What could have been: Florida had the inside track to the BCS title game. All the Gators had to do was beat Tennessee in the final game of the regular season and win the SEC Championship Game for a likely trip to the Rose Bowl. However, the Vols won 34-32 in Gainesville. The stakes for this rematch in the SEC title game would have been undeniable as both teams would have played for the right to go to Pasadena.
Actual opponents: Georgia (7-1) vs. Arkansas (5-3)
Actual top teams: Georgia (7-1) vs. Florida (6-2)
Summary: Because Alabama (6-2) was banned from postseason play, Arkansas played in Atlanta after winning a three-way tie for second place. The Hogs were overwhelmed by Georgia, which won 30-3 and went on to beat Florida State 26-13 in the Sugar Bowl.
What could have been: Despite losing four regular-season games, the Ron Zook-led Gators managed to beat Georgia 20-13 in “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in Jacksonville. No doubt a rematch against the Bulldogs in Atlanta and dreams of a Sugar Bowl berth would have spurred the Gators on against their division rival.
Actual opponents: LSU (7-1) vs. Georgia (6-2)
Actual top teams: LSU (7-1) vs. Ole Miss (7-1)
Summary: Leading 17-3 at the half, LSU cruised to a 34-13 win over Georgia. Coach Nick Saban and crew went on to win their first BCS title, beating controversial BCS opponent Oklahoma 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia went on to a 34-27 overtime win against Purdue in the Citrus Bowl.
What could have been: Ole Miss was undefeated going into its Magnolia Bowl match against LSU. By virtue of a 17-14 win, LSU went on to the title game in Atlanta. The Rebels beat Oklahoma State 31-28 in the Cotton Bowl that year, but you can bet QB Eli Manning would have relished not only another shot at the Tigers, but also a shot at the BCS national title.
Actual opponents: LSU (7-1) vs. Georgia (6-2)
Actual top teams: LSU (7-1) vs. Auburn (7-1)
Summary: In a rematch of the 2003 SEC Championship Game, Bulldogs QB D.J. Shockley threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as Georgia beat LSU and first-year coach Les Miles 34-14. Georgia lost 38-35 against West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl, while LSU got a 40-3 win over Miami in the Peach Bowl.
What could have been: After a 20-17 overtime loss to LSU in Baton Rouge—in a game that saw Auburn miss five field goals—the Tigers no doubt would have looked forward to a rematch against the Bayou Bengals. With Auburn beating rival Georgia 31-30 in the regular season, and considering how Georgia manhandled LSU, one can only wonder if a rematch would have sparked an Auburn win. (Notice how eerily similar this is to the current season.)
Actual opponents: Auburn (8-0) vs. South Carolina (5-3)
Actual top teams: Auburn (8-0) vs. Arkansas (6-2), which beat LSU (6-2) head-to-head and won the tie-breaker.
Summary: Auburn and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton had no trouble beating South Carolina, cruising to a 56-17 win. The Gamecocks had played Auburn to a close 35-27 loss earlier in the regular season. Auburn went on to win the BCS National Championship over Oregon, while South Carolina lost to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
What could have been: When Auburn and Arkansas met in the regular season, the two teams combined for 1,036 yards of offense and 108 points, with the Tigers coming out on top in a wild 65-43 game. The regular-season game had been close until Razorbacks starting QB Ryan Mallett left with a concussion in the second quarter. Razorbacks fans likely recall a series of controversial calls by officials in that game, prompting Arkansas officials to speak out against the officiating crew.
With a healthy Mallett for this rematch in the SEC title game, another high-scoring game likely would have ensued.
Current leaders: LSU (6-0), Alabama (6-1), Arkansas (5-1) and Georgia (6-1)
Georgia and Arkansas fans, close your eyes.
With two weeks to go in the regular season, it remains to be seen who will face off in Atlanta, but if the favored teams win their remaining games, it’s likely the top teams in the SEC will be LSU and Alabama—which would get the nod over Georgia by virtue of a higher BCS ranking and would be one game ahead of Arkansas in the division standings.
If a rematch between the Tide and Tigers were to occur, this should be the venue.
What do you think: Should the SEC Championship Game feature the two best teams in the conference, or is the current divisional system working just fine?