On Monday night, Alabama and LSU will finally play the highly anticipated national title game that has been analyzed from so many different angles it's ridiculous.
Because both teams seem so evenly matched, and it's a rematch of a regular-season game, it's pretty much a tossup as to which team will emerge from New Orleans victorious.
If LSU wins, they will have run the table this season, beating seven ranked opponents in the process if you only count Alabama once. In that scenario, it's case closed. Congratulations Tigers, you earned it.
But if Alabama wins, the top three teams in the final regular-season rankings will all have one loss. Two of those teams will have played one another twice. The other didn’t get the chance to play either of the aforementioned two.
Of course, the “other” in this scenario is Oklahoma State—the team that finished off their season with a win in Phoenix over fourth-ranked Stanford. Not only will the Cowboys have finished the regular season with only one loss, as the two national title contenders may very well end up doing, but will by statistical measures have the best offense in the nation.
So if Alabama wins, what's the possibility of Oklahoma State sharing a split national title with the Crimson Tide?
First, we’d have to go back to 2003—the last time college football had a split national champion.
That year, the USC Trojans finished 12-1 with a win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Although the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in both the final AP and coaches' polls before bowl games were announced, they were denied a spot in the national title in favor of No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Oklahoma.
The Trojans finished the 2003 season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll while LSU, the eventual BCS National Championship Game winners, were ranked No. 1 in the coaches' poll.
Unlike USC, Oklahoma State never sat at the top of either poll. In addition, their only loss came against an Iowa State team that finished the season 6-7. The Iowa State loss was largely regarded as the reason why Oklahoma State did not deserve a shot at the national title.
Sure, as Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy predicted after his team slaughtered Oklahoma in its final regular-season game, most people would rather see a 39-36 national title game than a 9-6 one. However, most voters aren’t ready to concede that a game in which that would be likely to happen would feature the two best teams in the nation.
The decision was already made. Regardless of what could occur were the games actually played, LSU and Alabama have been determined to be the two best teams in the nation.
In fact, it might actually be more conceivable that LSU rather than Oklahoma State could share the national title were the Tigers to lose on Monday night.
These are the kinds of conversations we are forced to have. These are the kinds of questions that we have to ask, and then, when we come to a conclusion or an answer, we realize that they're rather stupid. It’s like a vicious circle that we can’t escape because of the system that's in place.
Admirably, the Oklahoma State faithful are not crying foul or protesting at this point. I’m not sure that it is acceptance that they aren’t worthy of the recognition, though. Rather, it may be that they're aware that second place is remembered almost as fondly as first in college football, thanks to the controversy that the system causes on an annual basis.
So, does Oklahoma State deserve a piece of the national title pie?
Maybe. Like almost everything else of importance in college football’s FBS division, that's a matter of opinion.
In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter. Oklahoma State won their final game. They stated their case. Mike Gundy came away with a Gatorade bath. Justin Blackmon got a postgame kiss.
It’s almost as if they experienced everything that the eventual national title winners will experience. Only the football Coach Gundy held up was gold, not crystallized.