Welcome to college football’s twisted version of the Final Four.
Iowa’s upset of Penn State brought clarity to the BCS picture, setting up the rough equivalent of a four-team playoff.
There is a fairly good chance that the winners of the SEC title game (No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida on Dec. 6) and upcoming Big 12 South showdown (No. 2 Texas Tech at No. 5 Oklahoma on Nov. 22) will meet in Miami on Jan. 8 for college football’s crown.
Four teams control their own destiny. Conveniently, they play each other.
Alabama (10-0) plays host to relative pushovers Mississippi State (3-6) and Auburn (5-5) before heading to Atlanta to face the Gators. Florida (8-1) entertains South Carolina (7-3) and The Citadel before completing its regular season at Florida State.
There are similar contingencies on the other side of the “playoff bracket.” Texas Tech (10-0) faces Baylor and potentially Missouri (8-2) in the Big 12 championship game should the Red Raiders handle Oklahoma in Norman. The Sooners (9-1) face the most daunting task of all. They would have to drop Texas Tech, win at Oklahoma State (8-2) and dispatch Missouri in Kansas City to reach Miami.
What about Texas (9-1) and Southern Cal (8-1)? Both need help, especially the Trojans.
Sure, the Longhorns beat the Sooners 45-35 earlier this season and the teams have the same record. But unlike Oklahoma, which finishes with games against elite opponents, Texas closes at Kansas and in Austin against pedestrian Texas A&M.
If Oklahoma beats Texas Tech and the Big 12 South ends up in a three-way tie featuring the Sooners, Longhorns and Red Raiders, the BCS standings will decide the division’s representative in Kansas City. Under that scenario, Oklahoma would trump the Longhorns by virtue of season-closing victories against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Barring a loss to Big 12 fodder Baylor, Texas Tech wins the Big 12 South under every other scenario.
So the Longhorns aren’t winning the Big 12, but they could sneak into a BCS title slot if the Sooners or Red Raiders lose to Missouri in the title game. Or if either Florida or Alabama were to stumble against their also-ran slate and then win the SEC championship. Assuming they can’t sneak past Texas in the BCS standings on style points, the Trojans need a loss from each of the “Final Four” teams.
Back in August, Oklahoma and Florida seemed destined to meet in the title game - and there’s no reason to believe that won’t happen. Since losing to Texas 45-35 on Oct. 11, the Sooners are 4-0 behind an offense averaging 57.8 points and 590.8 yards of total offense. In those four games, sophomore Sam Bradford has passed for 1,354 yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception.
The Gators have been equally impressive since dropping a 31-30 stunner to Ole Miss on Sept. 27. In five games since, Florida has beaten Arkansas, LSU, Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt by an average of 37.2 points.
Prepare for a track meet in Miami featuring last year’s Heisman Trophy winner (Florida’s Tim Tebow) against this season’s bronze boy (Bradford).
Game balls and gassers - Three individuals merit mention for outstanding performances: Alabama safety Rashad Johnson, Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans.
Johnson snagged three interceptions in Alabama’s 27-21 overtime victory at LSU. The senior returned one of his picks 54 yards to tie the score at 14-14 just before halftime and then snuffed the Tigers’ overtime possession.
The clear Heisman front-runner heading into his clash with Bradford, Harrell was scintillating in the Red Raiders’ 56-20 rout of Oklahoma State, completing 40 of 50 passes for 456 yards and six touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman Evans powered the Hokies past Maryland 23-13 on Thursday night, rushing for a school-record 253 yards on 32 carries.
Sprints go to LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee and the entire Tennessee roster. A sophomore who has thrown six interceptions returned for a touchdown this season, Lee finished 13-for-34 with four interceptions - yes, one went the distance - in LSU’s overtime loss in the Saban Bowl.
After whining all week about the injustice of the ouster of longtime coach Phil Fulmer, the Volunteers paid homage to their beloved leader by losing 13-7 to Wyoming, a team ranked last in scoring in the Football Bowl Subdivision.