Maybe we’ll look back on Nov. 10, 2012, as the day the SEC dynasty died.
Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M on Saturday caused a seismic shift in the national championship race. The Tide dropped to No. 4 in the latest BCS standings, behind Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame, all of whom maintained their perfect records in Week 11. Although the SEC’s dominance still shows in the standings as spots four through nine are occupied by its members, the sport’s preeminent conference doesn’t have a team in the top three for the first time since the initial standings in 2010, when eventual national champion Auburn came in at No. 4.
But don’t sign the SEC’s death warrant just yet. Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame all face challenges in the coming weeks. All it takes is losses by two of the three to vault No. 4 Alabama or No. 5 Georgia back into the title game. If a 1-loss team makes it to Miami on Jan. 7, it’ll undoubtedly come from the SEC.
The polls are split on Alabama and Georgia, as the coaches have Georgia at No. 4 and the Harris voters have the Alabama at No. 4. The teams’ computer numbers are close in five of the six rating systems. Georgia is heading to the SEC championship Dec. 1, and, barring an Auburn win against Alabama, the Tide will meet the Bulldogs.
The SEC isn’t dead yet, but it needs help.
In a delicious twist of irony, the SEC’s No. 1 assassin has become USC coach Lane Kiffin. His 18th-ranked Trojans still play Notre Dame on Nov. 24. And if USC wins this week against No. 17 UCLA, it could be heading to Oregon to face a potentially unbeaten Ducks team. Mike Slive had a Principal Rooney-Ferris Bueller-type relationship with Kiffin when Kiffin coached in the SEC. Now Slive would ride Traveler through the streets of L.A. if USC takes two teams out of the national title race.
And it’s highly possible. If a team as talented as Alabama can look mortal in back-to-back games, other heavyweights can fall.
Oregon undoubtedly has the toughest road. The Ducks next host No. 13 Stanford, which overcame four turnovers Saturday to beat Oregon State for its fourth consecutive win. Oregon ruined the Cardinal’s perfect season in convincing fashion last year at Stanford Stadium. David Shaw’s team can do the same to the Ducks this week. If Oregon gets past Stanford, it must visit No. 16 Oregon State, another team that would love nothing more than to ruin perfection for its archrival. And there’s also the Pac-12 title game against the aforementioned Trojans or a UCLA team with the nation’s No. 13 offense.
Kansas State’s path isn’t smooth, either. Collin Klein and the Wildcats this week visit a Baylor team that ranks second nationally in both pass offense and total offense, and seventh in scoring. Although Klein should make easy work of the woeful Bears defense, a high-scoring opponent playing on its home field is always dangerous. Kansas State then finishes up against No. 15 Texas, which has won four straight since the Red River debacle and seems to have settled down on defense. The Wildcats will be at home, but how many times have we seen teams fumble away a spot in the title game before their faithful?
Notre Dame likely won’t catch Oregon or Kansas State if both teams win out, so the Irish need some help. They also must handle their business on Senior Day against Wake Forest before the USC showdown. Notre Dame won its last game at the L.A. Coliseum but dropped six of the previous seven there against USC.
Alabama’s loss shifts the spotlight away from the SEC and to the new Big Three. But the nation’s top conference is lurking, waiting and watching for an opportunity to rise once again.