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Sunday, December 4, 2011
LSU safe from Sunday's BCS drama

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- By the time the confetti fell from the roof of the Georgia Dome on Saturday night, No. 1 LSU left little doubt it's deserving of playing for the BCS title.

On a day when the country's other previously undefeated FBS team (No. 6 Houston) lost to an opponent (No. 24 Southern Miss) that fell to lowly UAB just more than two weeks ago, the Tigers again showed they're college football's best team. LSU never panicked while taking Georgia's best shot in a 42-10 victory in the SEC championship game.

Barkevious Mingo
Aaron Murray became the latest victim of LSU's ferocious defense.

The Tigers' performance left just one question: Is an LSU-Alabama rematch in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game a foregone conclusion?

We won't find out until the final BCS standings are released Sunday night, but No. 3 Oklahoma State certainly made its case for No. 2 on Saturday night.

The Cowboys, who were coming off a deflating 37-31 loss in double overtime at Iowa State on Nov. 18, steamrolled No. 10 Oklahoma 44-10. The Pokes ended an eight-game losing streak to the Sooners and won their first outright conference championship since 1948.

They also got some help from No. 20 Clemson, which routed No. 5 Virginia Tech 38-10 in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C. The Hokies went into the final weekend of the regular season ranked No. 3 in the USA Today coaches' top 25 poll, two spots ahead of the Cowboys.

The Hokies' loss is Oklahoma State's gain. The Cowboys figure to pick up votes in the coaches' poll and Harris poll, which make up two-thirds of the BCS formula. The other one-third is determined by a team's average in six computer polls. OSU was No. 2 in two computer polls and No. 3 in the four others.

Alabama, which didn't play on Saturday after finishing 11-1 in the regular season, is No. 2 in four computer ratings and No. 3 in two others.

Houston was Saturday's biggest loser. Southern Miss somehow stunned the Cougars 49-28 in the Conference USA championship game. The Golden Eagles' victory cost the Cougars a chance to play in a BCS bowl game and cost their conference millions in lost BCS revenue.

LSU looked as though it might be in similar trouble. After going three-and-out on its first seven possessions, LSU trailed only 10-7 at the half thanks to cornerback Tyrann Mathieu's dynamic 62-yard punt return for a touchdown.

"When we went back to the locker room [at halftime], there was no question the resolve was there," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We couldn't wait to get back on the field."

It took LSU less than three minutes in the second half to finally grab the lead. Defensive end Barkevious Mingo stripped Aaron Murray of the ball, which Mathieu recovered to set up tailback Kenny Hilliard's 15-yard touchdown run. The Tigers tacked on two more touchdowns and took a 28-10 lead into the fourth quarter.

"This team is down 14 [in last week's 41-17 victory over Arkansas] and the target's on," Miles said. "Down 10 to a very quality Georgia team and comes back and rebounds. Never are they out of it. They're a team that there's never any question that they were going to get their feet, get their bearings and compete."

Now the only question is which team the Tigers will face in their next game. Miles said he wouldn't have a problem playing Alabama for the national championship, even after the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide on the road during the regular season.

If LSU and Alabama play in the BCS Championship Game, the SEC would be assured of its schools winning six consecutive national titles.

Brandon Weeden
Brandon Weeden helped make a strong case for Oklahoma State's inclusion in the title game.

"I certainly understand if college football decides there should be two SEC teams playing for the national championship," Miles said. "It's a very special conference, very quality teams. I can tell you that they're a great team. We'll look forward to competing well against them."

The rest of the BCS matchups look like this after Saturday's action:

• Oklahoma State would play in the Jan. 2 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl after winning the Big 12. The Fiesta Bowl is expected to invite No. 4 Stanford as OSU's opponent with a BCS at-large berth. The game would feature two of the country's best quarterbacks -- OSU's Brandon Weeden and Stanford's Andrew Luck.

• Clemson, which had lost three of four games before routing the Hokies, would play in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl, most likely against Big East champion West Virginia. It would be Clemson's first trip to the Orange Bowl since 1981, when the Tigers defeated Nebraska 22-15 to win a national championship.

The Mountaineers are expected to win a three-way tiebreaker over Cincinnati and Louisville for first place in the Big East standings. The teams finished in a three-way tie after the Bearcats defeated Connecticut 35-27 on Saturday. It would be the Mountaineers' third BCS bowl game in seven seasons.

•  In the most exciting game Saturday, No. 15 Wisconsin outlasted No. 13 Michigan State 42-39 in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. The Badgers would make their second consecutive trip to the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio after losing to then-No. 3 TCU 21-19 in last season's Rose Bowl. Wisconsin would play Pac-12 champion Oregon, which defeated UCLA 49-31 in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game Friday night.

The Badgers avenged a 37-31 loss at Michigan State on Oct. 22, in which the Spartans scored the winning touchdown on quarterback Kirk Cousins' 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Keith Nichol on the final play of the game.

•  With Houston losing, No. 18 TCU would receive an automatic BCS bowl berth if the Horned Frogs finish in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and ahead of West Virginia. The Horned Frogs probably would end up in the Jan. 3 Allstate Sugar Bowl, and their opponent probably would be No. 16 Michigan -- if the Wolverines climb at least two spots in the BCS standings. Michigan can be considered for a BCS at-large spot only if it finishes in the top 14.

If TCU doesn't finish in the top 16 or Michigan doesn't finish in the top 14, No. 11 Kansas State might be considered for a spot in the Sugar Bowl. The Wildcats defeated Iowa State 30-23 on Saturday.

Much like the 14 weeks in college football's regular season, there will be plenty of drama Sunday night -- but the Tigers are safe at the top.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.