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September 17, 2012

HURT: It looks like Tide, Tigers the two best teams, again

Things were going to be so simple.

Even though we don't have a four-team college football playoff for a couple of years, the 2012 season seemed perfectly aligned for a cut-and-dried Final Four with the national semifinals set for Nov. 3 - Alabama at LSU, Oregon at USC. Everyone else would be on the outside looking in.

College football simplicity in September is like an orchid in Antarctica. It may look lovely but it won't last long. Stanford beats Southern Cal (again) and the entire apple cart is upset.

Chaos may not rule once more, but it is having the crown and scepter polished. Suddenly, the Florida State-Clemson winner or the victor in the Oklahoma-Texas game or (gasp!) Notre Dame may see an opportunity to get into the mix.

That actually may be good for college football. Chaos has its charms. And there is also a possible outcome that most of America fears far more than any chaos.

It is still September. It is too early for definitive statements. But there is growing empirical evidence, in twin wakes filled with mangled opponents and wrecked programs, that the two best teams - again - are Alabama and LSU. Worse, the BCS system designed to find the two best teams may once again work correctly (as it did in 2011) and come up with that answer at the end of the year, regardless of what happens on Nov. 3.

There is no one in any region outside of the footprint - make that the hobnail-bootprint - that wants a second straight rematch. The warning sirens are already being sounded, with arguments ranging from Alabama's strength of schedule (with no Georgia, Florida or South Carolina except for a possible SEC Championship) to "well, darn it, it just isn't fair."

The only argument that doesn't hold water is that it isn't possible. Alabama and LSU really could be the two best teams and might proceed on twin paths of dominance until November. That hasn't happened yet. As Nick Saban likes to ask, how do we know? And the answer is that we don't. But that doesn't disprove the theory either.

There is another currently-popular line of argument. Since the SEC has an overtime loss (and a narrow escape) against Louisiana-Monroe, and another to Western Kentucky, there is a chorus of claims that the SEC "isn't that good." Well, guess what? Once you get past a certain level, it isn't.

Right now, the SEC has five teams that look very strong - Georgia, South Carolina and Florida in addition to the aforementioned power couple at the top. Maybe Mississippi State, which cracked the AP Top 25 this week, should be mentioned.

After that, it ranges from pretty good to mediocre to downright awful - which is the case with any 12- or 14-team league. Are the PAC-12 losses to Utah State and Fresno State any better? Is the Big 12 loss to Rice? Does that loss really reflect on Oklahoma and West Virginia?

Again, it is far too early for anyone to say what should happen in the BCS Championship Game in January. But it is also too early to say what shouldn't happen.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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