Friday, October 15, 2004

Longshot

My buddy Dave emailed me yesterday with what seemed to me to be a really stupid question:

"Hey, do you think LSU still has a shot to play in the SEC Championship?"

My reply - Um, no.

[editor's note: Football analysis follows. Ladies, please feel free to leave the room at this point.]

We lost to West rival Auburn, who happens to be undefeated and through the harder part (LSU and Tennessee) of their schedule. And LSU has lost two SEC games, meaning Auburn would have to lose three of their remaining five SEC games for LSU to take the West.

Or maybe not.

As Dave pointed out in a follow-up email, LSU's hope for a non-Peach Bowl Atlanta appearance rests with those nice rednecks up in Arkansas. If (and that's a big if) Auburn loses to Georgia, Arkansas wins out (except for the LSU game but including beating Auburn tomorrow) and LSU wins out, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU will all have two SEC losses, throwing the division into a three-way tiebreaker.

And then you go to the SEC three-team tiebreaker rules. When three or more teams are tied, the first step is to try to eliminate all but two of the teams with this formula:

1. Combined head-to-head record among the tied teams - In the above scenario, Arkansas would be 1-1, Auburn would be 1-1 and LSU would be 1-1. Next ...

2. Record of the tied teams within the division - Arkansas' division record would be 4-1, Auburn's would be 4-1 and LSU would be 4-1. Next ...

3. Head-to-head competition vs. the team within the division with the best overall (divisional and non-divisional) Conference record and proceeding through the division. Multiple ties within the division will be broken from first to last - (damn, starting to get tricky). OK, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU would all have the same conference record (6-2), so I guess it would go to who played better against Alabama or Ole Miss. But in my scenario, all three teams would have beaten Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Next ...

4. Overall record vs. non-division teams - Arkansas would be 2-1, Auburn would be 2-1, LSU would be 2-1. Next ...

5. Combined record vs. all common non-divisional teams - The only common East opponent for all three teams is Georgia. Arkansas would be 1-0, Auburn 0-1, LSU 0-1. Can't eliminate anybody there. Next ...

6. Record vs. common non-divisional team with the best overall Conference (divisional and non-divisional) record and proceeding through other common non-divisional teams based on their order of finish within their division - Same deal as above. Just one common team. Next ...

7. The tied team with the highest ranking in the Bowl Championship Series Standings following the last weekend of regular-season games shall be the divisional representative in the SEC Championship Game, unless the second of the tied teams is ranked within five-or-fewer places of the highest ranked tied team. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the SEC Championship Game - OK, now we're getting to the skinny. Basically, in this three-way tie, it'll come down to BCS rankings, which in the post "USC got screwed, man!" era, that means the AP and Coachs' polls. Right now, Auburn is No. 4, LSU is No. 20/21. Arkansas is unranked. Following the "logic" that drives human polls, LSU and Arkansas would be rising in the polls as they continue to win, and Auburn would fall as they lose the two games they need to lose to make all of this work. If No. 4 Auburn loses to unranked Arkansas tomorrow, there would be a pretty healthy fall, say to No. 10 or 11. Then Auburn's other loss would be Nov. 13, which would give LSU time to creep up past the Arizona States and Boise States of the world and likely pass Auburn. And LSU would finish the season by beating Arkansas, which would be ranked pretty well by then. The key would be the "five-or-fewer places" clause. If LSU is ranked above Auburn, but not by six places, Auburn will come to Atlanta because of the head-to-head. LSU should gain about five spots just from teams ahead of them losing, so going in to Nov. 13, LSU would be about 15 and Auburn would be about 11. A loss to a 6-3 Georgia would drop Auburn behind LSU, and a win over an 8-2 Arkansas on the final weekend should boost LSU a spot or two. So in the final analysis, LSU would probably need to rise to around No. 10 in order to win this last tie-break and get to the championship game.

Of course, none of this will matter when Auburn smacks up Arkansas tomorrow ...