By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press
A BCS championship game without a Southeastern Conference team?
It could happen, and LSU could be the cause.
The fifth-ranked Tigers host No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, another huge game in a rivalry that has become the biggest event in college football.
"It's obvious when you walk into the room that certainly we're playing a different team," LSU coach Les Miles said this week. "It's a little fuller, and there's a little more attention to detail. That's the way it's supposed to be.
The SEC has won the last six BCS championships, and the Crimson Tide has been rolling toward a third BCS title game in four seasons.
Last season, losing 9-6 in overtime to LSU at home didn't keep Alabama out of the championship game, which it won 21-0 in an all-SEC rematch with the Tigers.
But last year, Alabama got a break when LSU was the only unbeaten team in major college football. Matched against other one-loss teams, specifically Oklahoma State, the Tide got the nod.
Right now, a second chance doesn't seem likely. There are three undefeated teams right behind the Tide in the BCS standings.
Alabama is the only remaining unbeaten team in the SEC. A loss to LSU — or any loss for that matter, though this is the biggest hurdle — would likely drop the Tide behind the other highly ranked unbeaten teams. That is assuming Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame all stay unbeaten.
Even more potentially problematic for Alabama, a loss to LSU puts the Tide behind the Tigers in the SEC West race. With a victory, LSU would become the SEC team best positioned to play in the national title game. Georgia and Florida would also be in the mix if either could win the SEC championship with only one overall loss.
But with one loss, the SEC champion is going to need help in the form of losses by at least two of the other big three.
This might seem like heresy to SEC fans, but in some ways it would be fitting. Only the SEC can keep the SEC from winning a national title. It's this scenario that made SEC Commissioner Mike Slive push for a playoff.
As for the other three unbeatens, this weekend is a mixed bag.
No. 2 Oregon (fourth in the BCS standings), plays at No. 18 Southern California. Even with the Trojans (6-2) not living up to their advanced billing, this will be the Ducks' toughest challenge yet.
No. 3 Kansas State (second in the BCS) is home to face Oklahoma State (6-2). Using two freshmen quarterbacks hasn't stopped the Cowboys from being one of the best offenses in the country. They lead the nation in yards per game at 586, and figure to be a good test for a tough Wildcats defense.
No. 4 Notre Dame (third in the BCS) has what looks to be the easiest game, with Pittsburgh (4-4) coming to South Bend, Ind. But the Fighting Irish have played close games all season, and the Panthers seem to be making progress under first-year coach Paul Chryst.
No. 1 Alabama (minus 9½) at No. 5 LSU
One question: Can Tigers score? ... ALABAMA 21-7
No. 2 Oregon (minus 7½) at No. 18 Southern California
Trojans can salvage their season, maybe Matt Barkley's Heisman run ... OREGON 45-31.
Oklahoma State (plus 9½) at No. 3 Kansas State
Cowboys won 52-45 last year. Could be another wild one ... KANSAS STATE 52-38.
Pittsburgh (plus 16½) at No. 4 Notre Dame
Last four meetings (2-2) decided by average of four points ... NOTRE DAME 28-13.
Illinois (plus 27½) at No. 6 Ohio State
Another good day for Braxton Miller's Heisman campaign ... OHIO STATE 45-10.
Mississippi (plus 14) at No. 7 Georgia
Bulldogs have won nine straight meetings ... GEORGIA 41-24.
Missouri (plus 16½) at No. 8 Florida
Tigers and Gators have met only once before, in 1965 Sugar Bowl ... FLORIDA 28-10.
No. 10 Clemson (minus 13) at Duke
Blue Devils have lost three straight to Tigers, none close ... CLEMSON 45-24.
Temple (plus 15) at No. 12 Louisville
Cardinals rarely do things the easy way ... LOUISVILLE 31-21.
Arizona State (plus 4½) at No. 13 Oregon State
Beavers switch back to Cody Vaz at QB after first loss ... OREGON STATE 28-21.
No. 14 Oklahoma (minus 11) at Iowa State
Sooners have won 20 straight in Ames ... OKLAHOMA 28-20.
No. 15 Stanford (minus 28) at Colorado
Hapless Buffs working through brutal portion of schedule ... STANFORD 48-10.
No. 16 Texas A&M (minus 6½) at No. 17 Mississippi State
First meeting since 2000 "Snow Bowl" in Shreveport, La. ... TEXAS A&M 34-31.
San Diego State (plus 14) at No. 19 Boise State
New Mountain West rivals will head to Big East next year ... SAN DIEGO STATE 24-21.
Texas (plus 7½) at No. 20 Texas Tech
Lubbock can be a tough place to turn around a season for Longhorns ... TEXAS TECH 42-38.
No. 21 Nebraska (minus 1½) at Michigan State
Spartans victory muddles makes Big Ten race ... NEBRASKA 21-17.
USTA (plus 32) at No. 22 Louisiana Tech
Can Bulldogs reach 80? How about 90? ... LOUISIANA TECH 72-24.
TCU (plus 6½) at No. 23 West Virginia
Geno Smith and Mountaineers try to get their mojo back ... WEST VIRGINIA 48-38.
No. 24 Arizona (plus 3½) at No. 25 UCLA
Wildcats are Pac-12 version of West Virginia: All offense, not much D ... UCLA 38-31.
Last week's record: 12-7 (straight); 6-13 (vs. points)
Season record: 146-33 (straight); 83-78 (vs. points)
Best bets: 3-6.
Upset specials: 5-4.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdurssoAP
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