LITTLE ROCK — Identified months in advance, the dates for CBS’ college football doubleheaders are ripe for second-guessing because of surprises in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.
Limited to one game this week and next, the network that has first choice of SEC contests could be stuck with some so-so choices when it comes time to fill in the blanks for Nov. 3 and Nov. 10.
Half of the 14 teams in the SEC are either unbeaten or have one conference loss and that sets up big games on Saturday and on Oct. 27. This week, it’s South Carolina (4-1 SEC) at Florida (5-0) and LSU (2-1) at Texas A&M (2-1). The following week, it’s Mississippi State (3-0) at Alabama (3-0) and Georgia (3-1) vs. Florida. Either set of games would have made an attractive doubleheader.
Alabama at LSU will be at night on Nov. 3, but the only other viable alternative at this point is Texas A&M at Mississippi State and the Aggies could be out of the Western Division race by then.
Until the Razorbacks’ 3-4 start, Arkansas at South Carolina was a third option on Nov. 10. Now, the menu is limited to Texas A&M at Alabama and Mississippi State at LSU. The other choices are Georgia at Auburn (0-4), Vanderbilt (1-3) at Ole Miss (1-2), and Missouri (0-4) at Tennessee (0-3).
Merging last weekend’s results with the BCS standings, it will be difficult to deny the SEC a spot in the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami.
At this point, No. 1 is Alabama, No. 2 is Florida, No. 6 is LSU, and No. 7 is South Carolina. Any of those four that wins the SEC title in Atlanta and finishes 12-1 or 13-0 will play for the national championship.
Waiting in the wings, the SEC has Georgia, Mississippi State, and A&M.
If South Carolina rebounds from the LSU loss and wins at Florida on Saturday, the Gamecocks will be on the cusp of punching their ticket to Atlanta. If Florida wins, the Florida-Georgia winner has the inside track to represent the Eastern Division.
The guess here is that Alabama or LSU or both will have enough defense to slow A&M and that Mississippi State’s early easy schedule will catch up with the Bulldogs. In that case, the winner in Baton Rouge on Nov. 3 will be in line to represent the division.
Considering the proclaimed strength of the SEC, other one-loss teams around the country are already in a bind.
About the only way a once-beaten SEC champion is absent from Miami is if two of the three unbeatens in the BCS top 10 complete unblemished seasons, and that is highly unlikely.
No. 2 Oregon has a string of Pac-10 games, including USC, Stanford, and Oregon State, and probably a second game with USC in the conference championship game.
Kansas State could lose two or three with West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas ahead.
If Notre Dame beats both Oklahoma and USC, the Fighting Irish deserve to play for the BCS title.
These scenarios ignore the possibility of a November as wild as the one in 2011 when Oklahoma State, Stanford, and Boise State were in position to play LSU for the title.
On one weekend, Oregon beat Stanford and Boise lost to TCU. The next Friday night, Iowa State defeated OSU in overtime. Then, USC held off Oregon. Oklahoma could have been the beneficiary, but lost to Baylor as Robert Griffin III wrapped up the Heisman Trophy.
Most likely, the game in Miami will match the SEC representative and a one-loss team — maybe Oklahoma — and all will agree that they can’t wait for the four-team playoff that begins after the 2014 season.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.