Lost amid the hoopla surrounding the LSU-Alabama matchup Saturday night was another Top-Ten tilt involving a pair of SEC teams.
Thanks to No. 7 Arkansas’ win over No. 9 South Carolina, the Razorbacks have slipped into a virtual second-place tie with Alabama in the SEC West — the Tide at 5-1, the Hogs at 4-1. It’s long been assumed, though, that the representative from the West in the SEC championship game would come from either LSU or Alabama. Although that might ultimately be the case, it’s not a foregone conclusion.
If Arkansas were to win out against Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU… if Alabama wins their two remaining conference games versus Mississippi State and Auburn… if LSU loses to the Razorbacks but wins their other remaining conference game against Ole Miss, those three would be tied for first place and we would head to the SEC’s system for breaking three-way ties. Here’s the step-by-step process the SEC would go about deciding the West’s representative in the title game.
1. (Once the tie has been reduced to two teams, go to the two-team tie-breaker format.)
As you will see, this will take awhile.
2. Combined head-to-head record among the tied teams.
Based on the scenario laid out above, each team would be 1-1 against the others. Thus, we move on to No. 3
3. Record of the tied teams within the division.
Based on the scenario laid out above, each team would be 4-1 against West opponents. Again, we move on to the next step of the tiebreaking process.
4. 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.
Based on the scenario laid out above, each team would be undefeated against Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. So, let’s skip to No. 5.
5. Overall record vs. non-division teams.
Only Arkansas has a game against an East team left, so, again, based on the scenario laid out above, each team would be 3-0 against the other division. You know the drill at this point…
6. Combined record vs. all common non-divisional teams.
Again, provided the Razorbacks beat the Vols next weekend, all three would be unbeaten against the lone common East opponent this year — Tennessee. And again, we proceed to the next step in the process.
7. 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.
See any of the other steps that involve non-division records; all three would be unbeaten versus East teams. So, we are down to the last step in the process, which involves everybody’s favorite system for determining a national champion.
8. 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.
This is where it gets tricky for the Razorbacks.
Based on my interpretation of the eighth tiebreaker, which was subsequently verified by an SEC official, Arkansas would need to beat LSU and have both themselves and LSU — in any order as long as the Hogs are within five spots if behind the Tigers– finish higher than Alabama in the final regular season BcS rankings in order to become the West’s rep in the conference title game. Arkansas’ loss to Alabama earlier this year necessitates both the Razorbacks and LSU finishing ahead of the Tide in that last set of BcS rankings before the start of the conference championship game.
Of course, this is all predicated on Arkansas going into Death Valley the final week of the season and beating LSU after winning their next two conference games. If not? This is all a moot exercise as LSU would skate to Atlanta in early December.
Provided the current No. 1 team in the country goes unscathed the rest of the way, of course.