In what may be viewed as the final scene-setter before their Southeastern Conference Western Division showdown, the BCS standings, as expected, retained LSU and Alabama as the top two teams in college football’s most important rankings.
LSU (8-0, 5-0 SEC) and Alabama (8-0, 5-0) both enjoyed off weeks as they prepare to play at 7 p.m. Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The game will be televised by CBS, which last week moved the game from an afternoon kickoff to a prime-time slot.
The winner, as ESPN’s Rece Davis said Sunday night as the latest BCS standings were unveiled, “will have a clear path to the 2012 All-State BCS national championship game” on Jan. 9 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
LSU sits atop The Associated Press, the USA Today and the Harris Interactive polls. Alabama trails the Tigers in all three. The AP poll, however, is not a component of the BCS standings.
The BCS standings use the Harris poll, the coaches’ poll and computer ratings to determine which teams play for the national championship.
In those BCS standings, LSU leads at .9734, with Alabama second at .9591. Oklahoma State is third at .9310, while Stanford is fourth at .8615.
Stanford (8-0) moved up two places to fourth after beating Southern California 56-48 in triple overtime Saturday night. It was the Cardinal’s first win of the season against a ranked team.
Boise State (7-0) slipped a spot to fifth, while Clemson (7-1) fell from fifth to 11th after its first loss.
Oklahoma State, if it wins out, seems to be in position to reach the title game. The computer ratings have the Cowboys, who host Kansas State on Saturday and Oklahoma on Dec. 3, No. 1.
LSU and Alabama are tied for the second-best computer rating.
Oklahoma State is No. 3 in the Harris poll and No. 4 in the coaches’ poll, and Stanford is No. 4 and No. 3. But the difference between the Cowboys (.9310 BCS average) and the Cardinal (.8615) is the computer ratings.
While there are plenty of teams jockeying behind LSU and Alabama, the showdown Saturday will establish the winner as the favorite to reach the BCS title game.
“Of all the one versus twos I’ve seen, this one is the most anticipated, at least in my lifetime,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said. “I cannot wait to see these two teams get together.”
The loser of the showdown could face a tricky climb to get back into the top two of the BCS standings.
Of the loser, Brad Edwards, ESPN’s BCS analyst, said, “I think that team will still fall behind the major undefeateds, regardless of what voters think as far as what teams are the two best teams in college football … and then would have to work its way up.”
After Saturday, LSU has two SEC games remaining: Nov. 19 at Ole Miss and Nov. 25 against No. 8 Arkansas.
Alabama, meanwhile, will have SEC games left Nov. 12 at Mississippi State and Nov. 26 at No. 25 Auburn, the defending national champion.
Of LSU, Herbstreit said, “That team has the ‘it’ factor. They’ve had adversity. They’ve played on the road. … They bring swagger and they bring confidence when they show up Saturday in Tuscaloosa.”
Stanford is sixth in the computers because of a weak early season schedule. The Cardinal should be getting a boost from here on out.
After a road game Saturday against Pac-12 rival Oregon State, the Cardinal play Oregon, eighth in the BCS standings, at home. They finish with California and Notre Dame at home and could play in the Pac-12 championship, too — probably against Arizona State.
It might not be enough to catch Oklahoma State. The Cowboys face Big 12 rival Kansas State, 14th in the BCS standings, on Saturday, have road games against Texas Tech and Iowa State, and finish with a home game against Oklahoma.
The Big 12 no longer has a championship game.
For Boise State, the formula is the same as it has always been. The Broncos’ conference schedule — this year in the Mountain West — presents few stiff challenges, so Boise State probably needs to go undefeated just to play in one of the four marquee bowl games. The Broncos have done that twice. To reach the national championship game for the first time, Boise State will need the teams ahead of it to lose.
Going into Saturday’s play, LSU freshman punter Brad Wing ranked third in the SEC with a 44.4-yard per punt average behind only Georgia’s Drew Butler (46.1 ypp) and Arkansas’ Dylan Breeding (44.7).
According to the SEC, Wing has the top average among freshman punters in the country. Wing has helped LSU lead the SEC and rank sixth nationally with a net punting average of 41.1 yards per punt.
The numbers game
A look at some key numbers going into Saturday’s showdown:
1 — The number of times LSU and Alabama have each turned the ball over in SEC play this season (both interceptions).
2.38 and 0.88 — Number of sacks and sacks allowed by LSU per game this season, second and first, respectively, in the SEC.
3 and 7 — Number of points allowed by LSU and Alabama, respectively, off turnovers. LSU has committed three turnovers, Alabama eight. The SEC record for fewest points allowed off turnovers is 14 by Alabama in 2005.
7 — The total number of punt return yards allowed by LSU this season. The next best team going into Saturday’s play is Auburn with 41.
10-4 — LSU’s record in games at Alabama (Tuscaloosa and Birmingham) since 1982.
39 — Number of times the road team has won in this series out of 74 total meetings.
66.7 — Alabama’s percentage for red zone defense (five TDs, one field goal in nine attempts), which leads the SEC.
93.8 — LSU’s percentage for red zone defense, which is last in the SEC. Teams have scored 15 of 16 times against the Tigers (nine touchdowns, six field goals).
97.4 — LSU’s percentage for red zone scoring, which is tops in the SEC and second nationally behind only Stanford. The Tigers have scored 38 of 39 times in the red zone this season (31 touchdowns, seven field goals). The only time LSU failed to score was at West Virginia, when Rueben Randle dropped a pass in the end zone and Drew Alleman followed by missing a 30-yard field goal attempt. Alabama ranks 38th nationally at 85.4 percent (24 TDs and 11 field goals in 41 attempts).
Advocate Assistant Sports Editor Joseph Schiefelbein, Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais and The Associated Press contributed to this report.