The LSU football team will face Georgia on Saturday in Atlanta looking to win its fourth Southeastern Conference championship in 10 seasons.
Even with a loss, it appears the Tigers would still get to play for another national title.
LSU remained No. 1 in the BCS standings this week, and ESPN analysts agreed Sunday night that the Tigers had probably built themselves enough of a cushion to stay in the top two no matter the outcome of Saturday’s game.
Not only that, but it looks like Alabama, which finished second to LSU in the SEC West, has all but wrapped up a trip to the BCS title game Jan. 9 in New Orleans because of its firm hold on the No. 2 spot.
That scenario leaves little drama in regards to the national championship race as the college season enters its final weekend.
But it won’t affect LSU’s play, coach Les Miles said after the Tigers beat Arkansas on Friday.
“I just want you to know something. There would be no way that this football team could come to Atlanta and not play their best, just so you know,” he said.
In the latest BCS rankings, LSU, the only unbeaten team from a major conference, is first with a 1.000 BCS average — tops in the coaches poll, the Harris poll and in the computer rankings.
As the network unveiled the standings Sunday night, ESPN analyst Craig James said, “If LSU loses (the SEC title game), it doesn’t matter. They’re in (the BCS title game). They’ve earned it.”
Fellow ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit echoed, “They’re isn’t anybody with a résumé like LSU. I hate to take away the impact of the SEC Championship Game ... but to me it’s irrelevant. ... It’s obvious the LSU Tigers have secured (a spot in the BCS title game).”
Alabama, an overwhelming No. 2 in the polls and second in the computers, has a .9551 BCS average. Oklahoma State appears to be the only team that could mess with an LSU-Alabama rematch, but the Cowboys (.8712) would have to make up serious ground before Sunday arrives and the final BCS standings are released.
“It’s hard to see what could happen (this weekend) to bump Alabama out (of the BCS title game),” said Brad Edwards, who is ESPN’s top BCS analyst.
Oklahoma State is third in the computer rankings and fifth in each of the polls. The Cowboys have one game left against Oklahoma on Saturday.
“It’s like there’s no No. 3,” BCS analyst Jerry Palm told The New York Times. “That’s how far behind they are.”
Rounding out the BCS top five, Stanford is fourth and Virginia Tech fifth.
Stanford, like Alabama, has finished its regular season. Virginia Tech has a game left against Clemson on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
If the LSU-Alabama rematch takes shape, it will mark the first time two teams from the same conference have played for the BCS title. And it would assure the SEC of a sixth consecutive BCS national champion.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he doesn’t think the Bulldogs will benefit Saturday from facing a team that may already be New Orleans-bound.
“When a team is as good as they are and are in the habit of winning, all they know is winning,” Richt said. “They’re not going to let that creep into their mindset, I wouldn’t think.”
While there might not be any games with national championship implications on championship weekend, plenty of BCS bids will be determined.
Houston can clinch its spot as this year’s BCS buster by beating Southern Miss at home in the Conference USA championship game. The undefeated Cougars are sixth in the latest standings.
Michigan State and Wisconsin play in the Big Ten championship game with the winner going to the Rose Bowl. Oregon and UCLA meet in the Pac-12 title game Friday night with a Rose Bowl berth on the line. Oklahoma State might be shut out of the national title game, but the Bedlam rivalry game will still determine the Big 12 champion and — at worst — a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. Virginia Tech and Clemson will play for a berth in the Orange Bowl.
The Big East has three teams still alive for its conference title and BCS berth: Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia, though none of the contenders controls the race.
Georgia would advance to the Sugar Bowl by upsetting LSU in the SEC title game.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.