Despite their 11-0 record, their sweep of the No. 1 spot in every major poll and BCS computer ranking, the LSU Tigers continue to occupy a precarious pinnacle atop the college football world.
Not just in terms of trying to reach the BCS national championship game, but even to make it to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
That’s because the top three teams in the SEC West are now the top three teams in the nation.
LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are ranked 1-2-3 in the BCS standings and major polls this week after they all won Saturday while other national championship contenders imploded all around them.
Four of the top seven teams in last week’s BCS standings — No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 7 Clemson — fell over the weekend while LSU routed Ole Miss 52-3, Alabama downed Georgia Southern 45-21 and Arkansas hammered Mississippi State 44-17.
Even for the conference that has won five straight BCS championships, it’s unprecedented dominance.
This is the first time since the BCS began in 1998 that three teams from the same conference are occupying the top three spots. In terms of the sports’ oldest continuous poll, it’s only the second time that three teams from one conference have been in the top three in The Associated Press rankings since Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado of the Big Eight finished that way to end the 1971 season.
The polls set up yet another blockbuster game for LSU — 11-0 for the first time since 1958 and 7-0 in SEC play for the first time ever — in a season already filled with them. The Tigers, who have held the top spot for the ninth straight week in the AP rankings, opened the season by beating then-No. 3 Oregon in the Cowboys Classic, won games over ranked opponents Mississippi State, West Virginia, Florida and Auburn and then edged No. 2 Alabama on the road in overtime.
That game was the first 1-2 regular-season matchup in SEC history. Friday’s game (1:30 p.m., CBS) between LSU and Arkansas (10-1, 6-1 SEC) will be the highest-ranked matchup in Tiger Stadium since No. 1 LSU beat No. 3 Ole Miss 7-3 in the legendary Halloween night showdown in 1959.
It’s a game that didn’t need any more dramatic elements or subplots, but nonetheless added a tragic one Sunday.
Arkansas tight end Garrett Uekman, a redshirt freshman, was pronounced dead at a Fayetteville, Ark., hospital after being found unconscious in his dorm room Sunday morning. He had returned to campus with the team after Saturday’s game with Mississippi State in Little Rock, Ark., Uekman’s hometown.
An LSU win would mean the Tigers will advance to Atlanta to face SEC East champ Georgia (9-2, 7-1), though it’s an added hurdle to reach the BCS title game that Alabama wouldn’t have to face if it beats Auburn on Saturday.
If LSU loses and Alabama loses to Auburn, Arkansas would go to Atlanta by having beaten LSU head to head.
If LSU loses and Alabama wins, that sets up a situation that goes down to the final tiebreaker the SEC has: BCS rankings.
Under that scenario, the team with the lowest BCS ranking would be eliminated and head-to-head play between the top two BCS ranked teams would determine the SEC West representative if they are within five spots of each other. If the top-ranked team is more than five spots ahead, an unlikely scenario, the highest-ranked BCS team would go.
“One thing to keep in mind, though: The computers are also involved in this, because it is the BCS,” ESPN analyst Brad Edwards said Sunday night as the network revealed the latest standings. “LSU would be stronger than Arkansas in those computers. And unless pretty much every voter has moved Arkansas ahead of LSU, there’s still a possibility that LSU might end up in that No. 2 spot.
“You put it all together, and it’s hard for me to see a scenario where Arkansas could come out on top in a three-way tie. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but clearly Arkansas’ best opportunity to win the West is for Auburn to beat Alabama on Saturday.”
LSU did its part to create the showdown with Arkansas by crushing an Ole Miss team that has already seen coach Houston Nutt resign and lost its starting quarterback (Randall Mackey) and top rusher (Jeff Scott) to suspensions last week.
Before a crowd at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium that was close to half-filled with LSU fans, the Tigers scored just 28 seconds into the game when Ron Brooks intercepted a wobbly pass by Zack Stoudt and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.
Up 52-3 in the final five minutes, the Tigers were again at the Ole Miss 1 but LSU coach Les Miles instructed third-string quarterback Zach Mettenberger to take a knee on four straight snaps after he bootlegged the ball down near the Rebels’ goal line.
The Tigers scored enough to make another mark in the record books. The 49-point margin of victory was the biggest for either team in the 100 meetings between the schools.
For the Rebels (2-9, 0-7), it was their worst loss since a 49-0 thrashing by Georgia in 1974 and added another miserable chapter to a school-record SEC losing streak that has now reached 13 games.
Ole Miss needs to beat in-state rival Mississippi State in Saturday’s Egg Bowl to avoid the first 10-loss season in school history.
“That’s the battle,” said defensive end Kentrell Lockett, a senior from Hahnville. “It’s the only thing we have to play for, and we have to win. We have to leave something for next year.”
For LSU, next year can wait. It’s the next game, the next showdown, that will go a long way to determining just how special this season for the Tigers can be.