Nations: SEC’s long reign in peril

Jay Jacobs is stumping hard, for all the good it’ll do.

Jacobs, Auburn University’s athletic director, said in an interview with USA Today Sports shortly after the Tigers’ stunning 34-28 Iron Bowl victory over then-No. 1 Alabama that it would be a “disservice to the nation” if the winner of the SEC championship game between No. 3 Auburn and No. 5 Missouri is left out of the Jan. 6 BCS championship game in the Rose Bowl.

The problem for Jacobs, SEC fans and presumably the nation is that two unbeaten teams currently rank above the twin Tigers (both one-loss teams at present) in the latest BCS standings. Florida State moved up to take over the top spot vacated by the Crimson Tide, while fellow unbeaten Ohio State slid up into the No. 2 slot.

The argument boils down to strength of schedule — Florida State hasn’t faced the level of competition Auburn has (Missouri is more open to debate, having dodged Alabama), and Ohio State’s schedule has been downright soft this season. The Buckeyes’ toughest game came just this past Saturday against underachieving Michigan, and Ohio State barely survived that for a 42-41 victory.

Jacobs and the SEC backers have a point, to be sure. The Buckeyes hardly have the resume to stake a legitimate claim to a spot in the BCS championship, other than that sparkling 12-0 record. The Seminoles have at least crushed their competition on a regular basis, posting an average margin-of-victory of 38 points. The ‘Noles also have a Heisman Trophy front-runner in quarterback Jameis Winston, which never hurts.

As it stands now, Ohio State leads Auburn in all three segments of the BCS standings — the Harris Poll, Coach’s Poll and computer rankings. It’s a near thing, though, with the Buckeyes ahead by just .027 percentage points.

You’d like to see a program actually have to dethrone the SEC’s best for the title, and end that seven-year stranglehold on the national championship. It would add a bit of legitimacy to the game, so to speak.

That’s not how it works, not in the past and not now in this final year of the current BCS championship format. Next year is the dawn of the new four-team, seeded playoff for the BCS. This year, it’s the top two and that’s it. Florida State and Ohio State, unbeatens from power conferences, occupy those two spots. If they both win this weekend, they should stay right there.

There is some rumbling that the SEC championship game winner could jump the lackluster-looking Buckeyes — provided Ohio State wins the Big Ten championship game against No. 10 Michigan State. Florida State is more secure, provided the Seminoles take care of business in the ACC championship against No. 20 Duke.

Neither of those games are locks, of course, and if either Ohio State or Florida State falters you can be certain the SEC will gobble up that remaining spot. What if both lose? You have to figure No. 4 Alabama fans are fervently hoping for that unlikely scenario, because it represents the only shot the Crimson Tide have at a third straight national championship.

You have to like the Seminoles’ chances against Duke, but Michigan State looks like a real test for Ohio State. The Spartans have been a rough-and-tumble, hard-hitting team that seems to represent Big Ten football at its best — nothing flashy, just sound and solid. The Spartans have lost just once, a 17-13 setback on the road to Notre Dame back in September. They are also victims of a relatively weak Big Ten — you don’t hear many calls that Michigan State should be in contention for a BCS championship slot, even if the Spartans do knock off now No. 2 Ohio State.

It looks like the long-dominant SEC needs a little help this weekend from Michigan State and/or Duke. They just might get it, too, but don’t count on it. The seven-year reign just may well have come to an end at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, and if so it was one heck of a closing act.