By Ralph D. Russo/The Associated Press
Play it again, LSU and Alabama.
The Crimson Tide edged out Oklahoma State in the final round of voting and will play the top-ranked Tigers in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
It’s not exactly a rematch the public was clamoring for — at least outside of Southeastern Conference territory. And it certainly will do nothing to quiet the critics of the Bowl Championship Series or the calls for a college football playoff.
But like it or not, the BCS has ensured that the SEC — home to both schools — will run its streak of national championships to six in a row.
The Cowboys made a late surge by beating Oklahoma 44-10 on Saturday night, and closed the gap between themselves and Alabama in the polls. But it was not enough to avoid the first title game rematch in the 14-year history of the BCS.
The Tigers (13-0) beat the Tide 9-6 in overtime on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama (11-1) finished second in both the Harris and coaches’ polls by a wide enough margin to make up for the fact that Oklahoma State was ahead in the computer ratings.
The Cowboys (11-1), champions of the Big 12, will play in the Fiesta Bowl.
As the power-brokers in college football begin to plot how top-tier bowls will be set up in the future, the 2011 season is once more exposing the flaws in the current system.
Oklahoma State and Alabama, two teams with perfectly good arguments to play for a national championship, wound up fighting over one spot, with subjective voters and mysterious computer ratings — the formulas of which are not even publicly known — doing the choosing.
Alabama, with the nation’s No. 1 defense, won out and will play for its second BCS crown in three years.
Oklahoma State, with one of the most potent offenses in the country, gets its first BCS appearance as a consolation prize.
A rematch between LSU and Alabama in the title game seemed almost a foregone conclusion heading into conference championship weekend.
But with Alabama idle, Oklahoma State made one last, dramatic statement against the Sooners on Saturday night in Stillwater. And the Cowboys had an impressive resume, beating three teams ranked in the final BCS top 15. Alabama had only one such victory.
So instead of Sunday being a coronation there was drama — and another BCS controversy.
Working in Alabama’s favor was its dominance throughout the season — all of the Tide’s victories have been by at least 16 points — and the fact that no other team has challenged LSU this season.
The Tide and Tigers played a hard-hitting defensive slog billed as the Game of the Century. And it was exciting in the way Notre Dame and Army’s scoreless tie was exciting in the 1946 version of the Game of the Century.
But many fans around the country were ready for something else.
Immediately the talk of rematch started, pro and con. But Oklahoma State was in position to keep it from happening. The Cowboys were undefeated and second in the BCS standings heading into a Friday night game at Iowa State, a day after Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and an assistant coach were killed in a plane crash.
The Cowboys lost 37-31 in double OT to the so-so Cyclones (6-6), missing a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation by inches.
With no other undefeated teams left from the major conferences, Alabama returned to No. 2 and the debate grew ever-more heated.
On one side, Alabama supporters said it was simple: The system is supposed to match the best two teams, regardless of conference, and the Tide have been one of the two most dominant teams in the country.
On the other side, the Oklahoma State supporters said the Cowboys accomplished more to get to 11-1 than the Tide, playing a tougher schedule and winning their conference.
Not enough voters were convinced — so it’s Tigers-Tide II.
Alabama claims 13 national championships overall and is one of the most decorated programs in the land. It’s won seven AP titles since the wire service started its poll in 1936.
LSU will be seeking its third BCS championship since 2003 at the Superdome — the site of its first two — and second under coach Les Miles.
Nick Saban, now the Tide’s coach, won that title for LSU in 2003. Miles matched his predecessor in 2007, winning a championship with a team that lost two games.
These talented Tigers, led by dynamic defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, have rarely even trailed, and have only been truly tested by the Tide and Heisman Trophy contender Trent Richardson.
Now Saban and Miles, who have been tussling for supremacy in the SEC West on the field and recruiting trail, will square off for the ultimate prize.
The last time a national title was decided by a rematch of a regular-season game was 1996, when Florida State beat Florida in its final regular-season game then drew the Gators again in the Sugar Bowl.
Steve Spurrier’s Gators beat Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles 52-20 to win the national championship.
Bowden wasn’t happy to face Florida again.
“If it’s somebody you beat, you don’t want to play them,” Bowden said Sunday in a phone interview.
“The team that won, it’s just hard to get your boys as inspired as the other team can get inspired.”
Yet as far as a rematch this year, Bowden said both teams can make a good case, and he’s not opposed to giving Alabama a second chance.
“If that’s the way it shapes up that’s OK,” he said. “You got to get the best two teams in the country playing for the national championship.”
Remember, of course, that Bowden was born in Birmingham, Ala.