ATLANTA — Mike Slive peered over his glasses during the packed news conference and asked a simple question.
“All of you who predicted that Missouri and Auburn would be in this game, would you raise your hand?” Slive asked.
No one claimed to be that clairvoyant.
“We’ve got a lot of honest people in the audience here,” Slive said with a delighted grin. “Just another … very predictable (SEC) football season.”
Hardly. As the season, and with it the 15-year BCS era, draws to one final crescendo, figuring out what will happen and who will be the teams playing in the BCS National Championship Game remains, as usual, a fool’s errand.
This is the way it’s supposed to go:
No. 1 Florida State is supposed to beat Duke in the ACC Championship Game. No. 2 Ohio State is supposed to stay perfect by beating Michigan State in the Big Ten title tilt.
But fortune hasn’t always smiled on the favorites on championship weekend. More often than not, it’s given someone the raspberry.
Remember 2007. LSU sat at No. 7 in the BCS standings after a regular-season-ending loss to Arkansas. Down. Seemingly out. But the Tigers bounded all the way to No. 2 in the final BCS standings after then-No. 1 Missouri was shellacked by Oklahoma in the now-defunct Big 12 Championship Game (you have to have 12 to have a championship game by NCAA rule, and the Big 12 has just 10 — try to keep up) and No. 2 West Virginia got upended by rival Pittsburgh.
It’s supposed to be rainy and cold in Charlotte, N.C., for FSU’s would-be coronation in the ACC title game. Someone once said mud is football’s great equalizer. You never know.
Michigan State at 11-1 is not some frat-boy flag football team. It could beat Ohio State for the Big Ten crown. In fact, it has been so long for the Buckeyes, the sight of a bona fide ranked team may stop them dead in their cleats.
That last line just sent teeth grinding and papers ripping in every state where the SEC flag doesn’t fly.
That’s because just one upset in ACC or Big Ten country —just one — puts No. 3 Auburn in the BCS championship game if it beats No. 5 Missouri. Mizzou has a more difficult but not impossible climb to make it to the top two if it wins.
And if both FSU and Ohio State falter?
Knock … knock … knock.
That’s No. 4 Alabama rapping at the door, demanding admission to the BCS throne room. No conference title be damned.
Oh, no. Not again. Not that. What’s more, if it’s Alabama and Auburn in some version of Iron Bowl II out in the Rose Bowl for the national title, then they may have to stop playing the game. The cheese of the entire state of Alabama may slip off its cracker. It could be Armageddon.
An SEC-weary nation doesn’t want to see Auburn or Bama or Mizzou (even though 47 percent of folks probably still think Missouri is in the Big 12) even allowed to buy a ticket to the BCS title game.
But you know. They know. We all know. It seems to be the SEC’s manifest destiny. You just know there’s going to be an upset on Championship Saturday. You just know it. It’ll be BCS insanity.
It’ll be glorious.
Here’s a thought, though, to counter all the pro- or con-SEC talk: The SEC (gasp!) comes up short.
I’m right about few things, but in the preseason I opined that this may just be the season that the SEC eats its own. It wasn’t hard to figure that no one would get out of the SEC unscathed this year.
That it took an unprecedented string of Nick Saban blunders, four missed field goals and a 109-yard return by Auburn’s Chris Davis (who got standing ovations when he went to class this week, by the way) to erase the last SEC team from the ranks of the unbeaten is meaningless. What happened is what happened, and now the SEC is for the first time since 2005 standing behind the velvet rope hoping a bouncer named Duke or Sparty lets it into the cool kids’ nightclub hangout.
Everyone expects if it’s anyone, it will be Auburn after the way those Tigers won the last two weeks over Georgia (The Immaculate Deflection) and Bama (The latest T-shirt: Hey, Nick, got a second?). If the SEC is the conference of manifest destiny, Auburn looks like the team of destiny.
Everyone seemingly dismisses Missouri, whose one loss was in double overtime in October to South Carolina when it blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead with senior quarterback James Franklin injured. Few seem willing to admit that if it wasn’t for a one-in-10 comeback by the Gamecocks, Mizzou would be a shocking 12-0.
Then again, Mizzou has to overcome its own demons. It was this close to the BCS promised land six years ago and couldn’t cross the river because it got body-slammed 38-17 by Oklahoma. Mizzou, which hasn’t won an outright conference title in 53 years, has a Chicago Cubs quality to its sports lineage (0-5 in basketball regional finals, for example).
But expecting Missouri to lay down and let Auburn go all Cam Newton on Saturday is misinformed. Expecting the favorite to falter is the better way to go.
Then sit back and wait for the BCS to explode like New Year’s fireworks one last time.