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Friday, November 2, 2012 - Page updated at 08:00 p.m.

Bud Withers
Saturday Madness: Bud Withers takes a look at this weekend's big college football games

By Bud Withers
Seattle Times college football reporter

Just think. By Saturday night, the wheels could be set in motion that would keep the Southeastern Conference out of the BCS national-championship game for the first time since, oh, the Roosevelt Administration — Teddy's.

Actually, it's only been six straight national championships for the SEC, the league that imposes itself on college football like Spanish moss on southern pines.

Yes, it's time for Alabama-LSU again (Saturday, 5 p.m., Ch. 7), in all its headbanging, pad-crashing glory.

'Bama, top-ranked, is a decisive favorite, but if No. 5 LSU happens to win — and that has occurred 36 times in 37 Saturday-night games in Death Valley under Tigers coach Les Miles — all of a sudden there's a shot that the title game would take place without an SEC team, unthinkable as it seems.

If Kansas State, Notre Dame and Oregon (Nos. 2-3-4 in the BCS standings) stay unbeaten, it's pretty much a given that two of them would be left to fight it out for the title game.

(But there's also this dark scenario: Say LSU wins narrowly, which would probably put LSU and Alabama at Nos. 4-5 next week, assuming no other contender loses. If the usual November attrition takes place, it's not out of the question those two could bubble up to the 1-2 spots by early December, which, a year after all the bile spilled over the all-SEC final, would leave us with exactly the same matchup in the title game.

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In the broad sense, this is exactly where we came into this flick last January. LSU lurched through the title game with unsteady Jordan Jefferson at quarterback and 'Bama won 21-0. Now, the major question mark surrounding the Tigers' ability to stay with the Tide 10 months later seems to revolve around quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

He has decidedly pedestrian numbers — a 124.4 pass-efficiency rating, a mid-50s completion percentage, and a 7-4 touchdown-interception ratio. His 'Bama counterpart, A.J. McCarron, has yet to throw an interception in 2012.

If 'Bama follows the script of its 2012 games, LSU will need Mettenberger to be much better. The visitors have scored on 34 of 35 trips to the red zone, they've got the top-ranked run defense (57.3) in the country, and they've got McCarron's steady hand.

'Bama is No. 1 in total defense (203.1) and LSU is No. 3 (243.4), so this might unfold like Felix Hernandez against C.C. Sabathia.

Best of the rest Saturday, chronologically:

Texas A&M (16) at Mississippi State (17), 9 a.m., ESPN: Among the transplanted teams that realigned in BCS conferences, nobody is doing better than A&M (6-2). The weird sidelight here is that to commemorate a snow-inflicted 2000 Independence Bowl game in Shreveport, La., between the two (won by State 43-41 in OT), the Bulldogs will wear white uniforms, putting A&M in their regular maroon home jerseys. Didn't know the Independence Bowl had that much cachet.

Texas at Texas Tech (20), 12:30 p.m., ESPN2: In Mack Brown's 15 seasons at Texas, the Longhorns have had 27 second-half comebacks to win. Of course, you could reasonably ask whether, at a program like Texas, you should have been behind 27 times in the second half. Michael Crabtree, who caught the memorable winning touchdown for Mike Leach's team in 2008 — the last time Tech won this one — is on a bye weekend with the 49ers and will lead the team on its pregame "Raider Walk."

Nebraska (21) at Michigan State, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 4: In the watered-down Big Ten, Nebraska (6-2) seemingly has an easy path to the title game if it wins this one, with Michigan and Northwestern close behind. On the other side, Wisconsin leads three tomato cans. Wake us when it's basketball.

Oregon (2) at USC (18), 4 p.m., Ch. 13: Either team could end up in the Rose Bowl, while an Oregon win — especially a decisive one — would greatly enhance the Ducks' chances of getting to the national-title game. That would no doubt intensify the growing heat on USC coach Lane Kiffin.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (3), 5 p.m., Ch. 4: The 'Pokes (5-2) begin a run of four K-State November opponents that are decent, not great, any of them potential land mines for the Wildcats' BCS title-game hopes. The rest are road games at TCU and Baylor, followed by Texas in Manhattan.

Arizona State at Oregon State (13), 7:30 p.m., ESPN2: If Oregon State bounces back, it redirects the Beavers' upbeat season and saddles ASU with a three-game losing streak. If ASU wins, it drops OSU into much the same lull the Sun Devils are now, and more important, deals a haymaker to OSU's Rose Bowl chances.

Arizona (24) at UCLA (25), 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks: Surprisingly, Arizona has won five straight in the series, including last year's 48-12, brawl-marred embarrassment of the Bruins in Tucson, which no doubt had something to do with the firing of Rick Neuheisel. Both programs have done a nice job in 2012 under new coaches.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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