One of those teams is Auburn and I suppose they're not really "vying" for an at-large bid, given that a loss to either Alabama or South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game would be a huge disappointment at this stage. But if the Tigers beat Alabama to complete a 12-0 regular season, but then lose to South Carolina, they have a good chance to be chosen for another juicy bowl selection. Their game with the Tide is important for reasons beyond the national championship--if history teaches us anything it's that teams who lose conference title games are not viewed positively by the BCS--they're coming off a loss, their fans have already traveled and are now bummed out. And the only title-game losers that have been chosen are those who were unbeaten prior. If the Tigers lose to Alabama and again to South Carolina, book them to the Capital One Bowl. For South Carolina, even without the business-oriented criteria above, a loss to Auburn would be their fourth and they wouldn't get an at-large BCS selection on the merits.
That likely leaves Alabama, Arkansas and LSU to joust for the bid, which would likely be to either the Sugar Bowl--if Auburn is playing for the national championship--or the Orange, if the SEC champ ends up in New Orleans. The two focal point games are Alabama-Auburn and Arkansas-LSU, both played over Thanksgiving weekend. If the Tide should fall to Auburn you can eliminate them from consideration, as that would be their third loss. If Auburn can follow it up by winning the conference title, this becomes very easy. Auburn plays for all the marbles and the Arkansas-LSU winner is probably chosen by the Sugar Bowl.
If Alabama beats Auburn, and then Auburn wins the league title, the scenario I think will take place is that LSU would control its destiny if they could beat Arkansas and finish 11-1. But lose that game, and the Tide & Hogs are both 10-2, with 'Bama having the head-to-head win. The BCS is not bound by tiebreakers--or even overall record, at least to a certain degree--but the Orange Bowl did defer to this last year when they picked Iowa over Penn State. I think they would certainly defer again to get Nick Saban, not only getting the Alabama mystique, but the storyline of Saban returning in success to Miami, the city where his NFL career didn't work out.
The SEC's prizes after the BCS are the Capital One, Cotton and Outback. The latter bowl, played in Tampa tries to get an Eastern Division team, although as last year's choice of Auburn showed, they aren't bound by it. The Cotton generally aims for a Western Division team to come to Dallas, while the Cap One gets the pick of the non-BCS litter. The four teams from the West are going to blanket the BCS, with two of them, the Capital One and the Cotton, with the Outback reserved for South Carolina if they don't beat Auburn.
There's a lot of action in the SEC these next two weeks and especially over Thanksgiving weekend. Just don't think it's all about the national championship race.
Image from mkrob.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.