BY RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press
Too soon to call, but things are looking up for Alabama.
Alabama and Oklahoma State are awaiting word on which team will play LSU in the BCS national title game on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
The returns have been trickling in Sunday, and so far the Crimson Tide seems to be in the lead.
In the USA Today coaches' poll, Alabama was No. 2, but the commanding lead it had last week is now down to 22 points. The coaches' poll and the Harris poll count for two-thirds of a team's BCS score.
The Harris poll was due out later Sunday.
A compilation of six computer ratings will determine the final third of a BCS score. The Sagarin ratings released early Sunday had Alabama No. 2 and Oklahoma State No. 3.
Unbeaten LSU is the top-ranked team in all the polls out so far, including the AP Top 25, which is independent from the BCS rankings.
A rematch between LSU and Alabama in the national title game seemed almost a foregone conclusion heading into conference championship weekend.
But with Alabama idle, Oklahoma State made one last, strong push by beating Oklahoma 44-10 to win the Big 12 title.
Now, instead of Sunday being a coronation there's another BCS controversy: Should Alabama get another shot at the only team that beat the Tide, even if that means an all-SEC title game and a matchup that will surely play far better in the South than anywhere else? Or should the Cowboys, who beat five teams ranked in the last BCS standings and whose only loss was a double-overtime upset on the road to Iowa State, get the nod?
"If you want the best two teams in college football to play then there has to be a format to decide that," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Saturday on ESPN as he made sure the Tide wasn't forgotten while the other top teams played. "If you want a regional game that matches up people from different parts of the country you can't say `Let's have the best two teams play.' It's not really up to me. I can't really be objective here. We do have a dog in this hunt. That's my opinion."
Working in Alabama's favor is the Crimson Tide's dominance throughout the season - all of its 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 what was billed as the Game of the Century on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Tigers won it 9-6 in overtime, a hard-hitting defensive slog that didn't exactly have fans around the country clamoring for more.
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 Ames, Iowa, 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 has grown more furious ever since.
On one side, Alabama supporters say it's 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 say the Cowboys have accomplished more to get to 11-1 than the Tide, playing a tougher schedule and winning their conference.
Alabama fans counter by saying the SEC is the best conference in the land. What more proof is needed than five straight BCS championships?
"I would certainly understand if college football decides it should be two SEC teams playing for the national championship," LSU coach Les Miles said after the Tigers pounded Georgia 42-10 in the SEC championship game. "It's a very special conference with very special teams."
Oklahoma State fans say their team's super-charged offense, second in the nation in scoring and third in yards, would put up some touchdowns against LSU's tenacious defense.
Alabama fans think those flashy Big 12 offenses are no match for an SEC defense, and no team, not even LSU, has allowed fewer yards and points than the Tide.
Oklahoma State's reply: If the regular season is a playoff, the way BCS officials suggest, didn't LSU eliminate Alabama?
"They had their shot," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said after the Oklahoma game. "Give us ours."
Alabama fans say this isn't pee-wee soccer where everybody gets a chance to play.
Whichever team wins out, expect another of blast of criticism directed at the BCS. As the power-brokers in college football start to plot how top-tier bowls will be set up in the future, the 2011 season is once more exposing the flaws in the system now.
Two teams with perfectly good arguments are fighting over one spot, with subjective voters and mysterious computer ratings - the formulas of which are not even publicly known - doing the choosing.
If Alabama is the pick, the Tide will be playing for its second BCS title in three seasons. 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.
For Oklahoma State, just getting into any of the marquee BCS bowls will be a first. The Cowboys have never won a national title, and some Oklahoma State fans have wondered if their team is also losing the battle of the brands.
There has never been a rematch in the previous 13-year history of the BCS, nor has there ever been a championship game with both teams from the same conference.
The closest thing to a potential Alabama-LSU II college football has had in recent years was in 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.