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Irish could face SEC champion in national title game
The BCS endured its biggest shakeup at this stage of the season in five years, but the championship scenario ended up back where it always does: The SEC championship game.
The Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the BCS standings lost Saturday night, leading a restructuring of the race for the national championship. Only a week ago, Notre Dame appeared to be stuck on the outside of the title game unless either of the top teams lost. The Irish caught that break and more, finishing the week as the only BCS-eligible undefeated team (ineligible Ohio State is the only other unbeaten in the country).
Provided Notre Dame can defeat USC in the final game of the season -- a possibility that depends greatly on the play of the Trojans' backup quarterback -- the Irish will face the SEC champion in the BCS title game.
But as we’ve learned repeatedly, nothing is certain.
Here are a few more observations from the latest release of the BCS standings:
|Coaches' Poll||Harris Poll||Comp. Avg.||Last Wk.|
|1. Notre Dame||1||1||1||3|
|6. Kansas St.||8||7||4||1|
|9. Texas A&M||10||10||10||8|
|10. Florida St.||5||6||17||10|
|12. S. Carolina||12||12||11||9|
|15. Oregon St.||17||15||T-12||16|
The SEC champion. Notre Dame moved from No. 3 to No. 1, but it’s tough to see any bigger winner this week than the eventual champion of the SEC. Just a week ago, Notre Dame needed either Kansas State or Oregon to lose. The SEC champion needed both to lose to turn the conference championship game into a national title semifinal. Notre Dame caught one lucky break, the SEC caught two. Suddenly, Alabama is back in the mix to repeat (provided the Crimson Tide can defeat Auburn to clinch the SEC West). The most improbable development, however, is the appearance of No. 3 Georgia in a national title scenario. The Bulldogs lost 35-7 to South Carolina on Oct. 6 but claimed the SEC east by defeating Florida in a turnover-filled 17-9 victory. After Florida, Georgia’s best win is over 7-4 Vanderbilt.
No. 6 Kansas State. The Wildcats tumbled from No. 1 to No. 6 in the BCS and even further in the coaches’ poll to No. 8 and Harris poll to No. 7. Although Oregon dropped in the rankings as well, the No. 5 Ducks still have the most potential to move up in the standings thanks to a regular season finale against Oregon State and a potential Pac-12 title game should Stanford lose this week to UCLA. Kansas State is all but eliminated from the national title with the worst loss of any title contender (Baylor) and no conference championship game to make up the difference. All that remains for K-State is No. 16 Texas, which will be essential if the Wildcats are to hang onto the Big 12’s BCS bid.
KEY GAMES THIS WEEK
No. 4 Florida at No. 10 Florida State. The Florida-Florida State game is back to having national championship implications ... in a roundabout way. Although Florida hasn’t looked sharp, the Gators remain a one-loss team ranked second in the computer average. A number of scenarios involving losses by Notre Dame, Georgia or Alabama could vault Florida to the BCS title game, provided the Gators defeat Florida State. Meanwhile, the Seminoles remain tied to their lackluster average in the computer rankings. The ACC hasn’t given Florida State the means to overcome its loss to NC State, so Florida will be the ‘Noles best opportunity to make up ground in the title race.
No. 1 Notre Dame at USC Notre Dame’s final opponent is also the one most capable of upsetting the Irish’s first trip to the BCS title game. However, that prospect is significantly diminished with the absence of quarterback Matt Barkley. After Barkley sustained a shoulder injury against UCLA, backup Max Wittek will start against Notre Dame. With the Irish’s ability to take away the run, USC’s hopes rest on Wittek being able to get the ball to Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
No. 8 Stanford at No. 17 UCLA. This game will impact the title race in a marginal way. Oregon needs UCLA to defeat Stanford for the Ducks to reach the Pac-12 title game. Even if that happens, Oregon needs other dominoes to fall (USC over Notre Dame, chiefly) to reach the BCS title game. A Stanford win means the Cardinal will face UCLA in back-to-back games, the latter matchup for a Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl.
The ACC has done nothing for Florida State.The Seminoles have only themselves to blame for a 17-16 loss to NC State (6-5, 3-4 ACC) on Oct. 6. If not for that upset, Florida State likely would be in the top two of the BCS rankings. But the Seminoles’ schedule hasn’t provided the means for Florida State to move up the rankings. Florida State has been stuck at No. 10 in the rankings for three consecutive weeks. In fact, Florida State dropped one spot from No. 9 on Oct. 28. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher can complain about the computer rankings, which have had his team ranked outside of the top 15. But the coaches’ and Harris polls have only moved his team up incrementally from No. 7 to No. 5/6 in the last four weeks. Now that Florida State escapes ACC play this week, the Seminoles have a chance to deliver their first statement win since late September against Clemson.
No BCS buster this season. For the second consecutive season, no team from a non-automatic qualifying conference will reach the BCS. Louisiana Tech had an outside shot prior to last week, provided the Bulldogs could finish in the top 16 and finish ranked ahead of the ACC, Big East or Big Ten champion. With Louisiana Tech losing to Utah State last week, the Bulldogs’ BCS hopes -- not to mention WAC title hopes -- are finished. No. 22 Boise State is the highest ranked team from outside the AQ conferences.
The SEC at-large picture narrows. Although an SEC team may have gained a spot in the national title game due to Kansas State and Oregon upsets -- the SEC owns Nos. 2-4 -- the pool for potential SEC teams for at-large bids narrowed. South Carolina dropped out of the top 10 from No. 9 to No. 12 thanks to Stanford moving to No. 8 and Florida State and Clemson staying put. And Texas A&M dropped from eighth to ninth. Both rankings are good enough for a BCS at-large, but the most likely landing spot for an SEC at-large team at this point is the Sugar Bowl. The home draw for LSU might be tough for the Sugar Bowl to resist.
Notes on BCS selection:
• Automatic BCS bids go to the top two for the title game, the champions of the ACC (Orange Bowl), Big 12 (Fiesta), Big Ten (Rose), Pac-12 (Rose) and SEC (Sugar). The Big East’s automatic bid is not tied to a particular bowl.
• Notre Dame receives an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight.
• A champion from a non-automatic qualifying league (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, WAC and non-Notre Dame independents) receive an automatic bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the standings or if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a champion from a non-AQ conference.
• To be eligible for an at-large BCS bid, a team must have nine or more wins and finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings.
• Once automatic tie-ins are placed, the selection order for BCS bids goes as follows: 1. The bowl losing the BCS No. 1 team to the championship game, 2. The bowl losing the BCS No. 2 team, 3. The Fiesta Bowl, 4. The Sugar, 5. The Orange.