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College Football BCS Race: And Then There Were Six

As a Notre Dame alum and reinvigorated Notre Dame football fan, this November feels awfully strange. For the first time since I got into radio in 2007, the Irish matter in November. For the first time since 1993, the Irish are 9-0. It's been a long, slow trip back to late season relevance, to be sure.

And it almost all went up in smoke on Saturday night.

In a game that Notre Dame dominated on the stat sheet and in time of possession, the Fighting Irish needed to overcome three ill-timed turnovers (Is there ever a good time for a turnover?) and needed a 33-yard missed field goal in overtime from Pitt's kicker to survive a 29-26 triple overtime win over the 4-4 Panthers.

I died ten times during the final quarter and overtime of that game, and I'm guessing this won't be the last time the Irish do this to me this season (They've won five of their nine games by a touchdown or less, two in overtime, all at home.), so I'm going to do a BCS landscape layout post while I can still actually care about it.

So for the benefit of the casual college football fan, and purely for my own college football/Notre Dame self-gratification, here is the BCS snapshot as of Tuesday, November 6:

Let's start by eliminating a few schools lurking on the fringe:

#7 LSU (7-2): Les Miles made the national championship game in 2007 with two losses, but that was one of the strangest seasons ever for upsets and the top three spots was one constant set of hot potatoes. (Remember South Florida being the number 2 team in the country at one point? Uh huh.) Not happening this season. By winning out, LSU is likely Cotton Bowl bound, but could be in the mix for a BCS at-large berth as a replacement for Alabama in the Sugar Bowl if the Tide wins out.

#8 South Carolina (7-2): It seems like this is about the level where Steve Spurrier has maxed out the Gamecocks -- a two or three loss team that can beat anybody on any given Saturday, but can't seem to find a quarterback good enough to get them over the top.

#9 Louisville (9-0): Title game is too high to climb, even if they go 12-0. Need any further proof that the Big East is just the new Mountain West? Well, just look at the rankings. Hell, even Boise State got more respect when they were undefeated the last few years than Louisville is getting right now.

#10 Florida State (8-1): Along those lines, the ACC isn't far behind the Big East in terms of recent respect downgrade. It's now a conference where perfection is a requirement to be in the title mix. It will be fascinating to see how the ACC gets treated in the "future four team playoff" world. If Florida State had been able to knock off North Carolina State, they'd probably still be fifth right now behind the four top undefeated teams. (For the record, the computers HATE Florida State, average computer ranking of 19th.)

 

#1 ALABAMA (9-0) November 10 vs #15 Texas A&M November 17 vs Western Carolina November 24 vs Auburn December 1 SEC Title game (#5 Georgia) The skinny: Win and they're in, but that's easier said than done. Of the four top undefeated teams, Alabama has arguably the two trickiest tests remaining in Texas A&M this weekend and an SEC title game that should be the Georgia Bulldogs (barring a massive upset by Auburn over Georgia this weekend). The Crimson Tide showed this past weekend against LSU that a "kill spot" does exist on them (secondary not as dynamic as recent years) and A&M and Georgia are two SEC teams that can throw the ball better than LSU.

#2 KANSAS STATE (9-0) November 10 @ TCU November 17 @ Baylor December 1 vs #17 Texas The skinny: The x-factor in Kansas State's chances is the health of Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Collin Klein. He left the Oklahoma State game this weekend with an injury of some sort, an injury that was severe enough for the team to hide his helmet from him (usually an indication of a head injury). Bill Snyder was being predictably coy when asked about it on Sunday:

"He's had his helmet off before, maybe they're uncomfortable," Snyder said.

Um, yeah. Maybe. Anyway, Kansas doesn't have any total gimmes the rest of the way, but don't have a game where they'll be less than a 7 to 10 favorite either. The difference for Kansas State, in the end, might be the inability to impress voters in a conference title game. A December 1 neutral site win over, say, Oklahoma would likely carry more weight with voters and computers than a home win over Texas. This is important because....

#3 OREGON (9-0) November 10 @ Cal November 17 vs #14 Stanford November 24 @ #11 Oregon State December 1 Pac-12 Title game (winner of #18 UCLA/#19 USC) The skinny:...the Oregon Ducks are likely to pass Kansas State if they win out, given that they will likely have three games (including a possible Pac-12 title game rematch with USC) against top 20 opponents. Out of all the undefeated teams, oddsmakers give Oregon the best chance of knocking off Alabama, with Vegas making the Ducks a potential six point underdog.

#4 NOTRE DAME (9-0) November 10 @ BC November 17 vs Wake Forest November 24 @ #19 USC The skinny: Of the four undefeated teams, if I had to pick one schedule where the goal is to just stay undefeated, I'd probably pick Notre Dame's. Of the 14 games those four teams have to play, the Irish probably have two of the three or four easiest games, and a trip to reeling USC is the only potential pothole. The unfortunate flip side for Notre Dame is their goals over the next month go beyond merely staying undefeated -- they need to impress voters. And games with BC and Wake Forest, even if they win by fifty, won't get that job done. The Irish need help.

#5 GEORGIA (8-1) November 10 @ Auburn November 17 vs Georgia Southern November 24 vs Georgia Tech December 1 SEC Title Game (#1 Alabama) The skinny: For Georgia's purposes, the SEC title game serves as an express pass to the front of the "one-loss team" line. In other words, if the Bulldogs beat Alabama, they would get to the BCS title game if at least two out of Oregon, Kansas State, and/or Notre Dame lose a game. This is assuming that Georgia makes it through Auburn, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech the next three weeks, a three game stretch affectionately known as the Gauntlet of Suck.

#6 FLORIDA (8-1) November 10 vs Louisiana-Lafayette November 17 vs Jacksonville State November 24 @ Florida State The skinny: Ok, imagine this scenario -- Florida runs the table and caps their regular season off by beating Florida State impressively in Tallahassee. That same night, Notre Dame loses to USC on November 24 knocking them down below Florida. We head into December 1 with Florida sitting back idle and ranked fifth behind Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Georgia. Now, imagine Kansas State loses to Texas, Oregon loses to UCLA or USC in the Pac-12 title game, and Alabama beats Georgia. Could we see a one loss Florida move all the way up to number two and have an all SEC title game again? Or what if Georgia were to beat Alabama in that scenario? With a slew of one loss teams, could we see a Cocktail Party rematch in the BCS title game, Georgia versus Florida? I know this has like a .04 percent chance of happening, but it's fun to think about.

Oh wait, that's right. Notre Dame is still in the mix. That Florida scenario is NOT fun to think about! Damn, still getting used to this "Irish being relevant" thing again.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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