The initial BCS rankings have been released in the college football world, and it's a very favorable result for the Notre Dame Irish football team. The Irish are ranked No. 5 in the first edition, which bodes well for their chances to bust this system in its final use.
Ahead of the Irish are Kansas State, Oregon, Florida and Alabama, all teams that have significantly rougher schedules than Notre Dame over the final five weeks of the regular season.
Here's a look at the Top 10, per Sports Illustrated's official Twitter page:
The BCS Standings: 1. Alabama; 2. Florida; 3. Oregon; 4. KSU; 5. ND; 6. LSU; 7. So. Carolina; 8. Oregon St. 9. Oklahoma; 10. USC.— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 15, 2012
Here's a look at the obstacles standing in the way of the Irish reaching the BCS National Championship game, complete with the big teams that will have the most impact towards standing in the way of Brian Kelly's first real march towards postseason relevance.
Alabama, Florida, LSU, South Carolina
The SEC teams beat up on each other every season. This accomplishes two things.
One, you can rest assured that the undefeated teams that are at the top of the barrel won't necessarily finish the season with an undefeated record. If they do, that team is going to be the national champion. That's just the state of the SEC as it relates to college football right now.
Two, you can bet most other schools have lesser schedules than these four teams, making it fortuitous to spread the wealth in an independent schedule like Notre Dame boasts.
Florida faces three more ranked teams this season, including South Carolina in Week 8. South Carolina faces ranked Clemson on the final Saturday, and LSU needs help to climb back up the ladder. Alabama could run into problems against LSU and in the SEC championship against the SEC East winner.
Bottom line: This conference is the best in college football, but it's also the one with the most uncertainty. Don't hang your head on No. 11 Georgia just yet, either.
USC, Oregon, Oregon St, Stanford
In a similar situation, these teams will have to beat up on each other to give the Irish a shot at the title. An undefeated season from any of the three would feature plenty of signature wins, and the conference power would vault them into the game.
Since ND gets USC to end the season, that game could be the biggest of the year in determining the national-title picture, depending on what's already happened in the conference.
However, USC needs help to climb back over Stanford to get to the Pac-12 championship game on the South side of the conference. Oregon and Oregon St. will knock each other off, and one of the two will get two cracks at USC/Stanford.
There are still plenty of question marks here. This is the conference that could present the most trouble for Notre Dame, as the strength of schedule will likely jump anything that Notre Dame could put out there.
Big 12 Teams
Kansas State, Oklahoma
Notre Dame has plenty of opportunity to make Oklahoma go away, but they'll have to do so on the road in Norman against a team that plays noticeably better at home and that is coming off a 63-point performance in the Red River Rivalry.
That will be the toughest game of the season for Notre Dame, and a win would put the percentages more towards a shot than any other contest this season.
As for Kansas State, they have plenty of tests with Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor still on the schedule, but if they win out, they would also trump the Irish's undefeated slate. Notre Dame needs a lesser team to sneak up and take out Kansas State, especially with the lack of a championship game in this conference.
It would be nice to say that the Irish control their own destiny, but that's simply not the case after the first installment of these rankings have been revealed.
Oklahoma will give the Irish the best chance to prove they need to replace Kansas State in the rankings, especially if they can beat the Sooners more convincingly than the Wildcats did in the exact same position on the road.
It's difficult to be in that position, but all Kelly and the Irish can do is win.
With Everett Golson receiving good news on his slight concussion (via ESPN.com), things are clicking at the right time for this team. On defense, they're playing better than anyone in the country, and should they take care of business in the coming weeks, they'll have a final game against USC for all the marbles.