Can someone please beat Notre Dame in a football game, so we can finally stop talking about the Fighting Irish as a potential combatant in the BCS national championship game?
There are only three games left in the regular season—three opponents between Notre Dame and a perfect season—and there is no way this campaign will end with Notre Dame being undefeated and not playing for a national title.
Current BCS rankings be damned, if Notre Dame ends up undefeated, somehow, some way, the Fighting Irish will be playing for a national title. Color me a believer but I fear there's a shiny helmet made of gold at the end of this BCS rainbow.
Notre Dame is a good team with a great defense that has been riding an incredible string of luck to an undefeated 9-0 record. Of course, head coach Brian Kelly doesn't believe in luck.
"I've never had a team that's won because it was lucky. But I've had many teams that were fortunate because they were good football teams and they found a way to win," Kelly said.
Give the Irish credit—they are finding ways to win. On Saturday, they found a way to fumble the ball into the end zone during the second overtime against Pittsburgh, the sixth-best team in the Big East Conference, only to benefit from Pittsburgh missing a 33-yard field goal on the subsequent possession.
Oh, right, Notre Dame also should have been penalized on the attempt for having two players on the field wearing the same number. Surely, the coaching oversight didn't impact the result of the kick, but the fact a flag didn't come down on that play sure seemed…what's the word…right, fortunate.
Notre Dame was fortunate in the fourth quarter as well, when Pittsburgh seemed to play proper defense on a 4th-and-4 pass attempt, only to get flagged for pass interference to keep Notre Dame's hopes alive. The Irish scored a touchdown on the very next play.
If only there was a four-letter word for that kind of unexpected result. Perhaps, something that ties in with Irish too? Stop me if you think of something.
Thankfully, those voting in the polls must have been watching Notre Dame struggle to beat a pedestrian opponent (again) at home because the Irish have been dropped from third to fourth in the BCS standings.
Still, the computers have Notre Dame ranked second, which means a little human sentiment—putting the Irish back onto the second line after a few upcoming victories over mediocre ACC opponents—could put Notre Dame in line to leap over Kansas State and Oregon and reach the BCS title game against Alabama with a final-game win over USC.
Boy, wouldn't that be…lucky.
The truth is Notre Dame's ranking is based on adeptly navigating a schedule that looks far less difficult than when the season started. The Irish beat then-10th-ranked Michigan State in mid-September to get everyone paying attention to their chances at a serious run.
While Notre Dame caught the eyes of the voters by using that victory to begin their ascension up the rankings, the Spartans are 3-4 since losing to Notre Dame, hardly a top-10 team then—or now.
Notre Dame followed the Michigan State win by defeating then-18th-ranked Michigan. The win over the Wolverines is certainly a notch in the BCS belt for the Irish, but Michigan's three losses—to Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska—have dropped them from a preseason ranking of eighth to out of the polls entirely.
The Irish were ranked No. 7 when they defeated a good Stanford team in overtime to catapult themselves into serious consideration for the BCS title game. Let's not forget that Notre Dame beat the Cardinal in overtime after Stanford was denied a touchdown at the goal line because a whistle blew the play dead before running back Stepfan Taylor crossed the plane of the end zone.
Golly, that whistle sure came at a fortuitous time, didn't it?
The other contenders
Now, the truth is that Notre Dame still has to leap over Kansas State and Oregon to get into that BCS title-game slot, which seems unlikely. But a lot can happen in three or four weeks.
Let's assume for a minute that the Irish luck—sorry Coach Kelly, self-created good fortune—continues and Notre Dame beats a terrible Boston College team, a mediocre Wake Forest team and a USC team that is suddenly on the rails at 6-3 after back-to-back losses.
Can the Irish pass one of the other undefeated teams? They can if two of those teams don't finish the season undefeated.
Oregon just leaped over Notre Dame in the BCS rankings and plays a bad Cal team on the road, Stanford at home and 11th-ranked Oregon State on the road for what could be a spot in the Pac-12 title game against either USC or UCLA. The Ducks just beat USC 62-51 in a barnburner of a game and surely would not want to face them again with a national title-game berth on the line.
Kansas State, ranked second in the BCS standings, has an easier path than Oregon to stay undefeated, with games at TCU and Baylor before returning home in the season finale against Texas.
Like Notre Dame, K-State has just one game remaining against a Top-25 opponent, which is good for staying undefeated but bad if they want to avoid being passed by Oregon. Of course, it all depends on whether or not Collin Klein is healthy enough to play.
Alabama is atop the BCS standings with three regular-season games remaining, one of which comes against a Top-25 team in Texas A&M this weekend. Alabama ends the regular season against Western Carolina and Auburn before facing either Florida or Georgia—probably Georgia—in the SEC title game.
A one-loss SEC finalist?
Speaking of the SEC title game, this whole conversation has been about the undefeated teams, but what happens if Alabama loses the SEC title to Georgia or Florida? Would a one-loss SEC champion get into the BCS title game over an undefeated Notre Dame, Oregon or Kansas State? They probably won't, but they probably should.
Georgia has one loss on the season to then-sixth-ranked South Carolina on the road. South Carolina has fallen a bit in the rankings since then after two losses…to LSU and Florida, both on the road. It's not as if Georgia's only loss is a bad one, even if the score wasn't very close.
Let's also keep in mind that Georgia would have wins over Alabama and Florida.
The Gators' only loss of the season came at the hands of the Bulldogs, so if Georgia were to lose another regular-season game, Florida would be in line for the SEC title game against Alabama. Should the Gators beat Alabama, they would boast wins over LSU, South Carolina, Florida State—a contest coming on November 24 and the last regular-season hurdle for Florida—and Alabama; all teams that would have been ranked in the Top 10 at the time Florida played (and potentially beat) them.
If Florida can beat FSU and Alabama, with help from Georgia losing of course, how could they not reach the BCS title game with one loss over a Notre Dame team that squeaked by Pittsburgh and BYU at home if it came to choosing one or the other?
For argument's sake, let's get out of the SEC with the understanding that the winner of the SEC title game should have a spot in the BCS title game with one loss, even if it's not Alabama. This is about Notre Dame after all, and whether the Irish will be, ahem, fortuitous enough to earn a spot in the title game if they finish undefeated.
They shouldn't, but I cannot help feeling they will. The best win for Notre Dame is a trouncing of Oklahoma, a team that Kansas State also beat on the road. Oregon has the toughest schedule left to play and could leapfrog everyone if they finish undefeated.
Could Notre Dame be lucky enough for everyone to lose? Could Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State all lose before the end of the bowl season? Wouldn't that be…fortunate for Notre Dame?
Still, I wonder if it's even necessary.
If the Irish can stay in the top two in the BCS computer rankings, I've seen enough overrating of Notre Dame throughout the years to find it hard to believe that voters would pick Kansas State or even Oregon over the Irish, despite the fact that both look like better football teams and both would surely provide a more entertaining opponent for Alabama which, let's face it, has come into the BCS conversation more often than it should.
People actually believe football is better when Notre Dame is good. Somehow, folks think the Irish add a level of national prominence to a sport that is already the second-most popular sport in our country.
Call me a cynic—a hater, whatever—but I can't see an ending to this season where Notre Dame is undefeated and not voted into the BCS title game.
If that happens, do you think the missed field goal by Pitt or the phantom interference call make the recruiting video? Does the angle of the "goal-line stand" against Stanford where the back crosses the line make the final cut?
"I think I've had a team that's gotten some breaks along the way," Kelly explained after the Pittsburgh win, "but generally those teams have earned them along the way."
Three more wins and Kelly's Irish may earn their way into the title game. Wouldn't that be lucky?