The newest set of Bowl Championship Series standings were released on Sunday night, and as expected Kansas State and Oregon occupied the top two spots. So if the regular season ended today, the Wildcats and the Ducks would be scheduled to meet in Miami for the BCS national championship.
Fellow unbeaten Notre Dame, meanwhile, would be on the outside looking in. The Fighting Irish would likely be destined for either a slot in the Fiesta Bowl or Rose Bowl.
But the regular season is not over yet, and there is plenty of football to be played.
So how can the Fighting Irish claim a spot in the BCS title game?
• Win their final two games: The Fighting Irish host Wake Forest before ending their regular season with a date against USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum. While the Irish have not played as well at home this season as they've played away from South Bend, Brian Kelly's squad should take care of business against the Demon Deacons. However, the game against the Trojans will be difficult. While Lane Kiffin's squad has had its share of issues all season long, the game against the Irish will be quarterback Matt Barkley's final home game of his career, and the 'SC offense will have a chance to make plays through the air against an Irish secondary that has held up well but is still the weak link of their defense. If the ND front seven can get pressure on Barkley, though, as well as contain running back Silas Redd, the Irish should be able to score enough points against a porous 'SC defense. The Irish then would finish the regular season at 12-0.
• Have either Kansas State or Oregon lose: A loss by either the Wildcats or the Ducks would automatically move an undefeated Fighting Irish squad up a spot and into the title game. No one-loss SEC team could jump ND, so all ND needs is for the Wildcats or the Ducks to slip up. K-State's remaining schedule includes a road game at Baylor and, after a week off, a home contest against Texas. While the Bears can score points, the Wildcats' defense has shown that it can shut down top offenses (Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech). The major test will be against the Longhorns, however. While Manny Diaz's defense has underperformed all season, it has played better the last few weeks. And Diaz had the perfect game plan last year against Collin Klein and Co., as the 'Horns shut down the K-State offensive attack in a 17-13 loss to the 'Cats. Klein was sacked five times, held to 4 yards rushing and completed just 9 of 17 passes for an offense that managed just eight first downs. Meanwhile, the Ducks host Stanford next week before travelling to Corvallis for the Civil War game. A Pac-12 title game will also be on deck against either USC or UCLA. The physical play of the Cardinal on both sides of the ball could give the Ducks problems, although I don't think David Shaw's squad can make enough plays through the air to knock off Chip Kelly and Co. The Beavers, however, have shown that they can be very effective through the air. But will they have enough offensive balance? And in a potential league title game, would the Trojans or Bruins have enough defensive prowess to contain the Ducks' high-octane offensive attack?
• Conclusion: The Fighting Irish are running third in the human polls and first in the computer ratings, but Oregon's computer ratings will only increase. And it's tough to see human voters switch their votes from the Ducks or the Wildcats to the Irish even with ND's strong brand name. The bottom line is that the Irish are not going to jump Oregon and Kansas State without either one of those teams losing because they are too far behind in the polls. Whether it's a combination of "ugly" wins by the Irish and dominant performances by K-State and Oregon, it appears that an undefeated Notre Dame squad could get shut out of a title game. Who would ever have thought that was possible?
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