The Notre Dame football team finds itself with a chance to play for the national championship for the first time in a generation, making the Fighting Irish program unexpectedly among the BCS elite in coach Brian Kelly's third season. The Irish are unbeaten and ranked third in the latest BCS standings as they head into their November 3 home game against Pittsburgh.
Continuing their winning streak, and finishing the season with a perfect 12-0 record might not be enough for Notre Dame, however. To ensure themselves a place in the title game, they will need some help.
Two teams are currently ahead of the Irish, and another lurks close behind. All four of these teams - including Notre Dame - could finish the season undefeated. If that happens, the two currently ranked ahead of Notre Dame, defending national champion Alabama and Kansas State would likely have to lose a game for the Irish to move up to one of the two automatic BCS qualifying berths. It would help Notre Dame's chances if number four Oregon slipped up along the way as well.
Therefore, this is a big weekend in determining whether Notre Dame will have a clear path to the national championship game.
The Crimson Tide take on LSU November 3 in a rematch of last year's title game. A team from the SEC has won the last six consecutive national championships, and coach Nick Saban's squad would like to make that seven in a row. Alabama is ranked number one, the Tigers are ranked number five. The game will be played in Baton Rouge. A win by LSU eliminates one of the unbeaten, and would move an unbeaten Notre Dame into the one of the BCS qualifier spots.
The Wildcats are at home in Manhattan, KS to face Oklahoma State. Because the Big 12 no longer holds a conference championship game, this could be the last real test of the season for K-State, and the last hope for Notre Dame to see this unbeaten rival knocked off. The Cowboys are ranked 24th in the country, and have played better defense lately than their dismal early-season games. Kansas State has never had an undefeated season, but plays perhaps the easiest stretch-run schedule of the four unbeaten contenders.
The Ducks could help Notre Dame in two ways by losing to USC in Los Angeles. A loss would thin the unbeaten ranks, something the Irish need. But a loss would also boost the computer rankings for the Trojans, and make what Notre Dame hopes will be a victory over USC in their last regular-season game even more valuable when it comes to the BCS standings. USC unexpectedly already has a pair of losses, and suffering a third to Oregon would drive down the perceived accomplishment when and if the Irish beat them.
All of this presumes, of course that Notre Dame will continue to remain unbeaten. Ahead of their own matchup with USC on Thanksgiving weekend, the Irish must remain focused and get by Pitt (4-4), Boston College (2-6) and Wake Forest (4-4). If they accomplish that, and get a little help, they could once again be playing for the college football national championship.
Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.
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