Notre Dame’s wild season could probably be summarized in one play on Saturday night. As the third quarter wound down, Everett Golson took an incredible shot to the ribs on a quarterback draw.
He was down and out, and it didn’t look good at first. He fumbled, but his elbow touched down first, and he eventually came lumbering off the field. While his lungs filled back up with air, backup quarterback Tommy Rees once again came in off the bench for a crucial 3rd-and-7.
Rees dropped back and completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Tyler Eifert, his personal favorite target, and moved the chains. Golson returned the very next play, and the drive resulted in a field goal, but this accurately summed up ND’s night and even its season.
It hasn’t mattered what has gotten in the Irish’s way, who has played quarterback or how pretty or ugly they have played. It has worked, and Notre Dame’s 30-13 win over Oklahoma suddenly creates a very interesting scenario when it comes to the BCS.
Pittsburgh, Boston College, Wake Forest and a finale at USC are all that stand between Notre Dame and an undefeated season. Suddenly, it's now more realistic than ever that the Irish have a shot to play their way into the national championship game.
A 12-0 season is in their sights, and while they could certainly lose a game before taking on USC, it seems unlikely. Perhaps the bigger question for Notre Dame at this point, however, isn’t necessarily about its record, but instead the records of others. Could an unbeaten Irish team be left out of the title game this year?
Absolutely. And talk about the chaos that would ensue.
The BCS is already dead—well, dying—but if college football’s biggest brand was left out of a championship following an unbeaten season, there would be fewer folks at the funeral than anticipated.
When we try to anticipate the madness, however, it all seems very possible. First, we’ve got plenty of football to be played, and plenty can happen. The second disclaimer to pass along is we're trying to forecast a formula, a computer's take, that will eventually decide the title game.
If we had a four-team playoff and a committee ready to send these current contenders in, the discussion would be slightly less chaotic. With the system as is, chaos could be at an all-time high. So where exactly do the Irish fit in?
It seems incredibly unlikely that Notre Dame would jump an undefeated Alabama team. Although Alabama’s schedule is not the juggernaut we thought it would be, the polls and computers will be enough to keep them on top. If—and this is still an if despite how incredible the Tide appear—they stay unbeaten.
The debate over Oregon and Kansas State is where things really get interesting. If both teams finish unbeaten, we’ll have madness. USC’s loss at Arizona certainly hinders Oregon’s strength of schedule, but Stanford and Oregon State still add a boost. How much of a boost is the question. As dominant as the Ducks have looked, the resume isn’t there yet. Notre Dame could very well edge an Oregon team when it’s all said and done, although there are many moving pieces.
For Kansas State, there are fewer moving pieces, but Oklahoma’s loss (a team it beat) to Notre Dame certainly didn’t help. K-State dominated a good Texas Tech team, beat West Virginia in Morgantown and has its toughest tests out of the way. TCU, Baylor and Texas remain, which should make for an interesting conclusion. How will West Virginia recover? Will Oklahoma be able to rebound? There is much to be answered on this front.
In general, this is the overwhelming theme.
The right to play in the national championship game could once again be out of these teams’ hands. If these four were to finish the season unbeaten, then Notre Dame could certainly be excluded from the game. Then again, the Irish could also be on the right end of this if things go their way.
It’s simply impossible to predict at this point, and that's what makes our current system so maddening. As long as Notre Dame keeps winning, however, it will have a magnificent chance to play for the title. While the Irish's schedule doesn’t have the firepower that it did heading into the season (looking in your direction Big Ten, others), it’s still loaded.
They could certainly use a USC win against Oregon next weekend, though. That would help on a variety of fronts.
I would still be incredibly surprised to see it come down to four unbeatens, although that would be fitting chaos in the year we finally announce a playoff.
2014 can’t get here soon enough.