Following the win over Oklahoma and the push into third place, folks are looking at the schedule and seeing the University of Southern California as the lone impediment to the Irish's title hopes. On the very base levels, they are correct. USC is the only team that has the talent on offense to truly scare Brian Kelly's team from an "on-paper" standpoint.
However, given the reality of the situation, USC is merely one of several teams that can keep the Fighting Irish out of the BCS championship game.
Sure, USC has the ability to stretch the Irish vertically, throw it downfield and test the secondary—a secondary that proved it is better than folks, myself included, ever thought it could be. If you're looking for a possible loss on the schedule, then look no further than the Trojans.
But, when talking BCS-championship appearance, there is more to the equation than wins or losses. USC is a team that can beat Notre Dame, but the Trojans, along with Oregon State, Oregon and Kansas State, will likely have a say in whether or not the Irish end up in the title game.
USC is more than just a factor from a win-loss standpoint. USC might ultimately be a worthless win for the Irish come November. After their showing against Arizona, the Trojans dropped to the bottom tier of the BCS standings, and should the University of Southern California get stomped out by Oregon, odds are it won't hold much clout in the standings.
Which brings us to Oregon, the team sitting just a thousandth of a point behind Notre Dame in the BCS Standings. Beating USC on Saturday is going to mean the Ducks beat a team that's ranked nationally and only has two losses.
That should be enough to push Oregon ahead of the Fighting Irish and their win over a .500 Pitt team—a move that would see Notre Dame's stay at No. 3 last a week before it ends up in fourth, looking up at the Ducks.
The Ducks can continue to be a problem because as Notre Dame plays Boston College, Wake Forest and that possible three-loss USC team to close out the year, Oregon plays Stanford, Oregon State and then whoever wins the Pac-12 South.
Which makes our eyes turn to the Beavers. Oregon State is a one-loss team with Stanford and Oregon on the schedule. Regardless of the outcome between the Beavers and the Cardinal, Oregon is no worse for wear. Either Stanford wins and moves up in the BCS rankings, or Mike Riley's team emerges victorious and the Civil War is likely a battle between two Top 10 teams.
None of those scenarios bode well for Notre Dame, especially if the UCLA Bruins find a way to stay at two losses and emerge as the Ducks' opponent for the Pac-12 title game.
The Ducks are a problem, and while everyone wants to believe that an undefeated Notre Dame is a sure thing for a title, watching Oregon's final month is a must in determining how things shake out.
The next team of note: Kansas State. The Wildcats' back end of the season is nothing to shake a stick at. They get two barely ranked opponents, neither of which plays defense, and no 13th game to help boost numbers. But the Wildcats do have a very interesting "ace in the hole" of sorts—a Heisman front-runner.
It is not right, but it is so. Having Collin Klein lead the Heisman race helps keep Kansas State elevated in people's minds. Believe me, I hate it. The idea that one offensive star is worth more than an elite defense is frustrating, but that's the world we live in.
Jumping Kansas State in the human polls is going to be a problem if both teams keep winning, especially if the Trojans are a three- or four-loss team by the time the Irish get a shot at them.
USC most certainly is not the only team that can keep Notre Dame out of the BCS championship game. Oregon and the Pac-12 race can hold the Irish back, as can the Heisman sensationalism that comes with Collin Klein. But, there's also another team that might play an even more central role in keeping Notre Dame from the game it so desperately wants to be in.
That team is Notre Dame itself.
Leave the speculation to the fans and pundits. This team has to continue to focus on the path that lies ahead of it. That starts with Pittsburgh and runs through Boston College, Wake Forest and then the USC Trojans. Each week must be approached like it is all that matters, because it is. It is impossible to get to 12-0—and that BCS-championship shot—without going 9-0, 10-0 and 11-0 first.
That means focusing on the task at hand. Executing, playing with fire and bringing the same fight that the Irish took into Norman into every contest from here on out. It also means hoping upon hope that they continue to avoid the serious injury bug. Since Jamoris Slaughter went down, things have been better for Notre Dame than for a lot of teams out there.
On its schedule, sure, the Trojans are the opponent who looks to have the best shot at knocking off Notre Dame. However, when you look at the real threats, there is plenty to worry about and it starts with the team wearing blue and gold. The Irish must take care of their own business and let the dust settle where it may.
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