Stunning upsets to K-State, Oregon send BCS race into a state of chaos
Baylor and Stanford turned the BCS upside down with wins over K-State, Oregon
Notre Dame, which seemed stuck at No. 3 in the BCS, is now set to climb to No. 1
Alabama, Georgia and even possibly Florida State have reentered the title picture
The Heisman Trophy frontrunner couldn't solve the nation's worst defense. The kicker that lost last year's Fiesta Bowl beat the BCS No. 2 team in the country. A team that last week feared it'd be stuck at No. 3 is set to climb to No. 1, and a team that last week fell from No. 1 has already reclaimed control of its national championship fate.
How's that for an eventful Saturday night?
College football's soon-to-be-extinct two-team national championship format is alternately maddening and unsatisfying, but it does lend itself to nights like this. For the first time in five years, the BCS' No. 1 (Kansas State) and No. 2 (Oregon) teams went down on the same day. In fact, they did so within an hour of each other. And now everything you thought you knew about the 2012 title race has been turned upside down.
In the week since then-No. 1 Alabama fell to Texas A&M, many a brain cell was wasted debating and dissecting the merits of remaining undefeated contenders Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame. Irish supporters, in particular, had begun campaigning for their third-ranked team. On Saturday morning, an athletic department spokesman sent out an e-mail to media members with a Notre Dame economics professor's assessment of the situation.
Had the school employed a professor of BCS history, he might have sent out a simpler creed: Wait a week. It's November. Crazy stuff happens.
It doesn't get much crazier than 4-5 Baylor throttling BCS No. 1 Kansas State, 52-24, easily the most improbable late-season upset since 4-7 Pittsburgh took down No. 2 West Virginia on the last night of the 2007 season. (Though it should be noted that ESPN College GameDay's five-year-old guest picker, Braden, did call it Saturday morning.) In starting 10-0, Bill Snyder's Wildcats were consistently disciplined -- ranked No. 1 nationally in both turnover margin and fewest penalties -- and defensively sound. Saturday night in Waco, they committed an offsides penalty on Baylor's first offensive play, and star quarterback Collin Klein, in a likely death knell to his Heisman hopes, threw three interceptions. Meanwhile, Bears running back Lache Seastrunk, the previously underwhelming Oregon transfer, gashed K-State linebacker Arthur Brown and Co. for 185 yards on 19 carries.
But most uncharacteristic of all was Baylor's previously nonexistent defense continually rising up and shutting down Kansas State's running game. It held the Wildcats to 2.5 yards per carry and, at one point, notched a goal-line stand.
"They took the fight to us and I didn't have them well enough prepared for it," said Snyder. "... Baylor played extremely well on offense, but I was impressed how well they played on defense. I don't think we handled the situation as well as we needed to."
Baylor fans stormed the field after the final whistle. They have a lot of practice. This same weekend a year ago, Robert Griffin III and the Bears knocked Oklahoma out of the title chase.
That same day, Nov. 19, 2011, Oregon suffered a similarly crushing 38-35 home loss to USC when kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. Get ready for some serious déjà vu. On Saturday, the Ducks' perfect season came to an end when Maldonado missed a 41-yarder in overtime, while Stanford's Jordan Williamson -- the goat of last year's Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State -- drilled a 37-yarder to win, 17-14. In a matter of minutes, Oregon went from the brink of the national championship to needing help next week from UCLA (against Stanford) to even play for the Pac-12 title.
"It hurts," said Ducks coach Chip Kelly. "From my situation, you'd love to have some words to take the pain out of it, but there aren't."
On paper, the 8-2 Cardinal beating 10-0 Oregon should be an easier upset to explain, but the Ducks were actually a bigger Vegas favorite (24 points) than K-State (13 points). It's a testament to just how dominant the Ducks' offense had been all season. But Stanford brought the nation's top-ranked rushing defense to Eugene and played like it, holding Oregon star Kenjon Barner to 66 yards on 21 carries. It did seem for most of the game like the Ducks would eventually pull through, but Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan's 10-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with 1:35 left -- which required a replay overturn to count -- set up Saturday's second dose of drama.
Notre Dame needed no such drama to move to 11-0, disposing of Wake Forest 38-0. And so the unbeaten (not counting postseason-banned Ohio State) that came into the day most lacking in style points will come out of it with the school's first No. 1 ranking since Nov. 22, 1993. Next Saturday, the Irish will visit preseason No. 1 USC, now 7-4 and possibly playing without star quarterback Matt Barkley, who was injured in Saturday's loss to UCLA. It's pretty simple: If Brian Kelly's team wins, it's heading to Miami.
And which opponent would the Irish most likely meet there? The SEC champion, of course. Alabama's stint in the penalty box following last Saturday's loss to A&M lasted all of a week. The 10-1 Tide, which feasted on 1-9 FCS foe Western Carolina, are expected to move back up to No. 2 in Sunday's BCS standings -- just as they did a year ago following their loss to LSU. Barring either a colossal upset in next week's Iron Bowl against 3-8 Auburn or 6-5 Georgia Tech knocking off 10-1 Georgia, the Dec. 1 SEC championship game will, for the third time in five years, serve as a play-in game to the BCS title game.
But what happens if Notre Dame loses to USC?
To answer that, it's important to look to next week's game in Tallahassee between 10-1 Florida and 10-1 Florida State, which now carries national championship implications. It's only a shame the game will kick off before Notre Dame's does. The Gators are expected to rise to No. 4 in the BCS on Sunday and would logically move above the Irish, should they lose, as well as the loser of the SEC title game.
But have you seen Florida's putrid offense lately? Florida State has flown completely off the radar since its Oct. 6 loss to NC State, but it will likely be favored at home against the one-dimensional Gators. And a Notre Dame loss coupled with a Seminoles' win would be the point where this year's BCS race falls completely off the rails.
The BCS computers do not like the 'Noles given their two FCS opponents and their mediocre ACC schedule. As of last week, they'd been relegated to No. 10 in the standings despite sitting sixth in both major polls. Beating a top-10 SEC foe would cause a bump from both the voters and the computers, but would it be enough to pass the three two-loss SEC teams currently ranked in front of them?
The non-SEC portion of America better hope so. Or perhaps by that point, K-State or Oregon would get back in the race. Believe it or not, after Saturday's twin upsets, the prospect of Alabama-LSU IV is suddenly on the radar. Really.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We've done plenty of that already.
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