When college football fans awoke on Saturday, Nov. 3, the top five teams in the nation, according to the BCS poll, were Alabama, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Oregon and LSU. This had already been a season of surprising resurrections (the undefeated Fighting Irish) and unexpected falls from grace (the 6--2 Trojans), but this Saturday would be a day like none in recent memory—and one that set the stage for the national championship game, two months later.
In South Bend, Notre Dame would be tested by unranked Pittsburgh in a nail-biter, settled only after three overtimes. Before that was decided, a rat-a-tat shootout began in Los Angeles, where USC traded big-play blows with run-and-gun Oregon. And before those two teams reached halftime, undefeated Alabama kicked off to LSU in Baton Rouge for a prime-time rematch of the 2012 BCS title game.
In the end, all three winners—the Irish, Ducks and Tide—preserved their perfect seasons. At least for another week. As the last of the three battles came to a conclusion, Alabama QB AJ McCarron hung his head on the bench, crying tears of ... what exactly? Relief? Joy? It's hard to say. But anyone who'd witnessed the evening's pigskin perfect storm on TV could relate to the emotional exhaustion.
SI revisited the evening with players, coaches, announcers and a few special fans from these three games to relive the most thrilling day of sports in 2012.
3:30 p.m. EDT
Pittsburgh (4--4) #3 Notre Dame (8--0) at Notre Dame Stadium
(Notre Dame, class of '71): I was watching at home in Memphis. We'd just beaten Oklahoma, so Notre Dame Nation was feeling terrific. Suddenly everyone was asking, Is Notre Dame for real?
(Notre Dame, class of '53): I was totally surprised they were still undefeated. I thought they would drop two or three along the way, but then they got through Stanford and Oklahoma.... That's when I began to think, We may go all the way here! Following a big game like Oklahoma, the next game is always a trap game—and boy, was Pitt a trap game.
(NBC analyst): I felt like Pitt was just dangerous enough to cause a problem, with a fifth-year quarterback, Tino Sunseri, and an NFL-caliber tailback, Ray Graham. Having called a lot of Notre Dame games, I knew the Irish defense was as good as any in the country, but their offense was inconsistent with a redshirt freshman quarterback in Everett Golson.
Theismann: Having watched Everett last year in camp, I knew he threw a beautiful spiral. But sometimes you weren't sure where it was going. There were times he didn't know where it was going.