Depending on which poll or computer one wishes to believe, Oregon and Kansas State are currently #1 and #2, with the also undefeated Notre Dame nipping at their heels in the #3 spot. The once mighty Alabama has dropped to #4. Let's take a look at each team, their records, remaining schedules, and how this may very well play out, with a surprise prediction later on in this article.
Many, including yours truly, thought they would never get beat. We were wrong. They did. Bama has a patsy coming to town for the next game in the personna of Western Carolina. It will probably be brutal -- for Carolina. That game's irrelevant. Even if Bama beats them 1000 -0, they won't get any style points for stomping a cream puff. The following week they get Auburn, and they're not very good either. What might get interesting is the SEC championship game, which is shaping up to look like a Georgia/Alabama contest. It will be played in the Georgia Dome. If the Tide crushes the current #5 Dawgs in their own backyard, they'd certainly get style points for that, but it still might not be enough. Unless two out the three still unbeatens go down in the next couple weeks, which is highly unlikely, Nick Saban and Co. can't get to the promised land. After all, Alabama broke the first commandment of a #1 team. Thou shalt not be beaten, by anybody, especially at home. And more especially late in the season, when there's not enough time and games left in the season for pollsters to forget about it.
Head coach Brian Kelly has recently jumped on his soapbox and is shamelessly saying his team should be considered amongst the Top 2. Vote for us, cries Kelly, we've got the best defense in the land. (Geez, and just when we thought all that political self-serving nonsense was finally over for a while.) The Fighting Irish may very well have the best defense. Yet Kelly neglects to mention his offense is about as exciting as watching a team of horses drag a plow through a field. Sure, the job gets done eventually, but it's not exactly inspiring stuff -- ya know? Besides, it took Notre Dame 3 overtimes, at home, to finally defeat a not-so-good Pittsburgh team. They escaped by the red peach fuzz on their leprechaun chinny chin chins. Subtract a few style points. Notre Dame has patsy Wake Forest next week and then USC to finish out the season. Because the Irish wish to remain independent in football, they won't have the benefit of playing in a conference championship game to score more style points against a good team. It seems that independent thing can cut both ways.
Without question, the Ducks are an offensive juggernaut. They've got speed demons galore, and oh my, do they rack up the points. Oregon has scored over 40 points in every single game this year. Sometimes over 50. Sometimes over 60. Even 70 once. Offense is not a problem. But their defense is suspect. Sure, they put up a whopping 62 points against USC on the road, but they also gave up 51 to the Trojans. Oregon gets Stanford, a Top 20 ranked team, next week, and then patsy Oregon State. Style points if they convincingly beat Stanford. No points for damming up the Beavers. Yet it just seems like a really good defensive team that can put up points of their own might pose a problem for the Ducks. Which brings me to....
The Wildcats can put up serious points themselves and have a very stout defense. During the course of the season, even an undefeated team won't blow out everybody, but the closest anybody has come to competing with K-State was Oklahoma, and Iowa State. They're both pretty good teams, and K-State found a way to beat them on the road. The Wildcats go to Baylor next week, and will likely put a whupping on Waco not seen since the Branch Davidians squared off against the Feds. No style points in either case. But then they return home to face Texas. The Longhorns were cruising right along until they lost a close one to West Virginny, then got blasted by Oklahoma the following week (both teams that K-State beat), to fall hopelessly out of national contention, but they still got game. Style points are at stake for the Wildcats against Texas.
So for the sake of argument, let's assume Alabama is out of it. Let's further assume Oregon knocks off Stanford and Oregon State. Further, let's say K-State wallops Baylor and gets by Texas. No great stretches of imagination needed for all that to play out.
It's also a pretty safe bet to also assume Notre Dame will slaughter Wake Forest.
All of those games will have already been played -- and then comes Notre Dame @USC. Two of the most high-profile teams in the country. Everybody will be watching, definitely including the pollsters. Remember, in the pre-season polls, some had USC ranked as high as #1. Yes, they've certainly not lived up to those expectations, having been beaten three times already, and fell out of national contention some time ago. But it's still USC/Notre Dame and that game will be hyped to the max.
If USC beats Notre Dame, or even stays close, then it will be Oregon and K-State in the championship game, as well it should be.
However, and here's the possible prediction --- if Notre Dame struts into LA and thoroughly trounces the Trojans in front of a national TV audience and the network executives, the pollsters and computers will somehow magically find a way to nudge the Irish up to #2, and off they'll go to the championship contest. You just know they're looking for a reason -- ANY reason -- to get Notre Dame into it. It's likely that Oregon would run wild against them, or K-State would flat-out demolish the Irish in such a game, but style points on the field cease to matter at that point.
It's about ratings and cha-chings. Notre Dame would bring it. Not so much K-State or Oregon. One of them might have to be a sacrificial lamb to the network gods. It would be an outrage, of course, but look around. Outrages seem to happen every day. The people that commit them know our attention span lasts only until the next news cycle, when we'll be distracted by something else, so it's no big deal to them. Another outrage will come along in a day or two, and we'll quickly forget about this one. Just the way it works these days.
Just a thought. We'll see. I still think K-State is the best of the bunch, though.