Prior to the start of the 2012 college football season, the BCS committee announced it was forming a four-team playoff to crown a champion. It was perfect timing considering the announcement came before a game had been played and there was little change from the current format required. And then they announced the playoff wouldn’t begin until NEXT season.
As luck would have it, the BCS is on the verge of having four undefeated teams atop the rankings at season’s end and still only one game to crown a champion. What the playoff is supposed to prevent next year could come to fruition this year – two are in, two are left out. And with no committee yet in place to choose the four playoff teams, the decision about who plays for the championship will come down to a couple human polls and those confusing computer rankings.
College football fans will no doubt be thinking ‘what could’ve been’ at the end of the season. Between Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame, two teams will be on the outside looking in, wishing they could’ve done more to showcase their talents. In fact, this may be the only year where the four-team BCS playoff could be played without controversy. Just wait until next year when there are 15 one-loss teams in the rankings and not one is undefeated.
All four boast Heisman contenders and all have left some pretty good teams in their wake on the road to an unblemished record. Regardless, something will prevent two teams from making it so let’s run through the top four teams and discuss what will get them into the BCS Championship and what might prevent them from that coveted selection.Alabama
After a hard-fought, come-from-behind win in one of the toughest places to win on the road, unanimous No. 1 Alabama has to feel pretty good about its national title hopes. Obviously, if they want to maintain their undefeatedrecord they’ll have to make it to and then win the SEC Championship. Although they have three home games to close out the regular season, the Crimson Tide can’t start looking ahead quite yet because they have one of their toughest tests all season this weekend, stopping freshman standout quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies.
Prior to last Saturday’s victory over LSU, Alabama had rarely been tested all season. The season-opener against Michigan was supposed to be one for the ages; it ended up being just one for Alabama’s win column. Until LSU, the Alabama defense had not allowed an opponent to score more than two touchdowns and the offense had never scored less than 33. The only “low point” you could point to would be that 33-point output against Ole Miss. Will the LSU near-loss derail Alabama’s title hopes? Not at all.
What Alabama is going to have to look out for this Saturday is Manziel’s ability to extend plays with his legs in the pocket and find receivers downfield. Against LSU, Manziel often connected with receivers behind the linebackers as they focused much of their attention on making sure Manziel didn’t take off running instead of focusing on their zone-read responsibilities. I’m sure Manziel was please to see that Zach Mettenberger essentially picked apart the Bama secondary to the tune of 296 yards and one passing touchdown. If Manziel can equal those numbers passing then I think this game is much closer than Alabama would likeit to be.
All that being said, I don’t see Alabama losing a game at least until the SEC Championship when they’ll face either Florida or Georgia. Both teams are going to want to be the team to derail the Crimson Tide’s national title hopes so it’s not necessarily smooth sailing for the school-record, six-weeks-in-a-row unanimous AP No. 1 team.
You might think that the Ducks took a hit last Saturday against USC when the defense allowed 51 points and the offense needed an almost-superhuman effort from running back Kenjon Barner to pull out the road victory. If the Ducks hope to beat either Alabama or Kansas State (I don’t see Notre Dame’s offense posing too much of a threat), the defense needs to improve greatly.
Oregon’s offense has been scary-good this season, building insurmountable leads in the first half (and in some cases the first quarter) and then coasting down the stretch to victory. Oregon has scored 50, 35, 35, 13, 23, 35, 43, 56, and 34 points in the first half of each of their games. They average 35 points per game in the first half. The outputs of 13 and 23 points came against Arizona on the road and Washington State in Seattle at CenturyLink field. One might say the Ducks got a little lucky in the Arizona game as the Wildcats went 0-5 in the redzone with two interceptions, two missed field goals and a turnover on downs.
But even when the Ducks have come out flat in the first half (it’s only happened twice) the offense has always responded in the second half. They put up 28 on WSU and 36 on Arizona to turn close games into blowouts. But last weekend we saw that Oregon struggles to stop offenses that can move the ball with regularity.
With the exception of the opening game against Arkansas St. when they held a 5:06 time of possession advantage and against Arizona when they held a 0:04 advantage, the defense is always on the field longer than the offense. Against a team like Alabama, who has the size and firepower to put together lengthy, clock-killing drives, the Oregon defense will simply run out of gas in the second half.
Sure, they’ve scored points in bunches and the second halves of their games are usually filled with substitutes and second-stringers. But that also means the starters aren’t conditioned to play an entire game. When Chip Kelly was finally forced to play starters the entire 60 minutes, the defense gave up 51 points. As long as the offense is able to score 60+ points then Oregon will have a pretty good chance to win. But if the offense goes cold, like what happened to West Virginia after its hot start, then the Ducks are going to be in some serious trouble. There is no defense on their schedule like Alabama’s or Notre Dame’s. So while Ducks fans are feeling good now, I would hold off on submitting that order for a replica championship ring.
Kansas State might be the surprise team that’s still undefeated, but Notre Dame has to be the feel-good story among the top four. Notre Dame is 9-0 for the first time since 1993 when the Irish were national title contenders after upsetting No. 1 and eventual-champion Florida State. After that big victory in ’93, Notre Dame lost the next week to Boston College and their championship dreams ended. Don’t look now Irish fans, but after a lackluster performance against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame travels to Boston this weekend for a showdown the Irish cannot afford to overlook.
Notre Dame has been making its name on defense this year, the big name being senior linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o has been an anchor at middle linebacker. He has 85 tackles through nine games, has recovered two fumbles and intercepted five passes. Believe it or not, but the five interceptions is a career-high for Te’o, because he never had a career interception until this season.
Regardless of how well the defense has played this season, Notre Dame lucked out last weekend against Pittsburgh. A goalline fumble in the second overtime nearly cost the Irish the game, but Pittsburgh’s kicker missed wide right on the Panthers possession and Notre Dame sealed the win in the third overtime. What’s going to set the Irish apart from the other undefeated teams down the stretch is the last game of the season against USC.
Notre Dame travels west for a game that, if Notre Dame wins in blowout fashion, could put them in the BCS Championship. But a hard-fought victory or a loss will surely land Notre Dame in a secondary BCS Bowl. As an independent, Notre Dame has to schedule up to match the strength of schedules from teams that play in a BCS conference. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Irish offense has enough firepower to solidify Notre Dame as a viable contender for a national championship.
Kansas State has clearly had the slowest climb to the top of the rankings and is probably the most overlooked of the four undefeated teams. Despite wins at Oklahoma, and West Virginia, and wins at home against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, most people are probably expecting Kansas State to lose at least one of its final three games and for the miracle season to end short of a BCS Championship berth. Although they end the season by hosting Texas (sorry no Big 12 championship game this year), their biggest test will be this week at TCU where the Horned Frogs are coming home after upsetting West Virginia in double overtime.The Wildcats may be playing without injured Heisman favorite Collin Klein and therefore if they can win this weekend it will do wonders for Kansas State’s national title hopes. The big downside though is that the Wildcats don’t have a championship game like Alabama and Oregon and therefore they must hope their regular season resume is enough for voters.
The staple win for Kansas State is clearly the victory in Norman, Okla. If you didn’t think this year’s Kansas State team was for real consider this, Oklahoma had never lost at home to a ranked team under Bob Stoops and had only lost twice to a Big 12 team at home in that same span, going 44-2. In that game, and in many others this season, the Wildcats showed they had the ability to close out games down the stretch.
The Wildcats have scored 125 points in the fourth quarter this season and 223 total in the second half. In fact, nearly 56 percent of their points have been scored after halftime. If they can stay close in the first half against a team like Oregon, the late offense could wear down the opposing defense and put the Wildcats in position to win.
In the end though, like Notre Dame, I think the lack of a Big 12 championship game this season will hurt the Wildcats chances of being ranked above Oregon at season’s end. Barring a serious injury or multiple losses to close the season, I expect Klein to become Kansas State’s first Heisman winner in school history. He will at least be the first Wildcat finalist since Darren Sproles in 2003. But, despite Klein’s heroics at quarterback, I am not sure Kansas State will be able to make enough of a mark these last three games to put Oregon and/or Alabama out of the title picture.