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November 21, 2012

Direct Kick: Upset Saturday throws Bama back in the mix

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — And just like that, Alabama is back in the national championship hunt. As late as Saturday morning most pundits had all but buried the Crimson Tide’s (and the SEC overall) chance to make it back to the BCS title game. Considering that there were three undefeated teams ahead of ‘Bama, it would take a miracle for an SEC team to make it to the big game seven years in a row.

And then came Upset Saturday.

Three teams entered Saturday with unblemished records: Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame, ranked 1-2-3 respectively in the BCS. All three were expected to emerge from Saturday’s action still perfect.

But as the clock approached midnight Saturday, only the Fighting Irish remained perfect.

The Irish had already throttled Wake Forest, 38-0, earlier in the day, so Notre Dame sat back and watched. And they liked what they saw.

First Kansas State, an overwhelming favorite to beat a 4-5 Baylor team, failed to bring it’s A, B, C or even D game into Waco, falling to the Bears, and it wasn’t even close. Baylor  52, Kansas State 24. Heisman frontrunner Collin Klein lost not only a chance at a national championship, but probably the Heisman also. Heisman hopefuls don’t throw 3 interceptions in a big game. Baylor hadn’t beaten a team ranked as high since they beat No. 2 Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl in 1957. Baylor did tie No. 1 Texas during the 1941 season. Kansas State became the first No. 1 team in the BCS to ever loss to a team with a losing record.

Then Oregon lost to Stanford in OT, 17-14. While still an upset, it wasn’t as huge as the Kansas State loss, as the Cardinal were ranked 13th in the BCS standings. But the Ducks couldn’t figure out how to penetrate Stanford’s defense. Oregon came into the game averaging 325 yards per game rushing, but the Cardinal run defense, No. 1 in the nation, held the Ducks to just 198.

So now Notre Dame is No. 1 with just one game remaining this Saturday at USC. The Trojans not only lost to UCLA, 38-28, but also quarterback Matt Barkley, who left with an apparent shoulder injury. Without Barkley, I don’t think USC can beat Notre Dame. And since Lane Kiffin is their coach, I hope they don’t win.

If the Irish beat the Trojans, then they will play for a national title. The only question is who will they face?

Alabama has a tough road to get to the title game. The Tide still has to beat Auburn then Georgia in the SEC championship game. Should they accomplish this, it will be a rematch of the 1973 Sugar Bowl, where Notre Dame beat Alabama, 24-23, to win the national title. The last time the Irish won the national title was in 1988, while Alabama won it last year.

And don’t forget Georgia. If the Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech and Alabama, they could find themselves playing for the national title. Even Florida has a chance. Boy, the SEC haters, who were doing the happy dance after Texas A & M beat Alabama last week, must be crestfallen today.

But if Notre Dame loses Saturday, then who knows who will play for the title. There will be a lot of one loss teams to choose from.

Looking back at the preseason AP poll, USC was ranked No. 1. What a disappointing year this has been. Alabama was ranked No. 2, and Notre Dame, not even ranked in the Top 25. In the USA Today poll, LSU was the top team, with Alabama second, USC third, and Notre Dame, 24th. So much for preseason polls.

Whether you like it or not, college football is better when Notre Dame is a contender. A lot of fans don’t like the Irish, but you can’t deny they are one of the best teams this season and of all time. And a Notre Dame-Alabama national title game, which right now has the Crimson Tide a 10-point favorite, would bring back memories of legends past.

The sad thing this season is an unbeaten Ohio State team is under probation and ineligible for a bowl game this season. I would love to see a Notre Dame-Ohio State national title game.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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