Bowl picture comes into focus
Cue the iconic music. A name familiar around the world, once thought to have passed its sell-by date, is making a triumphant return. It is a good season to be James Bond, and it is a great season to be Notre Dame.
"Skyfall," the latest Bond film, is setting box-office records, and the No. 1 Fighting Irish, with their 22-13 victory over archrival USC, have booked a locker room at the BCS National Championship Game in Miami. To say the least, Notre Dame fans are stirred, not shaken.
It has been 24 seasons since the Irish won a national championship, 32 seasons since they played Georgia in a bowl game and 38 seasons since they played Alabama in January. The winner of the SEC championship game on Saturday between the No. 3 Bulldogs and the No. 2 Crimson Tide will advance to play Notre Dame for the crystal football.
After that, the bowl matchups take on their annual cloak of intrigue. The Sugar Bowl gets the first pick out of the BCS pool of unassigned teams for donating the SEC champion to the BCS title game. After that begins the selection rota, which this season is 1. Fiesta, 2. Sugar, 3. Orange.
The Rose, of course, will match the Big Ten champion, either No. 12 Nebraska or Wisconsin, against the Pac-12 champ, either No. 8 Stanford or No. 16 UCLA.
The BCS pool will include the Big East champion, an SEC runner-up and No. 5 Oregon, the Pac-12 North co-champion. The fourth team could be a BCS buster, say, the winner of the MAC Championship between No. 17 Kent State and No. 21 Northern Illinois, or even No. 20 Boise State of the Mountain West.
If a school from a non-automatic-qualifying (AQ) conference is rated at least No. 16, it is guaranteed a BCS bid as long as it finishes ahead of an AQ conference champ. With no Big East teams in the Top 25 this week, the BCS busters can check that box.
The team that gets knocked out of the BCS by the non-AQ school likely will be the Big 12 runner-up, either No. 6 Kansas State or No. 11 Oklahoma. The Sooners will leapfrog the SEC championship loser, No. 7 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 10 South Carolina because no conference -- not even the SEC -- may have more than two teams.
The Sugar is expected to replace the SEC champ with an SEC also-ran. If No. 4 Florida, which finished 11-1 after a 37-20 rout at crossstate rival Florida State, moves up to No. 3 -- a likelihood given that either Alabama or Georgia will lose -- then it will get an automatic BCS bid.
The Fiesta will happily select No. 5 Oregon, its 11-1 record and its flashy offense and uniforms to play the Big 12 champion. The Sugar will take the Big 12 champion if available, both for the TV appeal and the high ranking. If not, the Sugar must decide whether to take the Big East champ, likely the winner of the Rutgers-Louisville game Thursday, or the BCS buster. Given that the Sugar has played host to Hawaii and Utah in the last five years, the Sugar likely will go for the name recognition of a Rutgers or a Louisville.
The Orange Bowl then would match the ACC champion, either the 10-2 Seminoles or 6-6 Georgia Tech, against the remaining team.
Riddick's toughness carries Irish to Miami
LOS ANGELES -- Theo Riddick committed to Charlie Weis as a running back. He will leave Notre Dame under Brian Kelly as a running back. In between, there have been two years as a receiver, along with a stint at punt returner, both 8-5 seasons that left much to be desired.
Riddick rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in Notre Dame's 22-13 win Saturday night at USC, helping carry the Irish to the BCS national title game. He added 33 yards on three catches as part of his duties as a slot guy, an element the Irish incorporated into their running game this season, one that fits Riddick perfectly, given his history.
"If you want to know about the Fighting Irish, you just need to look at Theo Riddick," Kelly said after the win. "Here's a guy that was a wide receiver for me the first two years. We asked him to move back to running back. You just look at his jersey after the game, you just go, 'There's no wonder why this team has got the toughness it does.'"
Plenty of Riddick's work came after contact against the Trojans. He now has 880 rushing yards on the season, the first in which assistant Tony Alford has coached running backs and slot receivers together, after coaching running backs in 2011.
Kelly gave Riddick the game ball afterward, after his workload pushed the Irish to the brink of their first national title in 24 years.
"What can I say, man? I play for my teammates," Riddick said. "So during that transition in terms of positions, I didn't really have a problem with it. Coach Kelly wanted me to play wide receiver, I played it. He wanted to put me back in the backfield, I did that. So I do it for my teammates."
Chaos the norm in Big East race
Nothing is ever neat and tidy for the Big East when it comes to its conference champions, or its BCS representatives, for that matter.
For some reason, this league always seems to feature a little bit of chaos at the end of every season. Why should this one be any exception?
You figured the Big East had a great chance to see No. 18 Rutgers and No. 20 Louisville win on Saturday. Both had games against teams with losing records. But here we are on Sunday, talking about all the different scenarios concerning the Big East race as it heads into its final week.
That is because -- in typical Big East fashion -- Rutgers lost to Pittsburgh 27-6 and Louisville lost to Connecticut 23-20 in triple overtime. Despite the loss, the Scarlet Knights did clinch at least a share of their first ever Big East title. They would have won it outright had they managed to win the game.
But as mentioned above, nothing is ever that simple for the Big East.
What is true is this: Though Rutgers and Louisville lost, both schools remain the only ones with BCS hopes. That means their game this Thursday in New Jersey has just as much weight as it did before their unexpected losses in Week 13. If Rutgers wins, the Scarlet Knights (9-2, 5-1) win the Big East title outright and go to the BCS.
If Louisville (9-2, 4-2) wins, the Cardinals are all but assured of going to the BCS. But here is where things get sorta fun. If Louisville and Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) win, the Big East would have a four-way tie atop its standings for the first time since 2004, with Syracuse (7-5, 5-2) also in first.
The Big East would declare all four co-champions. As for determining the BCS representative, a four-team mini-conference would be created. First tiebreaker: head-to-head wins. Cincinnati and Syracuse would be eliminated from contention with 1-2 records. That leaves Rutgers and Louisville at 2-1.
The final BCS standings would then determine the representative in the BCS. That would presumably be the Cardinals, who would wind up with the better overall record. If Rutgers and Louisville tie for the highest ranking, the bid goes to the team that won the head-to-head matchup. That would be Louisville.
If Louisville wins and Cincinnati loses, then there would be a three-way tie between the Cardinals, Rutgers and Syracuse. The BCS standings would determine the representative. And once again, that would presumably be Louisville based on its better overall record.
If either tie happens, it would mark the third straight season the Big East has had multiple champions, and the second straight season the league relied on the final BCS standings to determine its representative.
Leave it to the drama-filled Big East to take things down to the wire.
Undefeated Irish's next challenge awaits
LOS ANGELES -- Notre Dame completed its perfect regular season here Saturday night.
Wait, no, that's not right. It was a 12-0 season, an undefeated season. But perfect? Far from it.
All those near-defeats. All the quarterback shuffling. All the stops and starts in momentum. How could that ever be described as perfect?
Even Saturday against Matt Barkley-less USC, the Irish required five field goals and a late goal-line stand to grind out a 22-13 win. Some recent champs have made winning seem effortless. Just watching the Irish makes a viewer feel as if he or she has worked an overnight shift on an assembly line.
It might be exhausting, but it has also been effective. Notre Dame is 12-0, regardless of what went into each of the 12 victories.
"That's how we play," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "We don't talk about style points. We talk about finding ways to win."
That's why it's difficult to count them out against any BCS title game opponent -- even if that team will come from a league that's won six consecutive championships.
Notre Dame versus the SEC champ will provide terrific fodder for the month of December, Southern-bred fans crowing about how the Irish have no prayer, and Notre Dame fans rolling their eyes because of all the bends in the road they've navigated the past three months.
I know of one Tennessee-based blogger, perhaps in search of outrage (or page views), who has said all year that the Irish would be nothing more than a middle-of-the-road SEC team.
In talking briefly Saturday with a former All-SEC player, he said he thinks Notre Dame would hang with every SEC team. Except one.
To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here .
Three weekend observations
1. Silas Redd, the junior tailback who transferred from Penn State to USC in August, finished the season with 817 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. That's 173 yards fewer than the Nittany Lions' leading rusher (converted fullback Zach Zwinak). Redd, having purchased Trojans coach Lane Kiffin's magic beans, played on a team that finished 7-5. The Penn State team that Redd left behind finished 8-4 and will be celebrated in Nittany Lions lore for its determination.
2. Did you see what Stanford coach David Shaw did Saturday night at UCLA? When the Cardinal scored two touchdowns in 13 seconds of the third quarter to take a 35-10 lead, Shaw all but hid the helmet of star tailback Stepfan Taylor. The senior, who had rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, didn't carry the ball again. He'll be that much fresher when the Cardinal plays the Bruins for the Pac-12 title on Friday night.
3. The Pac-12 for decades has been known as the league that produces quarterbacks. But this season, the Pac-12 has three backs among the top 10 FBS rushers: Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, Oregon senior Kenjon Barner and UCLA senior Johnathan Franklin (Stanford's Taylor is 16th). Here's another surprise: The only conference to match the Pac-12 is the MAC, which has four backs among the top 15 rushers, including do-it-all quarterback Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois, who's fifth with 1,611 yards.
Highlights: Michigan-Ohio State
GameDay crew final thoughts
Back in August, I predicted that a coach named Kelly would play for the national championship. But I thought it would be Chip Kelly instead of Brian Kelly. Notre Dame has extraordinary mental toughness, and its defense is as good as any in the country.
I doubted Florida against Florida State. I thought Florida State was an elite team, but the Seminoles haven't played a high level of competition this season -- save for the Clemson and Florida games. They went 1-1 in those two contests, and they blew a game they should've won (at NC State). It's a difficult loss for them and a great win for Florida coach Will Muschamp. Florida will be a very deserving team in a BCS at-large game.
Great job by Urban Meyer and his Ohio State players in maintaining their focus after knowing they can't play in a bowl game.
Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze has done a great job turning the Rebels around and getting them bowl eligible. It's a very disappointing season for Virginia Tech, but it kept its bowl streak alive by winning again. Rice got a huge kickoff return for a touchdown and is going to a bowl.
One game that I'm really looking forward to is Army versus Navy. Having spent time with the military, having coached against the Naval Academy and the Air Force, I know how hard those people work and how important of a role they play. They play the game because they enjoy it and not because they're going to go to the pros, etc.
To play for the national championship, you have to be a little lucky, and Notre Dame has been lucky in a lot of respects. But Alabama and Georgia were also lucky that everyone else (except Notre Dame) has lost at least one game and Ohio State's not eligible.
Congratulations to Notre Dame and Brian Kelly for getting to the national championship game. It's an incredibly difficult accomplishment against the schedule the Irish faced. They weren't perfect versus USC, but they rushed the ball for more than 200 yards, they threw the ball for more than 200 yards, and they outcoached the Trojans.
Florida played like I thought it would. When the SEC goes against the ACC, it's just a different level. Getting quarterback Jeff Driskel back was huge. You can see why the Gators sat him the past couple of weeks. They needed his mobility, his throwing and his experience in this game.
If the AP puts Ohio State at No. 1 at the end of the season, it will lose its credibility. The Buckeyes got it done, and I congratulate Urban Meyer. But Ohio State is on probation for a reason.
Highlights: Florida-Florida State
Blog Network: What we learned
SEC > ACC. And it is not even close. The average score was not pretty: SEC 40-19.
Texas should be suited for a 2013 Big 12 title run, but it still needs better play from David Ash, who's been benched twice in the second half.
Does anybody want to win the conference? The two ranked teams dropped games to teams with losing records.
Michigan isn't really back: In terms of beating really good teams, Brady Hoke's crew is still looking for a breakthrough.
A double-digit, fourth-quarter lead doesn't mean much in a rivalry game. Just ask Arizona and Arizona State.
How do you pick just one SEC Coach of the Year? There are at least four coaches who deserve serious consideration.
Everett Golson's string of solid performances are something you'd expect from a grizzled upperclassman.
Highlights: Oklahoma-Oklahoma St.
Weekly Leaders: Week 13
Blog Network: Helmet stickers
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
• ACC: Duke Johnson; Cody Journell; Bryn Renner
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• Big 12: Landry Jones; Nick Florence; Trevone Boykin
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• Big East: Travis Kelce; Ray Graham; Lyle McCombs
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Eric Martin; Kain Colter; Le'Veon Bell
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• Pac-12: Andrew Furney; Reggie Dunn; Marion Grice
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• SEC: Jadeveon Clowney; Mike Gillislee; Johnny Manziel
More SEC stickers
• Notre Dame: Everett Golson; Theo Riddick; Manti Te'o
More ND stickers