First thing is first: Notre Dame MUST beat Wake Forest and Southern Cal. If either of those games are losses there will have been no point to arguing that ND was unfairly ranked behind Oregon and Kansas State.
Buuuuuuut while the team focuses on the Demon Deacons, as fans we can afford to look ahead. IF the Irish are able to take care of business, it looks like the only hope for a national championship birth would include a loss by either the Ducks or the Wildcats.
With a combined 5 games remaining for Oregon and KSU, we look at where that much needed upset could (hopefully) be found. Games are listed from least likely to be an upset to most likely to be an upset.
5) Kansas State at Baylor
When: This Saturday (November 17th)
Baylor’s offense has been terrific – the Bears are 7th in the country in scoring, putting up almost 43 points per game. On the other side of the ball, though, Baylor has been nothing short of horrendous with the 3rd worst scoring defense in the nation. At the end of the day an apparently healthy Collin Klein will trounce a Baylor team that has only beaten SMU, Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe and Kansas en route to a season defining matchup with Texas (see below).
4) Oregon at Oregon State
When: November 24th
Yes, Oregon State is ranked 11th and will likely come into the game at 8-2 overall. As I’ll discuss about Oregon vs. Stanford below, I believe a team will need to be able to effectively run the football to keep the Ducks offense off the field, and Oregon State has the 113th ranked rushing offense in the country. While it is a home game for the Beavers and the crowd will undoubtedly be out of its collective mind for the Civil War, don’t hold your breath for an upset (unless the Ducks skill players are still beat up from the physical Stanford defense).
3) Oregon vs. USC (…probably)
When: Pac-12 Championship (November 30th)
If the Trojans can get past UCLA they will earn a rematch with the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship. For this game to matter to Notre Dame fans, the Irish will have already gone into the Coliseum and handed Kiffykins and Company their 4th loss of the season. In that case, the Trojans will be playing for a trip to the Rose Bowl instead of trip to the Holiday Bowl, and will be playing to avenge an embarrassing defensive effort earlier this season. If UCLA beats USC next week the Ducks may be waltzing their way through the game en route to Miami.
2) Oregon vs. Stanford
When: This Saturday (November 17th)
Irish fans got to see the 13th ranked Cardinal firsthand, and while David Shaw’s squad has once again been stout defensively they have historically struggled against Oregon, giving up over 50 points to the Ducks in each of the last two seasons. It will be interesting to see how a much weaker Stanford offense affects the game – I expect Shaw will try to control the time of possession and hope that Stepfan Taylor can churn for enough first downs that Oregon’s offense has difficulty finding a rhythm. In that strange way, Stanford may have a better shot without Andrew Luck at the helm….or not.
1) Kansas State vs. Texas
When: December 1st
Since the Pac-12 Championship is played the night before the Longhorns travel to Manhattan, it is very conceivable that we watch this game knowing that Notre Dame’s final hope rests with a team that lost to Oklahoma by 42 at home. Is Texas better than Kansas State? Almost certainly not. But Bill Snyder’s squad, representing a school that has historically been a bottom-dweller in the college football world, will have an unimaginable weight on their shoulders entering this game if they know a win will land them in Miami. I keep thinking back to December 1, 2007 when the West Virginia Mountaineers only needed a win over lowly Pittsburgh to reach the national championship game and, despite averaging 42 points per game to that point (KSU is averaging 42 points per game, by the way), absolutely laid a brick and lost 13-9. We can only hope it doesn’t come to this, but there is a very good chance we’ll all be Longhorns fans on 12/1.