Last week, it appeared that college football had thrown off the shackles of SEC domination. The conference had won the past six national titles but appeared to be out of luck this year after SEC newcomer Texas A&M stunned undefeated and top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, handing the Crimson Tide its first loss of the season and knocking ‘Bama behind three other undefeated teams: Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame.
Both of the top two teams seemed a lock to go undefeated. Oregon had been a juggernaut, winning every game by a double-digit margin and running roughshod over opposing defenses. The Ducks hadn’t scored fewer than 42 points all season. Their remaining two games looked tough on paper, as they had to get past two top-15 teams in Stanford and Oregon State, but the Ducks have owned both those teams in recent years. The past two years, Oregon blew out Stanford by scores of 53-30 and 52-31.
Kansas State had been a model of consistency and discipline all season. The Wildcats took care of the football and didn’t commit penalties. Boasting Heisman frontrunner Collin Klein, K-State just had to get past a Baylor team that sported a losing record and ranked dead last in a number of defensive categories. The Wildcats’ only real challenge appeared to be Texas, and the Longhorns have struggled at times this year. Of the three undefeateds, Kansas State boasted the easiest path to the title game.
What a difference a week makes.
Stanford avenged its blowout losses to the Ducks the past two years by knocking off the Ducks 17-14 in overtime. The Cardinal defense throttled the high-powered Oregon offense, and after Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado’s field goal attempt bounced off the upright in the first overtime period, Stanford’s shaky kicker, Jordan Williamson, redeemed himself after an earlier miss by nailing a 37-yarder to give the Cardinal the upset.
At least the Oregon loss was feasible and understandable. Kansas State not only lost to a 4-5 Baylor team, the Wildcats were blown out 52-24 and became the first top-ranked team in BCS history to lose to a team with a losing record heading into the game. The 28-point margin of defeat tied for the largest margin of defeat by a number one team in BCS history. Baylor had fielded arguably the worst defense in the FBS yet held Kansas State well below its season scoring average. Presumptive Heisman Trophy favorite Collin Klein entered the game with only three interceptions, but the Bears picked him off three times.
It’s hard to consider Notre Dame a Cinderella team, given their rich history and top-notch brand recognition, yet nobody saw this coming. After years of “The Fighting Irish are BACK!” talk, it appears that they are indeed back. Brian Kelly has guided the Irish to an undefeated record and #1 ranking in the BCS. There have been a few close calls along the way, but Notre Dame, led by the nation’s best scoring defense and Heisman candidate Manti T’eo, is a victory over USC–who will be without standout quarterback Matt Barkley–away from playing for a national title.
Nobody is more pleased with these results than the SEC, which boasts an astounding five teams in the BCS top ten, including numbers 2-4. Alabama and Georgia control their own fate; if they each win their regular season finale, they’ll meet up in the SEC championship game with the winner earning a berth in the BCS title game. Florida’s lurking in the fourth spot and stands poised for a title shot should one of the other two SEC teams lose its next game then knock off the other in the SEC championship game. Should that happen, a mass uproar would occur as for the second straight year, a team that didn’t even win its own division would be playing for a national title.
What a difference a week makes.