It’s safe to say that, at this point in the season No. 18 USC was expected to be a major player in the Bowl Championship Series national championship race.
And guess what? They are, still.
Not in the way people expected the Trojans to be, though. Not an undefeated team on a collision course with Alabama. Though they might not be playing for the national title game anymore, they could still leave a profound effect on it.
It is presumptuous, to say the least, seeing as it is entirely possible that USC loses to a quality No. 17 UCLA team on Saturday. But if the Trojans win, their remaining games are against No. 3 Notre Dame on Thanksgiving weekend at the Coliseum and (probably) against No. 2 Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game the following Friday.
With the Fighting Irish, Ducks and No. 1 Kansas State all undefeated, it will presumably take a perfect season for a chance to play for the BCS crystal ball. If USC knocks off Oregon or Notre Dame, both of their chances are shot. In the 14-year history of the BCS, only two undefeated teams from one of the six major conferences have ever been denied the right to play for the national championship, and that was because they were ranked behind two other undefeated BCS teams. So it is safe to say that there is no chance any one-loss team gets in this year.
Right now, Notre Dame is on the outside looking in at two undefeated teams ahead of them. The Irish seemingly need Oregon or Kansas State to stumble in one of their final games. That would diminish USC’s matchup with the Irish since, even if USC wins, Notre Dame wouldn’t have made the title game anyways, right?
Wrong. There is no conceivable that the University of Notre Dame — of Rudy, Touchdown Jesus, “Play Like a Champion Today” and Knute Rockne fame — could win every single football game they play and not get the chance to play for a national championship. I know they are ranked No. 3. I know their wins have been unimpressive to say the least, and borderline unwatchable at times to say a little more. I know they have won quite a few games they probably shouldn’t have. But if the Fighting Irish go undefeated, it will play for the national title and this is an inevitable fact.
Oregon, of course, has been nothing short of the most impressive team in the country this year, and anyone who was at the Coliseum on Nov. 3 knows exactly what its offense can do. It would be an impressive win for USC to knock off either of these teams, and it would sort out an awful lot of questions assuming Kansas State runs the table.
But if the Trojans beat UCLA on Saturday, then beat Notre Dame in their regular season finale and beat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, things would really get interesting. First and foremost, there would be only one undefeated team remaining: in Kansas State. That would mean voters would be faced with the unfortunate task of choosing among several one-loss teams such as the Irish or the Ducks, as well as the potential SEC champion in Alabama or Georgia, for the other spot in the title game, leaving a lot of unhappy teams and fans across the country who would feel their team deserved that spot.
If USC should knock off two of the nation’s remaining undefeated teams, they would open a door for the SEC champion to move into the national championship game.
This is a much bigger deal then it may initially seem. See, the winner of the SEC championship game has made the BCS championship game every year for the last six seasons, and five of those teams have won. The one loss was LSU last year, who fell to fellow SEC foe Alabama.
An SEC team has won the national championship for six straight years. Now, it appears the conference’s only chance to make it seven is with a little — or a lot — of help from USC. This is especially ironic because of the SEC’s general hatred of the Trojans’ third-year coach Lane Kiffin, a hate stemming from his one-year stint at Tennessee where he made quite a few waves, to say the least.
For USC, which felt so wronged by the Reggie Bush sanctions, to be almost singlehandedly responsible for total college football mayhem would be a sort of poetic justice. One thing Trojan fans wanted at the start of the year was to stick it to the NCAA by winning the national championship in their first year of bowl eligibility. That chance is long gone, but the Trojans still have a lot of say left in how this season winds down.
Just, this time, as the spoiler.
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