The season's first Bowl Championship Series ratings will be released tonight, but one thing seems almost certain: Barring an unlikely collapse, Notre Dame is heading to one of the four BCS games this bowl season.
With a 21-14 victory at No. 22 Air Force on Saturday night, the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish improved to 7-0. With five games left, Notre Dame needs two more victories to be eligible for a BCS bid. The Irish face their toughest remaining test this week, at rested No. 11 Florida State, but Navy and Rutgers -- a combined 2-12 -- are still ahead.
If the Irish keep winning, they could be bound for the Fiesta Bowl championship game. But even a loss or two doesn't seem likely to sidetrack Notre Dame from collecting a $13 million BCS payout. The Irish aren't pretty, but they put a lot of people in the seats and attract high television ratings.
The Irish lack almost any passing game, save for the short passes to Arnaz Battle, but they keep finding ways to win. On Saturday, Ryan Grant rushed for 190 yards and one touchdown as Notre Dame gained a season-high 447 yards against the previously unbeaten Falcons.
Only uncharacteristic miscues kept the game close. The Irish lost three fumbles, and Air Force returned one for a touchdown and drove 16 yards for a touchdown after another. Notre Dame's reliable place kicker, Nick Setta, missed a pair of field goal attempts.
But the Fighting Irish defense, which ranks sixth nationally against the run, stuffed Air Force's triple option. The Falcons rushed for 104 yards, 235 yards below their average.
"They didn't surprise with anything particularly they did," Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry told reporters. "They just executed very well."
Auburn lost more than just a game when it fell, 30-23, to Florida in overtime. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher, is done for the season with a broken bone in his left leg. He will have surgery today. . . . In its 17-12 loss to California, UCLA lost quarterback Cory Paus for the season to a fractured right ankle. Then backup Drew Olsen suffered a shoulder injury. Third-stringer John Sciarra misread the call signaled in from the sideline before his second play and fumbled, leading to the decisive touchdown. UCLA was unable to capitalize on two blocked punts in the fourth quarter, failing to score after starting from the Cal 3-yard line and the Cal 20. . . .
Keith Robinson made a 59-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to give Texas-El Paso a 38-35 victory over Rice. Robinson's previous career long was 40 yards. . . . Texas Tech's Kliff Klingsbury set school records for completions (49), attempts (70) and yards (510) in a 52-38 victory over Missouri. Klingsbury, who threw five touchdown passes, became the 20th player in Division I-A history to pass for 10,000 yards. . . .
Sophomore Timmy Chang became Hawaii's all-time leader in passing and total offense in a 37-14 victory over winless Tulsa. He passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 6,267 yards passing and 6,216 total yards. . . . Wild finish of the day: After three touchdowns in the final 78 seconds of regulation, Utah State beat New Mexico, 45-44 in overtime, when the Lobos missed the extra-point kick after their touchdown. New Mexico tied the game at 31 with 1:18 left, then took a 38-31 lead on Terrell Golden's 59-yard interception return with 25 seconds left. Utah State tied it on a 32-yard catch by Chris Stallworth with no time left.
Durant Lost for Season
North Carolina quarterback Darian Durant, first in the ACC in total offense, will miss the rest of the season after breaking his right thumb. He was injured in Saturday's 37-27 loss to Virginia. The sophomore is scheduled for surgery today and will be lost for at least six weeks, head trainer Dan Hooker said. . . .
One of the nation's biggest surprises has been No. 25 Minnesota, which moved into the national rankings after its 28-7 throttling of Michigan State.
Terry Jackson II, a native of Saginaw, Mich., who went unrecruited by the Spartans, rushed for 238 yards on 29 carries to spoil the host's homecoming.
"It was probably harder to get the 50 tickets I had to get," Jackson told the Associated Press.
Minnesota (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten), which starts two freshmen on its offensive line and no seniors on defense, is off to its best start since 1961 -- the last time it played in the Rose Bowl. The Golden Gophers are idle this week before playing the three teams undefeated in Big Ten play: Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa.
Perhaps equally surprising has been the quick disintegration of Nebraska's Big Red Machine. After losing to Oklahoma State, 24-21, the Cornhuskers are 5-3 and with games remaining against Texas A&M, Texas, Kansas State and Colorado, it is possible Nebraska might finish with its first losing record since 1961. . . . Ohio attempted one pass, an incompletion, in its 50-0 victory at Kent State. . . . Brigham Young lost at home to Nevada-Las Vegas, 24-3, narrowly keeping alive an NCAA record of scoring in 345 consecutive games.