College football was on display this past weekend in all its beautiful and chaotic glory. The nation’s top two teams lost, the top of the Bowl Championship Series standings have shuffled again, and now two different teams can try shouldering the burden of being favorites to reach the BCS championship game.
When the new BCS standings were released late Sunday, Notre Dame was the newest No. 1 team — and the third team at the top in as many weeks. Alabama, the top-ranked team before a loss nine days ago to Texas A&M, is No. 2.
Two of the nation’s largest and most passionate fan bases were celebrating, but at times like these it is fair and right to acknowledge the victims of such upheaval. Previous BCS No. 1 Kansas State controlled its destiny and had a realistic chance at 73-year-old Coach Bill Snyder’s first national title, before an upset at Baylor ended that talk. And Oregon, last week’s No. 2 team in the BCS, lost Saturday to Stanford, almost certainly eliminating the Ducks from the championship conversation.
Then again, who knows what’ll happen next?
Two weeks ago, the debate was how the national-title game would look if four teams finished without losses. The contenders needed only to survive, and at least then they’d have a chance to play in Miami. But Alabama lost to Texas A&M, and that seemed to push the Crimson Tide and the Southeastern Conference — a team from the SEC has won the BCS championship in each of the past six years — out of the picture.
That would’ve been surprising enough, but this is college football, and it’s not in the sport’s nature to be predictable. Last Tuesday, Snyder spoke during his news conference in Manhattan, Kan., and deflected talk about the Wildcats’ first chance in program history to play for a national championship. The week’s attention, he said, was on Baylor and nothing else — even during a time in which his quarterback, Heisman Trophy candidate Collin Klein, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was the subject of interview requests around the nation.
“Everybody deals with it a little bit differently, probably,” said Snyder, who has, in two tenures, been at the school 21 seasons. “The most significant thing in my way of thinking is to be consistent with what you do. I know young people are on their electronic devices, they read about things, and it’s not about not doing that, it’s about how you respond to it.”
The Wildcats responded poorly, and whether they folded under the pressure or took their eye off their goals or just suffered a kind of upset that prevents this sport from being boring, five-loss Baylor walloped Kansas State, 52-24, in Waco, Tex. Kansas State fell to No. 6 in the BCS.
Stanford surprised Oregon in overtime, 17-14, a stark change for a team that had averaged nearly 55 points in its first 10 games and was the top team last week in the Associated Press and coaches polls.
“You’d love to have some words that could kind of take the pain out of it,” Ducks Coach Chip Kelly was quoted as saying afterward, a day before falling to No. 5 in the BCS standings. “But there aren’t any.”
Notre Dame (11-0) defeated Wake Forest, 38-0, on Saturday, and Alabama (10-1) took care of Western Carolina, 49-0. Alabama’s path to the title game runs through next week’s contest against rival Auburn and, a week later, the SEC championship game, against BCS No. 3 Georgia. A third SEC team, No. 4 Florida, sat in the latest top five.
The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide were ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the AP top 25, also released Sunday. Now both teams have to avoid the traps that provide opportunities to some, but eliminate them for others.
Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly addressed it Sunday, adding that he emphasized to players that a championship is possible only if they win the finale against Southern California. The Trojans will be without starting quarterback Matt Barkley, out with a sprained right shoulder.
“Let’s take care of business this week, and now we don’t have to answer the questions about style points or politics or anything like that,” Brian Kelly said, according to several reports. “We get a chance to play for the national championship provided we win this week.”
He said players understood that the Irish might be in position to play for a title, but that nothing is guaranteed. This past weekend was proof of that.
“It doesn’t mean much,” Brian Kelly said, “if you’re number one for just three or four days.”