Kansas State has finally grabbed the No. 1 ranking in the Bowl Championship Series, and I say “Congratulations! Well done! No, really!” The Wildcats have never been ranked No. 1 in football or played for a national title, so good for them.
(The Jayhawk tattoo on my ankle just ripped itself off and walked out. Hey, it’s a mythical flightless bird.)
It’s strange, feeling happy for the Wildcats. But it’s so hard for a team like K-State to crack that top spot that I can’t help it. Now that they’re there, the debate has begun: Do the Wildcats deserve it? Or the Ducks? Or should Notre Dame be one of the top two?
K-State had a long climb to get there. The Wildcats began the season ranked 22nd in the AP Top 25, and those preseason rankings do make a difference, because once a team is slotted, it has to wait for everyone ahead of it to fail. K-State also had to overcome being . . . K-State. Reputation, past performance, past success — those things count, especially in the voters’ polls.
Notre Dame, for now the odd man out in the BCS rankings — undefeated like Kansas State and Oregon, but ranked No. 3 — had an even harder journey up the rankings, starting from the tiny type of “Others receiving votes.”
Oregon had to climb just three spots while playing in the Pacific-12, which is third in the conference power rankings. Not that the Ducks haven’t had an impressive season, and they seem to have a lot of support, in part because everyone wants to see what hideous uniforms Nike will force them to wear. If the BCS championship game is the Academy Awards of college football, the Ducks are Angelina Jolie.
If it feels like something is missing in this discussion, it is: the Southeastern Conference. With Alabama’s loss last weekend, the SEC no longer has a team in the national championship debate, at least for now, despite the fact that the SEC is the best conference. A lot of SEC haters don’t want to hear it, but the league has six teams in the BCS rankings — and every one of them is in the top 10. That’s pretty impressive. The SEC has eight bowl-eligible teams and Missouri is close. Both the Big 12 (second in the rankings) and the Pac-12 have five teams in the current BCS rankings. The three unbeatens have to remain unbeaten, or Alabama will jump right back in the discussion.
Notre Dame is worked up over being relegated to No. 3, and the Irish have some good arguments for usurping one of the top two spots. The Irish defense is superb, allowing just 11.1 points a game, best among FBS schools. Notre Dame also played no teams from the FCS — Football Championship Subdivision — this season. K-State and Oregon each played one.
Hurting Notre Dame’s case is its very unimpressive victory over Pitt. The Irish needed three overtimes to beat the Panthers by three points — at home. So while that victory kept the Irish unbeaten, it did not leave them unscathed in the eyes of poll voters.
As far as common opponents go, the Irish beat Miami, 41-3; K-State won, 52-13. They beat Oklahoma, 30-13; K-State scraped by, 24-19. The Irish beat Stanford, 30-13, but needed overtime; the Ducks get their crack at the Cardinal Saturday at home. Then Oregon still has two games remaining, at hostile Oregon State and the Pac-12 championship.
Kansas State has two games remaining, at Baylor and against Texas in Manhattan, the self-styled Little Apple. (Manhattan, Kan., is the Little Apple the way Honey Boo-Boo is the Little Miss America, but I digress.) The Wildcats catch a break because they don’t have a conference championship game, thanks to the Big 12 being made up of 10 teams, two shy of the number needed for a title game.
Notre Dame has games remaining against Wake Forest and Southern Cal, but also avoids a conference championship by not being in a conference. Coach Brian Kelly griped this week about his ranking, then said he wouldn’t gripe further unless his team finished unbeaten. “Then, if we get to the point after USC that we’re undefeated, I’ll go on ‘Oprah’ if I have to,” he said. Oprah’s no longer on the air, at least not any air that anyone seems to be watching, but by all means, jump up and down on her couch, if you can find it. It did wonders for Tom Cruise.
There’s a long way to go till the title game, and the Big Three have to remain undefeated and then rely on the cockamamie BCS system to sort it all out. But if things stay as they are, I expect the K-State bandwagon will have to expand its size. Oregon’s “Nike U.” reputation doesn’t make it universally popular, and the Wildcats have a septuagenarian coach in Bill Snyder and a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in Collin Klein. What’s not to like? Even for a Jayhawk.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.