- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Notre Dame and its fans have been accused of entitlement only a few million times in the history of college football.
But if ever the Fighting Irish seemed entitled to a spot in the BCS Championship Game with a spotless record, this should have been the season. Notre Dame took the double black diamond trail through the fall, a schedule most teams would have avoided at all costs. In addition to its customary Big Ten opponents, Notre Dame had Oklahoma, Stanford, Miami, BYU and, as always, chief rival USC. Surely if Brian Kelly’s crew ran the table, it would merit a chance to play for the crystal football Jan. 7 in Miami.
The last thing Notre Dame would have to worry about was a seemingly good but not great Big 12 team led by a 70-something coach and a quarterback nicknamed after a Transformer. How could Kansas State -- owner of five winning seasons between 1935 and 1990 -- possibly win a beauty contest against Notre Dame?
Yet we learned Sunday night that Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats are making the BCS standings blush more than Notre Dame, even after the Irish secured their most impressive win of the season, a 30-13 spanking of Oklahoma in Norman. Notre Dame dominated the headlines Saturday night and into Sunday, because that’s what Notre Dame does. And the Irish deserve the praise after proving themselves on a very big stage.
Here’s the problem: About 275 miles from Norman, Kansas State stomped Texas Tech 55-24. The Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings, recorded their third win against a top-15 opponent.
Here’s the other problem: Notre Dame’s signature moment came in a road win against Oklahoma. So did Kansas State's. The Wildcats have been there and done that -- not as impressively as Notre Dame, but they beat Oklahoma on the road, too.
It’s shortsighted to assume an undefeated Notre Dame squad gets to the title game ahead of an undefeated Kansas State squad. The teams are tied for No. 1 in computer average, and Kansas State maintains a decent lead over Notre Dame in both human polls.
Both teams enter fairly manageable stretches the next three weeks, although it’s Kansas State that gets the tougher tests at home against Oklahoma State and on the road against TCU. Notre Dame will be heavily favored against Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest -- three teams with a combined record of 10-14 -- and needs more impressive wins.
Barring an upset, the Notre Dame-Kansas State debate could come down to their respective final opponents: Notre Dame visits USC on Nov. 24, while Kansas State hosts Texas the following Saturday. Texas lingers at No. 23 in the BCS standings and might not help K-State that much. But USC also has lost a lot of luster after entering the season at No. 1.
Arguably the biggest development Saturday -- aside from Florida’s loss to Georgia -- was USC falling to then-unranked Arizona. A win against USC doesn’t resonate nearly as much now, which hurts both Notre Dame and Oregon.
Remember Oregon? The Ducks have done nothing but dominate this season, and in turn they’ve received nothing for all those lopsided scores. Despite remaining No. 2 in the human polls, Oregon is behind both Kansas State and Notre Dame in the BCS standings. Excluding a 70-14 win against Colorado, Saturday was a disaster for the Ducks, as two of their future opponents -- USC and Oregon State -- both lost. Oregon can hand the Trojans their third loss Saturday at the L.A. Coliseum. The Ducks could see a four-loss Trojans team in the Pac-12 title game. How does that help Chip Kelly’s crew? Oregon State will have at least one loss when the Civil War rolls around, and Stanford will have at least two when Oregon hosts the Cardinal on Nov. 17.
Oregon moved up to No. 5 in computer ranking, but it could be very tough for the Ducks, as deserving as they are, to leapfrog Notre Dame or Kansas State as long as those teams keep winning. The frustration continues.
Back to entitlement for a moment. When the initial BCS standings were revealed, the possibility of another all-SEC title game seemed possible, if not likely. The nation’s top conference remains well represented with five teams in the top eight. But the continued success of Kansas State, Notre Dame and Oregon creates an interesting dynamic. What if Alabama falls to LSU this week in Baton Rouge? Every SEC contender would have one blemish. While it seems unthinkable to have a title game without SEC representation, would a one-loss LSU, Alabama, Georgia or Florida be more deserving than undefeated Kansas State, Notre Dame or Oregon? It’s becoming a tougher case to make.
We’ll know more in a week after the Alabama-LSU and Oregon-USC games. Perhaps more contenders fall and the BCS picture gets cleared up a bit. If only the calendar read 2014 rather than 2012 ...
The likelier outcome is another week filled with claims of entitlement -- from South Bend, from Eugene, and, yes, from the Little Apple -- as decision day approaches.
19hDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman