Originally Published: November 5, 2012

Four teams headed toward a BCS cliff

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

No. 1 Alabama had to drive down the field in less than two minutes to save itself in a dramatic 21-17 victory Saturday night at LSU.

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Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireA stunned silence swept across Death Valley Saturday night as T.J. Yeldon's 28-yard touchdown sent Alabama past LSU.

No. 2 Kansas State had to survive the final 25 minutes of Saturday night's 44-30 victory over Oklahoma State without quarterback Collin Klein, the Heisman Trophy front-runner, who was sidelined with an apparent head injury.

No. 3 Oregon racked up 730 yards of offense and nine touchdowns -- and needed almost all of them -- in a 62-51 victory at USC.

And No. 4 Notre Dame got the biggest scare of all, needing three overtimes to win 29-26 over Pittsburgh, which had opened the season by losing to FCS foe Youngstown State.

The top four teams in the BCS standings were tested in different ways Saturday, but each somehow survived to remain in the race to play in the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami.

"I think every championship team has to win a game like this," Alabama center Barrett Jones said, shortly after the Crimson Tide stunned LSU on freshman running back T.J. Yeldon's 28-yard touchdown on a screen pass with 51 seconds to play.

Of course, LSU and Pittsburgh could have brought some clarity to the BCS championship race by winning. With only three weeks to go in the regular season, the top four teams in the BCS standings are still unbeaten, and potential obstacles are getting fewer with each passing Saturday.

Two years before a four-team playoff is introduced to the sport, college football seems headed toward a BCS disaster. What if each of the top four teams have unblemished records at season's end? Can you leave out defending BCS national champion Alabama, which looked like the country's most dominant team until Saturday night? What about Oregon, which scores points as often as it changes its wardrobe?

Kansas State might not be the sexiest team in America, but the Wildcats keep winning convincingly and might have the country's best player. And could the BCS really leave out Notre Dame, the home of the Four Horsemen, Touchdown Jesus and the Gipper? Knute Rockne would roll over in his grave.

Don't panic yet.

History suggests BCS Armageddon is coming on a Saturday very soon. It nearly came this past weekend, when the Panthers came within a missed overtime field goal of stunning the Fighting Irish and LSU within a defensive stop of ending Alabama's dreams of winning back-to-back BCS titles.

Whether you love or hate the system (and most college football fans seem to despise it), the BCS and its predecessors largely have done their jobs, pitting the top two teams in the country in a national championship game. In nine of the previous 10 seasons, there were at least four undefeated teams entering the first Saturday of November. In the end, every undefeated team from BCS leagues played for a national championship in every season but two (Auburn was left out in 2004 and Cincinnati in 2009).

Thanks to luck and some of the sport's most memorable upsets, the BCS system always seems to work out in the end:

• In 2002, seven of the top 10 teams in the country had unbeaten records going into the first weekend of November. Like clockwork, four of those teams proceeded to lose that Saturday, including No. 3 Virginia Tech, which fell 28-21 at Pittsburgh. No. 4 Notre Dame lost 14-7 at Boston College; No. 5 Georgia fell 20-13 to Florida; and No. 10 NC State lost 24-17 to Georgia Tech.

No. 2 Oklahoma fell to Texas A&M 30-26 the next week, leaving undefeated Miami and Ohio State to play for the national championship. The Buckeyes stunned the Hurricanes 31-24 in two overtimes in the Fiesta Bowl to win the national title.

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AP Photo/Orlin WagnerCollin Klein could only watch from the sidelines as Kansas State put the finishing touches on its 44-30 win over Oklahoma State.

• In 2005, four of the top seven teams in the country entered November with unblemished records. No. 3 Virginia Tech and No. 7 UCLA fell on Nov. 5, and No. 4 Alabama lost 16-13 in overtime at LSU the next week. USC and Texas were the only unbeaten teams at season's end, and the Longhorns beat the Trojans 41-38 in their epic contest at the Rose Bowl to win a national championship.

• Just last season, the top five teams in the BCS standings went into November with perfect records. But Stanford and Boise State each lost on Nov. 12, with the Broncos losing 36-35 to TCU after freshman kicker Dan Goodale missed a 39-yard field goal as time expired. No. 3 Oklahoma State fell 37-31 in two overtimes at Iowa State six days later, leaving No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama to play a sequel in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans. After losing 9-6 in overtime to the Tigers during the regular season, the Crimson Tide won the rematch 21-0 to claim the school's 14th national title.

When might BCS Armageddon occur this season? We might have to wait until the final two weeks of the regular season. Notre Dame plays USC at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, the same day Oregon plays at rival Oregon State in the Civil War.

The next week, Alabama faces the SEC East champion (No. 5 Georgia, if it wins at Auburn Saturday) in the Dec. 1 SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and Kansas State plays Texas at home in its regular-season finale on the same day.

After this past Saturday, players and coaches from each of the top four teams know they're vulnerable on any weekend. It's that time of year.

"When you play a team, any team, they are going to come in here and give us their best shot," Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin said. "Everyone wants to come play at Notre Dame, especially with us being undefeated, [and] people want our number. We have to do a better job to prepare and not take teams lightly. I don't think we take teams lightly, just know that they're going to give us their best shot."

On the Mark

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Cal Sport MediaOregon needed every bit of Kenjon Barner's 321 rushing yards and five touchdowns against USC on Saturday.

Klein might have another serious challenger for the Heisman Trophy. Oregon senior running back Kenjon Barner set a school single-game record by running for 321 yards and five touchdowns in the Ducks' big win at USC. His rushing total was the most given up by USC's defense to a single player and the most since Penn State's Curtis Enis ran for 241 in 1996.

What's most impressive about Barner is that until Saturday, he had done nearly all of his work in the first half of games. He ranks No. 2 nationally in rushing with 143.9 yards per game (averaging 7.2 yards per carry), yet had carried the ball only 51 times in the second half of the first eight games before playing the Trojans. He didn't carry the ball at all in the second half of the Ducks' routs of Arkansas State and Colorado.

"He's a warrior," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's had an unbelievable impact on this team. Offensively, there's not many seniors on this team. We're young on the offensive line, at receiver, have a freshman quarterback. He's the one leader of that group and he's really embraced that role and our guys follow him. Not only does he talk about it, but he lives it. It's the same way in practice."

Off the Mark

Pitt fans (and Notre Dame haters everywhere) are probably still talking about a controversial pass interference penalty against the Panthers, which set up the Irish's first touchdown of the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-4 at the Pitt 23, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson threw incomplete, but Pitt's K'Waun Williams was penalized for pass interference on what looked like a blown call. On the next play, Golson threw an 11-yard touchdown to T.J. Jones to cut Pitt's lead to 20-12.

Notre Dame caught another break from officials in the second overtime. On the play in which Pitt's Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard field goal that would have won the game, the Irish had Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown -- both of whom wear a No. 2 jersey -- on the field together. Rules allow players to wear duplicate jersey numbers, but they can't be on the field at the same time. If officials had noticed, the Irish would have been penalized five yards, giving the Panthers a first down at the Notre Dame 11.

"No exception to [the rule]," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. "It was a coaching mistake. We've got to do a better job, [it's] an oversight that can't happen."

Call it the luck of the Irish.

On the Mark

Forget the Boise State bus. I'm driving the Hoosier Hatchback. In a season in which two of the Big Ten's best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) are ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, and in which nine of its 12 teams already have three losses or more, it would seem only fitting that Indiana represented the conference in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

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Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesBelieve it or not, if Indiana beats Wisconsin on Saturday, the Hoosiers are in the driver's seat in the Big Ten Leaders division.

Don't laugh. The Hoosiers might have a 4-5 record, but they control their destiny in the Leaders Division after defeating Iowa 24-21 at home Saturday. Indiana goes for its first three-game winning streak in Big Ten play since 1993 when it hosts Wisconsin this weekend. If the Hoosiers beat the Badgers, they'll be in the driver's seat in the Leaders Division because the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions can't play in the Big Ten championship game or a bowl game. The other two teams in the division, Illinois and Purdue, are a combined 0-10 in league play.

"We have talked about controlling our own destiny and we're trying to make sure they realize that you control it every day for your whole life," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "Our business right now is that we're a 4-5 football team, we're 2-3 in the Big Ten, and that's not very good. We're going to keep working hard to get better, and it's not coach-speak."

The Hoosiers still have to win two of their last three regular-season games -- they also play at Penn State and at Purdue -- to become eligible for a bowl game.

Off the Mark

It was sad to see Kentucky fire coach Joker Phillips on Sunday, one day after the Wildcats fell to 1-9, 0-7 in the SEC with a 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart didn't have a choice but to dismiss him, but Phillips is one of the more likable coaches in the country and he was always convinced he could turn Kentucky into a more competitive football team.

Phillips has been associated with Kentucky football for 22 years, both as a player and coach, and had a 12-23 record in three seasons. He will coach the Wildcats in their final two games: against FCS foe Samford on Nov. 17 and at Tennessee the following week. The Wildcats will miss a postseason bowl game for the second year in a row.

"We, as coaches, are measured on results," Phillips said in a statement. "We didn't get the results we had worked and hoped for, therefore change is needed."

Barnhart has ties to the Pac-12, having worked previously as Oregon State's athletic director. He hired former Oregon coach Rich Brooks to turn around the program. Might he be inclined to hire a former Pac-12 coach like Rick Neuheisel? Former Arkansas and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino isn't expected to be considered for the job.

On the Mark

Maryland's forgettable season continued Saturday with a 33-13 loss to Georgia Tech, but it's hard not to commend the effort of the Terps' new quarterback, converted linebacker Shawn Petty. A quarterback in high school, Petty was forced under center after Maryland lost its top four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. After a rough start, he completed 9 of 18 passes for 115 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

The Yellow Jackets' quarterbacks only completed two passes, but Tech did run for 401 yards.

"I've never had it happen before," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said, "and I hope I never have it happen again."

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