Notre Dame kicks its way to the BCS national championship

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Probably. But only because we’re still technically required to include that word.

The newest official BCS standings come out tomorrow evening, and the top-ranked Irish do not play next week. Still, it’s impossible to think that Notre Dame won’t be No. 1 when the final BCS rankings come out early next month. Why? Because top-ranked Notre Dame did what it was asked to do: win every game on its 2012 schedule, including Saturday night’s 22-13 victory over rival USC.

Running back Theo Riddick was the game’s MVP with 146 yards and a touchdown. When the Irish needed yards, Brian Kelly went to Riddick. When the Irish needed touchdowns, Kelly… did not go to Riddick. At least not on a drive that could have officially iced the game.  Facing a 1st-and-goal at the USC 9-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, Kelly elected to go to an empty set and put the ball in quarterback Everett Golson‘s hands after Riddick and Cierre Wood had rushed for 47 combined yards on just four plays earlier.

And, like four other times previously, the Irish had to settle for a Kyle Brindza field goal.

But that’s been Notre Dame’s formula all year — although not always on purpose. The Irish offense has shown big-play ability at times this season, but tying it all together for an entire game, let alone an entire season, has been a chore for the offensive-minded Kelly. So Notre Dame has relied on its defense. At no time was that more necessary than USC’s second-to-last offensive possession. Trojans backup quarterback Max Wittek finally connected with Marqise Lee (after trying all game) for a 53-yard gain down to the Notre Dame 2-yard line. The pass was perfectly defended; it was simply a better pitch and catch by Wittek and Lee. But then, Notre Dame’s defense bowed up and held the Trojans on a goal line stand when Wittek’s play-action pass went through the hands of fullback Soma Vainuku.

Why Lane Kiffin, still needing two scores to win, didn’t opt for the field goal is perplexing. Then again, much of why the Trojans, the preseason No. 1 team, sit unranked at 7-5 is difficult to comprehend. Will Kiffin lose his job because Pat Haden is racking his brain for answers? That too is hard to tell.

Likewise, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who had the foresight to predict that Notre Dame would be in this position three months ago. The Irish became the first team to go from unranked in the preseason AP poll to reaching BCS championship game in the same season.

Not that there haven’t been doubters along the way. When college football was still working with three to four undefeated teams, it was Notre Dame — not Alabama, Kansas State or Oregon — expected to be on the outside looking in once the final BCS standings were revealed. But, because college football is a tricky siren luring all us sailors to our inevitable and often gruesome demise, it was only Notre Dame that evaded the 2012 season unscathed.

It wasn’t sexy, and like all teams, Notre Dame needed some good fortune along the way. But this team got the job done when it mattered.

For that, no matter how you think the Irish stack up against other competition, Notre Dame has rightfully earned a spot in the BCS championship game. Notre Dame will play the champion of the SEC, winners of six straight national titles, too. What better way to prove yourself than to knock off the champs?

Remember the annoying “S-E-C!” chants raining down from inside JerryWorld when Alabama defeated Michigan at the beginning of the season? Notre Dame — hated Notre Dame, for all the preferential treatment it receives in college athletics — has the opportunity to silence them.

Wait for it: Notre Dame might actually be the lesser of the two evils here, especially if its championship opponent is Alabama. We’ll give you a minute to keep your head from exploding.

The ratings of an Alabama-Notre Dame BCS championship would be through the roof. Viewers by the masses would tune in for support, hate, curiosity and a stew of other (and possibly subconscious) reasons. Why? Because love ’em or hate ’em, Notre Dame matters, and its success (or failure) is going to be magnified.

But for now — finally — the Irish have the product on the field to back it up.

Arizona outruns Texas Tech as QB Khalil Tate shows a few flashes of old self

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Every so often, college football is capable of throwing a curveball. Or, perhaps to borrow an analogy from the sport itself, a duck of a throw when you expect a perfect spiral.

Such was the case out in the desert late on Saturday night as Arizona showed enough on both sides of the ball to secure a badly needed 28-14 win over Texas Tech in the most surprising defensive struggle of the 2019 season so far.

While each side entered the contest ranking in the top 10 in FBS total offense, only the Wildcats could find the end zone with any sort of consistency. Quarterback Khalil Tate showed a few flashes of his old self by topping the century mark rushing (129 yards, 1 TD) and passing (185 yards, 1 TD), including an 84-yard scamper in the second quarter that was far more of the 2017 version of the signal-caller than his injury-plagued 2018 self.

Of course, with some of that good also came some bad on a night where yards were generally hard-fought and hard to come by. That included a pair of interceptions and an early fumble to hold back the Wildcats on a night that otherwise was a highlight for the program. J.J. Taylor added 39 yards rushing while teammate Gary Brightwell looked like the fresher option in the backfield with 85 yards and two scores.

Red Raiders quarterback Alan Bowman wound up with decent numbers himself (311 yards, one touchdown, two picks) but never could keep the chains moving enough against a defense that threw a lot of looks at the youngster making his first road start with the new coaching staff. T.J. Vasher came on late to record 96 yards receiving while Utah transfer Armand Shyne couldn’t get much going (68 yards on 13 carries) against an old Pac-12 South foe.

Perhaps worst of all for Matt Wells and company was the way the defense wilted after three quarters despite playing well early on. That included giving up the nail in the coffin late in the fourth quarter: a 13 play, 99 yard drive that all came on the ground.

Things don’t get any easier after a bye for Tech either as they face Oklahoma in two weeks, a top five team that has their own dual-threat quarterback that can make you pay. Arizona’s path is a little easier with UCLA coming to Tucson after an off date as the Wildcats can take plenty of confidence into the breather next week following a victory in a game that didn’t go quite as expected — in a good way.

No. 25 Virginia holds off Florida State; FSU now 1-2 (or worse) in back-to-back-to-back seasons for first time since 1974-76

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While it’s not solely on him, Willie Taggart‘s Florida State football program has hit yet another new low.

In Week 3, Florida State traveled to Charlottesville to take on No. 25 Virginia, the first time ever that a ranked Cavaliers team faced an unranked Seminoles squad.  After six lead changes over four quarters of play, Virginia gave its fans a reason to storm the field — which they wholeheartedly did — as the Cavs scored the last 14 points to secure a 31-24 win.

The Seminoles led 14-10 at halftime, then stretched that lead to 17-10 at the end of the third quarter.  After eventually taking a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, the ‘Noles watched as the Cavs scored a touchdown with 6:02 left in the game to pull to within one at 24-23 (missed conversion) and then go ahead 31-24 with 2:34 remaining thanks to a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

FSU had one last chance to at least tie the game, taking over at its own 25-yard line.  Thanks in very large part to penalties (four 15-yarders on UVa. on that drive), FSU drove inside the Cavs’ five-yard line; with time running out, Cam Akers was stopped for no gain at the four-yard line.

Virginia picked up its fourth win all-time in 19 games against Florida State, and have now won three of the last six meetings. None of the three previous wins (2011, 2005, 1995) had been by more than five points (one, five, five).

For an FSU team that went 5-7 in the first season under Willie Taggart in 2018, missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 36 years, Week 3 continued a downward arc that shows no signs of abating.  It also continues a distressing trend: Florida State is now 1-2 (or worse) for the third straight season, the first time that’s happened since 1974-76.

So, for those wondering: Taggart’s buyout is in the neighborhood of $17 million if he’s fired without cause before February 1, 2020.

Godspeed, FSU fans.  And make sure you hydrate properly.

Defense in the desert? Arizona out front of Texas Tech in low-scoring first half

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The Texas Tech-Arizona tilt in Tucson was expected to be one of the highest scoring games of Week 3. Proving that college football continues to surprise on a wild Saturday, the Big 12-Pac-12 clash was actually one highlighted more by the defensive efforts from two programs that aren’t quite accustomed to making a splash on that side of the ball as the Wildcats managed to eek out a 13-7 lead going into halftime.

Red Raiders quarterback Alan Bowman was far from efficient in his first road start since late October of last season, throwing for 146 yards on 15-of-29 passing with two interceptions. The normally productive offense converted just three 3rd downs and didn’t get much going in the run game either, with Armand Shyne posting just 45 yards on the ground as the Utah transfer faces off against a familiar foe.

There were good and bad moments for Arizona as well, with QB Khalil Tate showing flashes of his old self (see highlight of an 84-yard TD run below) and also of the version where you didn’t quite to make of the one-time Heisman candidate (two interceptions to hold back his 124 yards and a score passing).

Now all that being said, we could still have a wild one as both programs had a few moments where they came close to nailing a big play or two to break things open. This is obviously a new coaching staff for Texas Tech making their first big road trip but also an Arizona side that badly needs to grab a non-conference win for a league lacking in them.

That leaves both sides pretty hungry to get a win in what could be a second half that helps return the game to the high scoring affair we all kind of expected.

No. 1 Clemson peels Orange

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After beating Clemson in the Carrier Dome two years ago and nearly doing the same in Death Valley East last year, tonight’s Clemson-Syracuse game was billed preseason as a meeting of the ACC’s two best teams, a de facto ACC semifinal even. Pretty much all of that hype evaporated when Syracuse was crushed 63-20 by No. 21 Maryland last week, but, still. If this is truly the ACC’s second-best team… woof.

Trevor Lawrence tossed two interceptions and generally put in a workmanlike effort, and still the defending champions won with ease: No. 1 Clemson 41, Syracuse 6.

Lawrence completed 22-of-39 passes for a career-high 395 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing four times for 42 yards and an additional score. Most of his success through the air came on jump balls and screens to his massive, speedy wide receivers. Tee Higgins caught seven passes for 150 yards, Amari Rodgers snared four for 121 yards and two scores, and Justyn Ross snared five passes for 64 yards.

The heroes of the night were the Tigers’ defenders. Clemson (3-0, 2-0 ACC) limited Syracuse (1-2, 0-1 ACC) to 184 yards of total offense. Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito was 15-of-27 for just 172 yards with an interception and while absorbing six sacks.

If there was one moment of drama on the night, it came early in the third quarter when, trailing 17-6, Syracuse linebacker Christopher Frederick intercepted Lawrence and returned the ball to the Clemson 9, but DeVito gave the ball right back by throwing it to Clemson’s Mario Goodrich.

Lawrence hit Rodgers for an 87-yard touchdown two plays after that and the game was all but over.