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 State will likely be without Merlin Robertson for Las Vegas Bowl

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Arizona State already knew they would be without its best player on the offensive side of the ball for the postseason.  Now, the Sun Devils will be without one of its top players on the other side of the ball for good measure.

Wednesday, Herm Edwards confirmed that linebacker Merlin Robertson will likely not play in Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl matchup against MWC champ and 21st-ranked Fresno State.  According to the Arizona Republic, “Robertson did not make the trip to Las Vegas with the team because he is dealing with a family emergency which came up Monday, the day before the team left.”

Said Edwards, “It is too bad Merlin can’t be here with us, but he needs to be with his family.”

Robertson currently leads the Sun Devils in tackles (77), tackles for loss (8½) and sacks (five).  Earlier this month, Robertson was named as the Pac-12’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.

If Robertson is unable to go, redshirt junior Khaylan Kearse-Thomas would get the starting nod.  Kearse-Thomas is tied for fourth on the team with six tackles for loss.

Report: FIU RB Shawndarrius Phillips played entire 2018 season while being wanted on domestic violence warrant

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This isn’t a good look for Butch Davis or his Florida International football program — or law enforcement.  At all.

According to the Miami Herald, FIU running back Shawndarrius Phillips was arrested Wednesday for domestic battery by strangulation.  The arrest stemmed from a June incident involving an ex-girlfriend, for which an arrest warrant was issued Aug. 24 by a Broward County court.

WSVN-TV in Miami writes that “Phillips was set to leave for the Bahamas for a bowl game with the team when officers picked him up on an outstanding warrant.”

Phillips saw action in 11 of the Panthers’ 12 games this season, which means the true junior played the entire 2018 regular season while being wanted on a domestic violence charge.  Other than “we have no comment at this time,” an FIU spokesperson has declined to comment on the report, including whether or not the football program was aware of the situation prior to Wednesday’s arrest.

As noted by the Herald, and as is the case as of Friday morning, Phillips’ name is still listed on FIU’s official online roster.

The newspaper also detailed the events of June 17 that led to Phillips’ arrest this week:

[The ex-girlfriend] said a discussion about who she was dating a month after their breakup turned physical when Phillips, who lists at 5-foot-10 and 225 pounds, began choking her with his right hand.

As she struggled to speak or even breathe, she said, “Phillips got her on her feet and walked her back towards his couch until she fell back on the couch,” according to the affidavit.

Scratching his hand, she said, did no good and he remained atop her. She claimed Phillips got off her, saying, “Don’t you ever speak to me or my family again.” He then ordered her out, saying, “If you don’t leave, I’m going to break your jaw.”

Phillips’ 393 yards and four rushing touchdowns were both third on the Panthers this season.  His 117 yards in a 63-24 win over UMass Sept. 15 marked a career-high and was the first time he had passed the century mark in his three seasons.

Gus Malzahn: ‘Was never told I had to change my contract to keep my job’

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So much for that particular storyline.

Late last month, it was reported that Gus Malzahn would be forced to accept a reduced buyout$32 million per his contract — to remain for his seventh season as Auburn’s head football coach.  That report came just a day or so after Bob Stoops‘ name was attached to the job, which the retired former Oklahoma head coach vehemently pushed back against.

In his first meeting in front of the media since that speculation surfaced, Malzahn addressed the talk head-on and left no gray area as to his view of his situation on The Plains.

“A couple things I wanted to clear up that are out there,” the head coach said by way of al.com. “First of all, my contract has not changed one bit. I was never told I had to change my contract to keep my job. I have the support of our athletic director and president. There’s nobody hamstringing me from doing our job.”

In early November, athletic director Allan Greene publicly stated that Malzahn would be the Tigers’ head coach in 2019; this past Monday, in his first public comments since the reports surfaced, Greene reaffirmed his support.

“To confirm, Coach Malzahn is dedicated to this program and he has my support as we work together to move forward,” the AD said in a letter published on the school’s official athletics website. “Our discussions are ongoing, and we will focus on evolving in all facets of the program to achieve better and more consistent results.”

In six seasons at Auburn, Malzahn has posted a 52-27 record overall and a 28-20 mark in SEC play.  After making it to the BCS championship game in his first season, the Tigers have reached double-digits in wins just one season (10-4 in 2017).  After entering this year ranked in the Top 10, AU ended the regular season at 7-5.

Florida, USF tweak future series to move game at Raymond James Stadium up to 2021

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While we came awfully close to seeing Florida play an in-state squad from the AAC (ahem, UCF) this postseason, we’re guaranteed just such a matchup down the road when the Gators hook up with USF for a previously scheduled three-game series. While that 2-for-1 was put on the books back in May, it was just announced by the schools that they’re making a change already.

According to a release, the single game that USF is responsible for at Raymond James Stadium has been shifted up to 2021 instead of the 2023 date originally agreed upon. The pair of games at the Swamp in Gainesville will remain on the docket for 2022 and 2025 so this is just a slight tweak to the series.

The moves help the Gators fill out their (more near-term) future schedules a bit more as they have just a single opening in 2021 after the Bulls adjusted their end of the series. In-state foes USF and Florida State are, however, all that’s on the docket for Florida starting in 2022 and beyond so AD Scott Strickland has some work to do over the coming months and years on that front.

The flip side is that USF has quite the slate of difficult opponents in 2021, with the home-game in Tampa against Florida sandwiched between trips to BYU and N.C. State in the same season. The team does have one more non-conference opening that year, which you would assume would wind up being a lower-level school at home.