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The college football season is winding down, and after last week’s shakeup, three major conference unbeatens remain to fight for a shot at the National Championship.  Last Saturday, two other unbeaten teams fell, including most people’s preseason favorite.  Here’s a recap of last weekend’s carnage, a look ahead for the contenders, and tales of teams on the outside looking in…

Last Saturday when Alabama lost, their celebrated defense gave up 345 total yards to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, and did not force a single turnover.  Meanwhile, the Tide turned the ball over three times, including two in the fourth quarter: a fumble by freshman running back T.J. Yeldon, and A.J. McCarron’s second interception of the day (and the season) with about a minute and a half to play.  McCarron slightly underthrew receiver Amari Cooper on a 50 yard completion that, had he hit him in stride, probably would have been a touchdown.  Yeldon’s fumble came on the very next play.  On ‘Bama’s final drive, McCarron floated a 54 yard pass that forced Kenny Bell to slow down, and again missed on a touchdown.  Three plays later McCarron threw that fateful second interception, and game was essentially over.  If he had just a little more juice on those throws, Alabama would have scored a pair of TDs rather than handing the ball back to the Aggies.  Instead the Tide may have lost out on a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

Going into last weekend, the Louisville Cardinals were wondering why they weren’t ranked higher after starting the season 9-0.  But not all 9-0 records are created equally.  The Cards had logged victories over 1-9 Kentucky, 3-7 Missouri State from the FCS ranks, 2-8 Florida International, 0-10 Southern Miss, 4-6 Pitt, 3-6 South Florida and 3-6 Temple.  Sure they had beaten 6-4 North Carolina and 7-2 Cincinnati, but that wasn’t enough to pad their résumé.  Louisville’s nine victims have a combined record of 29-58 on the season, so it probably wasn’t as big of a surprise that they lost to 5-5 Syracuse, and senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, as it may have seemed.

The losses by Alabama and Louisville left just three, bowl-eligible, undefeated teams standing.  The Oregon Ducks improved to 10-0 with a win over Cal, and have games remaining at home against Stanford (8-2), and on the road against Oregon State (7-2).  Their best wins this season came against USC (7-3), Arizona (6-4), Arkansas State (7-3) and Washington (6-4).
Notre Dame is 10-0, with games left at home against Wake Forest (5-5) and at USC (7-3).  Their best wins were over Michigan (7-3), BYU (6-4), Oklahoma (7-2) and Stanford (8-2).
Kansas State is 10-0 with games left at Baylor (4-5) and at Texas (8-2).  The Wildcats’ best wins came against Oklahoma (7-2), West Virginia (5-4), Oklahoma State (6-3), Texas Tech (7-3) and TCU (6-4).
Of the three, only Oregon must also maneuver a conference championship game before it can secure a shot at a National Championship.  They check in at Number Two in the BCS standings but lead both challengers in the polls.  K-State is currently Number One overall in the BCS.  Put two and two together, and Notre Dame is going to need to jump the Ducks or Wildcats in the polls, or they’ll need one or both of those teams to lose.  Otherwise, they’re likely to get shut out of a shot at the Crystal Football.

The Big 10 has been a mess this season.  Ohio State is 10-0 but can’t go bowling or play for a Big 10 Championship.  By default, Wisconsin will represent the Leaders Division.  The Badgers clinched a berth in the conference title game last weekend with a win over Indiana, and a Penn State loss to Nebraska.  Ohio State travels to Wisconsin Saturday, but the result of that game will only matter in terms of pride. 
Nebraska and Michigan are tied atop the Legends Division, but Nebraska owns the head to head tiebreaker and controls its own destiny.  Should they win their remaining games against Minnesota and Iowa, even if Michigan beats Iowa and Ohio State, the Cornhuskers will win the Legends.
The Big 10 has eight bowl bids, but has only five bowl eligible teams thanks to the NCAA sanctions against OSU and Penn State.  Michigan State can “earn” a bid by beating Northwestern or Minnesota.  But that would still leave just six teams with a slot.  Iowa would need to beat both Michigan and Nebraska just to get to six wins and become eligible.  Indiana would need to beat Penn State andPurdue.  And Purdue would need to beat Illinois and Indiana.  Both IU and Purdue obviously cannot both make it, and Iowa is a long shot, so there’s a strong possibility the Big Ten will only manage to place only six teams in bowl games this year.

Lastly, each year there seems to be a BCS buster.  A team from a non-BCS conference that scraps its way into a BCS bowl game with a perfect or near perfect run through its schedule.  This is the part usually played by Boise State; and college football fans have enjoyed appearances by Texas Christian, Hawaii, and Utah to name a few others.  This season, Louisiana Tech is the best of the non-automatic qualifier candidates, but they just don’t seem capable of preventing any team from scoring.  The Bulldogs have allowed 49 points to 4-6 Houston, 37 points to 4-6 Rice, 38 points to 4-6 Virginia, 31 points to 2-9 UNLV, 59 to Texas A&M in a loss, 28 to 1-9 Idaho and 55 to 3-6 Texas State – a program in its first year in the FBS.  Tech’s schedule also includes a win over Texas-San Antonio, also in its first year in the FBS ranks.  Louisiana Tech is 9-1 in 2012, but not all 9-1 records…well, just refer back to the Louisville paragraph.

afc2nfc's Top 5
1. Oregon
2. Notre Dame
3. Kansas State
4. Alabama
5. Georgia
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