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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012
MAN ABOUT SPORTS
Irish bring fresh air to BCS title game
By DAVE WIGGINS
VERO BEACH, Florida — Notre Dame's "luck of the Irish" this football season has in turn brought good fortune to all non-partisan college grid fans.
Getting every break in the book helped propel the Fighting Irish to an unbeaten record and a berth in the BCS national title tilt. Neutral fans have thus been spared another uninspiring all-Southeastern Conference matchup — like last season — in that championship contest.
Many pundits are calling the Irish a team of destiny because of the way they prevailed in squeaker after squeaker en route to a 12-0 regular season log.
ND eked out two overtime victories, surviving one of them when their foe, Pitt, missed a short field goal that would have handed the Fighting Irish a loss.
And numerous times the Irish needed a late goal line stand to avoid defeat.
However, make no mistake, Notre Dame has also been just as PLUCKY as lucky. The Irish are very deserving of their top ranking in the final BCS poll and the title game slot that goes along with it.
ND has played some terrific ball in successfully navigating the nation's most difficult schedule.
Besides, anyone who has played or coached the game will tell you that you need to be both good AND lucky to go undefeated.
All unbeatens must somehow survive a "Phew, we dodged a bullet!" game or two. Or in the case of the Irish, five or six.
Yep, the Notre Dame season was the perfect blend of skill and serendipity, no doubt. But MAS, for one, isn't complaining.
Safe to say, there were a lot of us who were sick of reclusive SEC teams somehow dominating the highly controversial computer-based BCS poll, which determines the top two teams that go on to meet in college ball's climactic game.
Eddie Robinson, the legendary ex-Grambling coach, was right when he described Deep-South footballers as "a-gile, mo-bile and hos-tile." But MAS says SEC ball, of late, is also bor-ing.
Yes, last weekend's SEC title game which saw Alabama edge Georgia was a thriller — but it was also an anomaly.
Normally, that league's style of play combining strong defense, great running games and so-so quarterbacking (except for Texas A&M's amazing "Johnny Footballl" Manziel) sends No-Doz sales through the roof.
Plus, we'll never know how good SEC teams REALLY are these days until they venture out of their corner of the U.S. More on this later.
For now, back to the luck and pluck of the Irish.
A season filled with things going ND's way culminated in the Irish receiving their biggest gift when they needed it most — in their finale vs. Southern Cal.
Six previous times, USC had spoiled Notre Dame's unbeaten hopes. And the Trojans had won nine of the their last 10 meetings with ND.
But star USC quarterback Matt Barkley injured a shoulder a week earlier and would miss this year's contest.
Without Barkley, USC had to use an untested freshman at QB — and they still gave the Irish all they could want before bowing, 22-13.
The way the rankings work, a Notre Dame loss to USC would surely have dropped the Irish to, at best, No. 4 in the BCS rankings — behind a trio of SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia and Florida) — who all won that day after being ranked 2-3-4 entering the weekend.
That SEC Three would have then fought it out in the voting for the top two spots in the rankings, via the outcome of the SEC title game.
Phew, did we dodge a bullet!
This season saw a perfect example of the old axiom that if a team has national title hopes but loses a game, it's better to lose earlier than later.
You can always claw your way back up and displace teams above you in the rankings, if and when those other outfits lose later in the season.
Lose late, though, and your goose is cooked — just look at Kansas State and Oregon.
Each was undefeated before being upset in their next-to-last games, causing both to plummet in the BCS rankings. No way they could make up that lost ground in just one week.
Over the last few seasons, SEC teams have used late poll leaps to earn national title game slots for themselves — Alabama this campaign.
At least, the Irish spared us the scenario of TWO SEC teams doing it this season.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly understated it best: "These days, it's REALLY hard to go undefeated."
Especially when you play ND's brutal independent schedule yearly. This season it included traditional toughies from all over the country:
Stanford, USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Miami and BYU, among others.
Meanwhile, when the stay-at-home SEC outfits weren't playing each other they were mostly feasting on teams from the lesser Sun Belt Conference or southern FCS ballclubs (the new name for Division I-AA schools).
Now, though, we should find out just how good the SEC currently is when Notre Dame meets Alabama, ranked second off its victory over Georgia.
Lucky us — whoever wins.
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