By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) This will come off as crazy talk to most, but don’t be surprised to see Notre Dame in the middle of the national championship conversation in November. Do I think the Irish are talented enough to win a it all this year? No. But when you look at their schedule, it’s not ridiculous to think they at least have a shot at getting to Miami.
There’s been a ton of talk about Notre Dame’s difficult schedule, but the Irish got through a tough first quarter of the slate unscathed. Looking at the final eight games, Notre Dame should be favored in all but two of them — at Oklahoma and at USC.
Of course, you and I both know better. That doesn’t mean the Irish won’t have a let down against the likes of Miami, BYU or Pitt. And Stanford won’t be an easy win either, but at least the game is in South Bend. On the other hand, a win at Oklahoma doesn’t seem impossible anymore after the Sooners performance against Kansas State.
Yes, it’s conceivable that a 10-1 Notre Dame team could be arriving at the Coliseum in L.A. Nov. 24. Could you imagine the hoopla?
And you know what an 11-1 Notre Dame team means, right? As long as there aren’t two undefeated teams in the country, that means the Irish are going to Miami.
It’s not as crazy as it seems.
Oregon Deserves To Be No. 2
Of course, it’s that last part that will be hard for the Irish. Upsets happen all the time in college football, but there are two teams — Alabama and Oregon — that might just run the table.
By now, you know all about Alabama, but Oregon — even with a Sports Illustrated cover last week — isn’t getting enough attention. Before the season started, I told you that Oregon might be the best team in the country — not just because of their well known offense, but because Chip Kelly finally has a defense in Eugene.
Leading up to the Rose Bowl last year, I was told by one Oregon writer that the Ducks’ defense wasn’t nearly as bad as the statistics showed. The up-tempo Oregon offense leaves the defense on the field for most of the game and makes it vulnerable. Even though there were 83 points scored in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks were able to make key stops against a very good Wisconsin offense. The signs were there and a loaded defensive group came back this year. I was worried that safety John Boyett’s season-ending knee injury would be a wrinkle in my claims about this year’s group, but a 49-0 shutout — featuring two interceptions returned for touchdowns — over a decent Arizona team Saturday proved how good the unit really is. The Ducks will give up yards at times, but they are a play-making group that can change a game at any time.
You know how good the offense is and this defense is good enough to prevent the classic upset in what is turning out to be a pretty good Pac-12 this year. And yes, Oregon is more than capable of winning at USC.
Big Ten Is Awful
While the Pac-12 rises, the Big Ten continues to fall. That was evident Week 2 when Nebraska, Wisconsin and Illinois went west and lost to UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona State, respectively. The Big Ten hasn’t won a road game at a Pac 10/12 school since 2007 when Ohio State won at Washington. It’s probably a good thing that scheduling agreement between the two conferences fell through.
Right now, the Big Ten has bigger problems than beating the Pac-12. It’s struggling enough against the MAC and WAC.
There are only three undefeated teams in the Big Ten right now, the only league besides the WAC that has not started conference play yet. Two of those teams are Northwestern and Minnesota, which to their credit, played respectable non-conference schedules. The other team is Ohio State, which did not look impressive at all against the ugly likes of Cal and UAB. The Buckeyes are also ineligible for the postseason.
Saturday was simply unacceptable. Michigan State struggled to score against Eastern Michigan. Denard Robinson turned the ball over five times against Notre Dame. Iowa couldn’t beat a bad Central Michigan team. Illinois was embarrassed by Louisiana Tech.
It’s nearly impossible to rank the Big Ten 1-12 right now. I managed to do it, but it took me forever and I hate the results. Most Big Ten teams have at least one good strength, but they all have plenty of faults. I think you can make an argument for any of the first five teams being the best in the Big Ten.
1. Michigan – The Wolverines still probably have the most talent, but Denard Robinson is a mess right now.
2. Michigan State – The Spartans have the best defense in the conference, but can’t score points even though Le’Veon Bell is one of the better running backs in the country.
3. Nebraska – The offense is rolling, but no team made Taylor Martinez look worse last year than Wisconsin. The Huskers’ defense has multiple personality disorder.
4. Ohio State – Braxton Miller might be the best player in the conference, but the Buckeyes have yet to look great.
5. Purdue – The Big Ten’s best performance this season might be the Boilermakers’ loss at Notre Dame. Seriously.
6. Wisconsin – It looks like the Badgers found a quarterback in Joel Stave and the defense is good. Who would have thought the biggest thing holding Wisconsin back is the offensive line?
7. Northwestern – The ‘Cats could be 7-0 in a few weeks, but the final five games will tell us how good they truly are.
8. Minnesota – Jerry Kill has a knack for turning around programs and his players are buying in.
9. Penn State – Bill O’Brien is coaching his ass off and his players are playing their asses off. Quarterback Matt McGloin got a lot better. The Lions won’t be great, but they won’t be a pushover.
10. Iowa – What a disaster. If the Hawkeyes want to fire Kirk Ferentz, they’ll have to pay him about $25 million. Yikes.
11. Illinois – After getting blown out Saturday, Tim Beckman called Louisiana Tech “a champion”. Of what?
12. Indiana – The Hoosiers have made small strides under Kevin Wilson, but they’re still the least talented team in the conference.
Amazingly, there still might be a Big Ten clash of undefeated teams. It certainly wasn’t the game any of us thought, but it’s very possible Northwestern and Minnesota will meet Oct. 13 in Minneapolis with undefeated records.
We can expect College GameDay to show up for that one right?
- Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is definitely in the Heisman conversation. Don’t be surprised if he gets invited to New York in December.
- Wisconsin running back Montee Ball doesn’t think he suffered a concussion last week and says he’ll play Saturday at Nebraska. He’s had his head dinged three times in 11 months now, but Wisconsin will only admit to one concussion. I sure hope UW is considering his longterm well-being, otherwise known as his life. Fortunately, Bret Bielema told Yahoo! Sports Radio Wednesday that Ball will have to be cleared by doctors outside the program in order to play Saturday. Good.
- Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osbourne will retire Jan. 1. The 75-year-old is arguably the most significant figure in the history of the state of Nebraska. He served as A.D., head coach and congressman. That’s hard to top.
- It’s never fun to see series like Notre Dame-Michigan come to an end, but scheduling is not easy and it’s a part of the business. Still, it’s Notre Dame ending the contract and they’re the ones who are an independent with more flexibility.
- Is Oregon State for real? The Beavers emerged in the rankings this week at No. 18 because they are 2-0 with wins over Wisconsin and UCLA. The problem is, we’re still trying to figure out how good Wisconsin and UCLA really are. It’s also worth mentioning that they had at least two weeks to prepare for both of those opponents after the season opener against Nicolls State was postponed. You know how I mentioned earlier in this column that Oregon is capable of avoiding the big upset this year? How’s that Civil War matchup Nov. 24 in Corvallis looking right now?
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.