Oregon, Irish face similar foes in path to BCS title game

Repudiating everything he has put out there in four years as Oregon football coach, Chip Kelly said Tuesday, "Forget winning the day. That's merely been a tawdry motivational trick. Let's win the month."

Of course, Kelly did nothing of the sort. When I asked on the weekly Pac-12 coaches conference call if USC elicited a little extra buzz among his players, he hewed devoutly to the party line, asserting that it didn't — "not to diminish them."

Whether that's on the mark, here's the deal, Ducks: Now it's showtime. It's November, and although Notre Dame isn't on the schedule, the Irish are on your agenda. It's life in the BCS, a world in which we reside for this season and one more, until a playoff comes to college football.

We enter the game's pithiest month with four unbeaten teams, each showy in its own way — Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame. History tells us not to sweat it; teams can and will lose in November.

And if they don't? Well, there's considerable sentiment that Oregon's computer ranking — No. 5 composite — will drag it out of the national-title game.

"That would be absolutely shocking," says Todd Graham, the Arizona State coach. "I don't see that happening. I can't imagine it, the level they're playing at.

"It would be very disappointing, to say the least."

Still, it's possible. Kansas State has been laying 50-points-plus on respected Big 12 opponents, won at Oklahoma and might have the Heisman Trophy winner in Collin Klein.

Notre Dame beat ranked teams in Michigan State and Michigan before the Spartans and Wolverines proved themselves flawed (they're a combined 10-7) and got a decisive, benchmark win at Oklahoma. It's Notre Dame, and there's always a fascination with Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, there was this startling phrase in a USA Today story Monday, questioning Oregon's chances: " ... the continued weakness of the Pac-12." Really? The same league that earlier this year had six ranked teams?

I wouldn't argue this league is astride the SEC, and I certainly wouldn't defend the strength of Oregon's nonleague schedule. But this strength-of-schedule component is an odd one.

The assumption is that the Ducks suffered when USC and Oregon State — possible future victims of Oregon - were upset last weekend. But if you get docked there, shouldn't you get a bump of similar magnitude for having beaten the teams that beat USC and OSU — Arizona and Washington — by a combined 101-21?

So it might be a beauty contest, and the Ducks can best go side-by-side with Notre Dame by laying it on USC and Stanford. Both Oregon and Notre Dame will play USC on the road; both teams will have played Stanford at home. That's a perfect template. If the Ducks and Irish win all those games, the comparative scores will be difficult to ignore.

Yeah, it's not the old way of doing things — you know, when you just worried about winning the game. But without a playoff, it's the way you do business.

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SEVEN OF THE 25 most-penalized teams in FBS are from the Pac-12, so a new officiating program hasn't changed an old, verifiable phenomenon — more flags are thrown in this league.

"I know things are tighter this year than I've seen before," says California coach Jeff Tedford.

OSU coach Mike Riley might disagree, saying he thinks officials "just missed it" in not flagging Washington safety Sean Parker for an apparent helmet-to-helmet hit on Markus Wheaton Saturday night, resulting in a UW interception. A flag would have given the Beavers, down 3-0, the ball on the Huskies' 28-yard line.

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AND WHAT'S MORE: UCLA has 43 touchbacks on kickoffs this year, Washington four. UW coach Steve Sarkisian says it's a result of kicker Travis Coons' heavy workload — punting, placekicking and kickoffs.

  • In its past two games, Stanford's longest rush allowed to a running back is 4 yards.
  • Redshirt freshman Dominique Williams bumped WSU WR Marquess Wilson from a starting role last week. Referring to practice and games, Cougars coach Mike Leach said, "If Marquess wants to play the whole time, he's going to have to quit being hot and cold."
  • Oregon redshirt freshman offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone, after hearing loud, piped-in music of the USC band's "Tribute to Troy" for an entire practice, told The Oregonian what we've known for years: "It's the most annoying thing ever."


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