By Jeff Nations
Just back from a vacation filled with pumpkin patches, trick-or-treaters and enough refined sugar to send a full-grown goat (several petted last week, of course) into a candy-induced coma.
It wasn't all daddy duties, though -- not that I minded escorting my little gal Zoe around the neighborhood one little bit on Halloween.
I found a few gaps in the inevitable chore list, I'm happy to report, and spent as much of those blissful -- minutes? -- parked in front of the old television to catch up on a bit of college football. Saturday was absolute nirvana for a college football fan, for certain. It was one of those vaunted BCS "showdown" weekends, where the true contenders are supposed to rise up and announce themselves with those "signature" victories -- and Notre Dame played, also.
Let's start with the Fighting Irish, since that's where I surprisingly spent a good deal of my viewing time Saturday. A home matchup against Pittsburgh is hardly the standard recipe for intrigue -- Notre Dame had passed its big test, a road matchup at Oklahoma, with a resounding victory the week before.
The Panthers decided to play, anyway. And wow, what a game that turned out to be as unranked Pittsburgh pushed the Fighting Irish to the absolute brink in a 29-26 triple overtime loss. But Notre Dame did pull that victory out, despite trailing by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and surviving Cierre Wood's fumble in the end zone in the second overtime. It's looking more and more like Notre Dame's year -- love them or hate them (rarely does that program draw an ambivalent response), having the Irish in the national championship picture is great news for college football. Notre Dame is 9-0 and should be the commanding favorite in its next two games against future ACC foes Boston College on Saturday and at home against Wake Forest on Nov. 17. The Fighting Irish wrap up the season at Southern Cal, another game that looks more winnable with each passing week.
Of course, the Irish still got plenty of company. Kansas State ran its record to a perfect 9-0 with another impressive victory, this time at home -- in Bill Snyder Family Stadium, no less -- against a dangerous Oklahoma State squad. I confess to just popping in on this game now and then, having already become a firm believer in legendary coach Bill Snyder -- the stadium guy! -- after seeing the Wildcats demolish West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va. The injury status of star quarterback Collin Klein, plus challenging Big 12 matchups loom on the road at TCU and Baylor before wrapping up the regular season at home against Texas -- and then there's the Big 12 championship game.
It's a tough road, but the Wildcats have shown every indication of being able to run the table.
That table also includes those explosive Oregon Ducks, who just dispatched then-No. 18 USC by a 62-51 score. Oregon (9-0) hasn't scored fewer than 42 points all season and has looked unstoppable on offense. The next roadblock for the Ducks is at California on Saturday, followed by a home game against Stanford before wrapping up the regular season with a trip to state rival and once-beaten Oregon State. Oregon would then have to navigate its own league plus-one game by winning the Pac-12 Football Championship Game.
Last but certainly not least was that matchup in "Death Valley" pitting unbeaten Alabama against No. 5 LSU. This was the hyped game of the weekend, and the Tigers made certain it lived up to that billing by battling tooth-and-claw for four quarters with the Crimson Tide. Just when it appeared that Alabama's reign might be over, senior quarterback AJ McCarron led his team on a stirring five-play, 72-yard drive to score the go-ahead touchdown with 52 seconds left as Alabama (9-0) picked up a hard-fought 21-17 victory.
This week's BCS standings look like this: Alabama holds the top spot, Kansas State is second, and Oregon jumped over Notre Dame for the third spot.
Of the four, the easiest -- if you can say that -- path to an undefeated season belongs to the Fighting Irish. That also makes it tough for Notre Dame to move up, however. Alabama has three home games to close out the regular season -- Texas A&M, Western Carolina and Auburn -- and then must deal with the SEC championship game.
Most likely, at least one of the four unbeatens -- sorry, Louisville -- in contention for a spot in the BCS championship will stumble. Then again, maybe they won't.
If not, this could well be the year that the NCAA wished that four-team playoff -- scheduled to start in 2014 -- was already in place.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>