The chaos has arrived.
On Saturday night, everything that we love about college football was on full display, as the nation's two top-ranked teams -- the Oregon Ducks, and the Kansas State Wildcats -- suffered heartbreaking, breathtaking, earth-shattering losses. They were losses that happened almost in sync, and losses that completely reshaped the national title race.
Just one week after Alabama was knocked off at home by a feisty and unafraid Texas A&M squad, the Ducks and the Wildcats met the same sad fate. The Ducks, who have looked so spectacular on offense all season, were almost completely shut down by David Shaw's bruising Stanford squad, which, it must be said, left plenty of points on the field. Meanwhile, the Wildcats hit the road and ran into an absolute buzzsaw down there in Waco. I mean, we all knew the Baylor Bears could play some offense, but I don't think anyone expected to see what we saw on Saturday night--specifically, the Bears running up and down the field with ease, leaving Bill Snyder's championship dream in the dust once again. The Ducks at least put up a right; the Wildcats simply caved in. And just like that, the entire season is once again up for grabs.
I mean, it's amazing, folks. It really is. Amazing how often this has happened of late.
Seven days ago, Alabama fans (and SEC fans) were lamenting the fact that their quest for yet another BCS title was over. With three undefeated teams ahead of them, it seemed unlikely to many that 'Bama (and the SEC) would or could sneak back into the race.
But I knew better. Longtime college football watches knew better, too.
Because the more you watch this game, the more you realize that November really is the month when great teams prove their worth, and the month when less-than-great teams get exposed. For some, the spotlight is just too bright.
For both K-State and Oregon, "talent" was not the issue; on paper, the Wildcats and Ducks should have won this past weekend. But when you find yourself in the month of the November, in the midst of a national championship chase, things get pretty nervy. The stakes are just so high, and the pressure mounts, and so many times, even really, really good teams crack. The Wildcats cracked on Saturday night. The Ducks did, too.
And now, of course, everyone's eyes turn to Notre Dame, which is just one win away from the promised land, and two wins away from its first national title since 1988. The Irish last week got all the breaks they needed, and with Matt Barkley now injured, the task of knocking off USC out in Los Angeles just got that much easier. Again, on paper, this is a game that Notre Dame should win. It's a game that they should win fairly easily, actually, especially with Barkley out of the picture.
But make no mistake: The pressure will be on, the glare of the spotlight will be harsh and the entire nation will be watching.
None of these players have been in this position before. Neither, really, has coach Brian Kelly.
Will the Irish crack?
We're about to find out.
♦ I would be remiss if I did not address The Big News Of The Day in college football. Which, unfortunately, has nothing to do with the action on the field. As you have most certainly heard by now, the University of Maryland voted on Monday morning to accept an invitation to join the Big Ten. It is widely expected that Rutgers will do the same on Tuesday, thereby building the Big Ten into a 14-team geographic behemoth stretching from the Heartland to New York City. With these completely unexpected developments, we find ourselves right back in the midst of the conference realignment madness that we had thought, perhaps naively, was pretty much over. Make no mistake, folks. This move by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany will kick off another round of conference shuffling. It seems inevitable, for instance, that UConn will soon join the ACC. Which means, in turn, that the Big East--the league that has been most negatively impacted by all of this nonsense--will be scrambling to find somebody to take UConn's spot; if Big East officials fail to do so, they may see their entire league finally collapse. And the thing is, they're not alone. The ACC should be very worried about its own status now that Maryland has made the decision to jump ship. Indeed, you can be assured that if the Terps thought there was no future in the ACC, then Florida State, Clemson and perhaps other schools are thinking the same. If the SEC wanted any of those schools, they could have them in a heartbeat. And that, I think, is the big takeaway here: College football finds itself standing on the precipice of a very dangerous situation, and the only thing standing between widespread and potentially historic change here are the conference commissioners--most specifically, the guys running the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. If any of those guys--Mike Slive, Larry Scott and Delany--decide that they want to expand even further, every other league will be put at risk. I mean, after seeing Maryland, of all schools, jump to the Big Ten, we need to accept the possibility that anything really is possible. So long as somebody thinks there is money to be made out there, nothing is off the table. Nothing.