If Notre Dame loses to either Penn State or the University of Southern California in the next two weeks it appears six teams have a shot at the national collegiate football championship - including Brigham Young University.
Should the Irish defeat those two teams and No. 2-ranked Colorado defeats Kansas State at home Saturday then the national title will be decided in the Orange Bowl.The scenario that holds the most intrigue is this: Notre Dame is stunned by Joe Paterno's Penn State team or Larry Smith's Trojan squad and drops to No. 6 or 7. Then, the Fighting Irish defeat No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl. Who's No. 1? Notre Dame with two losses? Or another two-loss team, No. 3 Miami? What about the team that beat Miami and has just one loss, No. 4 BYU? Unbeaten but tied Georgia Tech might also be able to stake a claim as perhaps could one-loss team Texas. Other one-loss teams Virginia and Nebraska might get some consideration as might two loss team Florida State if it were to soundly defeat rival Florida on Dec. 1.
Following is an analysis of the championship hopes of the top six:
Notre Dame (7-1)
There are two teams that don't need outside help - Notre Dame and Colorado. The Irish have a difficult road to the national championship. They face a solid 14th-ranked Penn State team Saturday followed by a disappointing but dangerous 19th-ranked USC squad Nov. 24 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions seem to play big in big games thanks to a defense that keeps games from getting out of hand. The Lions could stop the Rocket and the Irish even at South Bend. And, should Notre Dame beat Penn State, USC would look on its game with the Irish as the one to redeem its season. If it wins both those games Notre Dame faces a team out for revenge - Colorado. The Buffaloes were undefeated and No. 1 last year when they were beaten by Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. They figure they owe the Irish one. But, this Notre Dame team, while floundering against Stanford and barely getting past Michigan and Michigan State, has shown it performs at its best while facing adversity. It wasn't supposed to beat Miami. It did. It wasn't supposed to beat Tennessee in Knoxville. It did.No. 2 Colorado (9-1-1)
The Buffaloes have the easiest path to No. 1. OK, so they have to beat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. But that's basically it. Since they're going to play the No. 1 team, they don't need any help. And if Notre Dame stumbles before the bowls the Buffaloes will be ranked No. 1 going into New Year's day. That's providing they get by Kansas State this Saturday. Kansas State is having a fantastic season by Kansas State standards with five wins, but it's doubtful the Wildcats can pull a surprise on Colorado. Kansas State still loses big to the big boys - 45-8 to Nebraska and 35-7 to Oklahoma. In a close vote for the championship there could be some backlash over Colorado's fifth-down victory over Missouri.
No. 3 Miami (6-2)
This could be the most interesting scenario of all: Notre Dame and Colorado lose, Miami and BYU win. Both would claim No. 1. The argument Miami used last year would work against it this time. Last year when Notre Dame and Miami finished with one loss each, the Irish claimed they should be national champions because of their difficult schedule: They beat the Big Ten champion (Michigan), the Pac 10 champion (USC), and the Big Eight champion (Colorado) while Miami was hammering teams like East Carolina and Cincinnati. Miami's argument was, "Hey, there's no room for argument. We played you head-to-head and we won so we're No. 1." The voters agreed with the Hurricanes. The roles are reversed this year. The two-loss Hurricanes would point to their schedule - Iowa, Notre Dame, Florida State and BYU - while BYU, with one less loss, would point to the head-to-head matchup with Miami, which the Cougars won, 28-21, as the determining factor. Miami still faces some regular-season stumbling blocks - Boston College and Syracuse at home and improving San Diego State on the road. Then it will likely play Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
No. 4 BYU (8-1)
The Cougars are playing exceptionally well since the loss to Oregon, beating their main contenders - Colorado State, Air Force and Wyoming - by an average score of 51-10. Regular-season games remain against Utah, Utah State and Hawaii and a bowl game against Texas or Texas A&M. The Cougs obviously need to beat their two instate rivals and then avenge last season's 56-14 loss to Hawaii to have a chance. The way BYU is playing it's doubtful it will be intimidated by Hawaii even in Honolulu. Because the Cougars likely won't play a Top 15 team in a bowl due to the WAC's tie-in with the Holiday Bowl, they may need to score a decisive victory, something like 45-21, to have a realistic shot at No. 1. National college football commentators Dan Hicks of CNN and Tim Brando of ESPN said Monday they are doubtful BYU can climb to No. 1 because of the lack of ranked teams on its remaining schedule and because it's locked into the Holiday Bowl. Still the chance is there even if Miami wins the remainder of its games (see Miami explanation above).
No. 5 Georgia Tech (7-0-1)
Maybe the surprise team of 1990. The Yellow Jackets soared in the polls after their win against then No. 1 Virginia. They also look to be the most vulnerable to being beaten by a mediocre team after Saturday's last-second 6-3 win over Virginia Tech. They face the ACC's worst team, 2-7 Wake Forest, this Saturday but then have to play rival Georgia on the road in their regular season finale Dec. 1. They could be helped by their bowl matchup. If No. 9 Nebraska defeats Oklahoma, the Cornhuskers would bring a 10-1 record into the game. A win over a 10-1 Nebraska team would impress the pollsters.
No. 6 Texas (7-1)
Its victory over previously unbeaten Houston catapulted the Longhorns into the national championship fray. But the Longhorns have the toughest road to travel to reach No. 1. They play at TCU and at Baylor before concluding the regular season against rival Texas A&M at home. Texas is on a roll right now, though, and has impressive credentials. It handed Oklahoma its first loss and also defeated Penn State. Its loss was to Colorado, 29-22. If the Longhorns get by TCU, Baylor and Texas A&M, they would then have to defeat Miami in the Cotton Bowl to stay in contention for No. 1. They may need the assistance of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie to pull that string off.