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updated: 11/6/2012 1:09 PM

Notre Dame was lucky that Pitt was a bad team

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  • Pittsburgh kicker Kevin Harper (39) and holder Matt Yoklic react after Harper missed what would have been the game-winning field goal in the second overtime period Saturday against Notre Dame. Notre Dame defeated Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime.

      Pittsburgh kicker Kevin Harper (39) and holder Matt Yoklic react after Harper missed what would have been the game-winning field goal in the second overtime period Saturday against Notre Dame. Notre Dame defeated Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime.
    Associated Press

 
By John Feinstein
Special to The Washington Post

NBC -- the Notre Dame Broadcasting Company -- aired "Rudy" for the 5,388th time on Saturday night. This is the movie that still gives some people chills, the ultimate Little Guy Who Did story, backed by the playing of the Notre Dame fight song 468 times.

No doubt NBC picked the first Saturday in November because it knew the Fighting Irish were playing an awful opponent earlier in the day, one that had started its season by losing to Youngstown State. Somehow, Pittsburgh almost ruined the evening for all the Irish fans before losing, 29-26, in triple overtime.

Notre Dame won because Pitt place kicker Kevin Harper pushed a 33-yard field goal wide right in the second overtime. Naturally, Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly talked about how much his team had "overcome" to win.

He's right: His team overcame playing a bad football game and got lucky it was playing a bad football team.

And yet, it doesn't matter: Notre Dame is 9-0 and remains one of four in contention to win the national championship.

Notre Dame fans will point out that their team wasn't the only one to struggle Saturday. But let's take a look at the other contenders' opponents: Alabama, after blowing a 14-3 lead at LSU, came back to win, 21-17, on a late drive engineered by quarterback A.J. McCarron. Winning in Death Valley against LSU is just a tad harder than winning at Notre Dame against a team that didn't beat Youngstown State.

Oregon gave up 51 points -- fifty-one -- to Southern Cal. And won easily, 62-51. The score is actually a little deceiving. USC has a superb offense and rolled up a lot of yardage, but the final score would have been a lot more one-sided if a Matt Barkley interception, with the Ducks up 55-38 early in the fourth quarter, hadn't been wiped out by a phantom pass interference call. Instead of Oregon rolling in to score again -- as it no doubt would have -- the Trojans scored to make it 55-45. What's more, USC's last touchdown came with one second left.

Prior to Saturday, people had rolled their eyes a little at Oregon's video game-like offensive numbers because the Ducks really hadn't played anybody. Make fun of USC all you want -- and there hasn't been a more disappointing team this season -- but it is loaded with future NFL players and the defense that gave up 730 yards (not a typo) is coached by Monte Kiffin, who was voted into the Hall of Defensive Geniuses years ago. If Kenjon Barner isn't in the Heisman conversation after rushing for 321 yards and 5 touchdowns, then Rudy was really Joe Montana.

And then there's Kansas State. The Wildcats easily beat a solid Oklahoma State team, even though their Heisman candidate, quarterback Collin Klein, went out with an injury in the third quarter. How badly Klein is hurt or exactly which body part he injured (it appeared to be his right hand or arm) will be treated by Coach Bill Snyder as a matter of national security.

Here's what Snyder said about Klein: "Obviously he was hurt, or we wouldn't have taken him out of the game."

Snyder's the coach of the year right now at the age of 73. A remarkable story. He's certainly not going to be the one to tell it.

If Klein is seriously hurt, Kansas State's chances to play for the national title go to about zero. He is the Wildcats' leader, catalyst and, quite simply, their best player. Winning at TCU without him next week would be difficult. So would upcoming games against Baylor and Texas.

If Klein is OK, the four-way race to the championship game is very much on. Right now, Alabama -- which plays a good Texas A&M team Saturday -- remains the clear No. 1. The No. 2 spot is a toss-up between Oregon and Kansas State, though the lean right now is toward Oregon because of the extraordinary numbers it put up in the hallowed Coliseum. The Ducks still have to play Stanford and Oregon State -- the latter on the road -- and the Pacific-12 championship game.

The easiest remaining road belongs to Notre Dame. The Irish play a truly terrible Boston College team and a mediocre Wake Forest team before closing at USC. The Trojans will have little to play for in that game -- pride hasn't been a great motivator for them -- and, if the game is close, someone will miss a field goal or Rudy will make a tackle.

Here's what should happen if all four teams remain unbeaten: The Bowl Championship Series should declare that an agreement has been reached to send the four to play one another in two of the BCS bowl games. Let the bowls bid extra dollars to be selected as hosts to the four unbeatens that matter. Tell the two second-rate at-large teams that will likely come from the ACC (Clemson) or the Big 12 (Oklahoma) that they don't get to play in a BCS bowl but their conference will get their BCS bucks. Then have the two winners in the Bowls of the Unbeaten (has a ring, no?) play in the BCS championship game. Think ESPN, which has the BCS TV rights, would object?

Of course, that won't happen, because the BCS simply can't do the right thing. On Sunday, executive director Bill Hancock had three reasons why it would be impossible: No one knows what will happen between now and Dec. 2 (true, but irrelevant); the logistics of changing existing contracts would be too difficult (only if those involved don't want to change them); and there are only six days between Jan. 1 and the national title game (easy, move the game back 24 hours).

Instead, two of the top three teams will lose and Notre Dame will play in the title game. Or, everyone will win out and Notre Dame will play in the title game anyway. Maybe all the players from Oregon and Kansas State will put their uniforms on Hancock's desk and say, "This is for Rudy," so the gutty Irish can play in the big game.

Fiction? Sure. But so was the movie.

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