November 8, 2012
November is "Nervous Wreck Month" on the College Channel as highly stressed coaches contemplate the trap doors and trip wires that can turn a sensational season sour.
The difference between college football and the pros is that the New York Giants can be 7-7 in December and still win the championship whereas Notre Dame was nearly eliminated from contention last week for having two players wearing uniform No. 2 on the field at the same time.
Just because the Bowl Championship Series is dumb doesn't mean it isn't fantastically thrilling.
Alabama came a few clock ticks from BCS death in Louisiana State's "Death Valley" only hours after Notre Dame's undefeated season clung by its fingertips to a cliff over a river gorge.
While the pros maneuver for playoff seeding, the college guys lie awake worrying about the one bonehead mistake that could cost their teams the crystal trophy.
As if defeating Pittsburgh in triple overtime weren't difficult enough, imagine Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly's reflective horror in almost having to explain to boosters how a uniform mix-up cost the school its first shot at the national title since 1988.
Pittsburgh kicker Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard kick in the second overtime that could have defeated Notre Dame, yet he should have received a re-kick because the Irish had two players wearing uniform No. 2 on the play. Had the game officials noticed, it would have been a penalty.
"It's unacceptable that two guys have the same number in the game," Kelly said this week, "and we've got to be able to manage that."
Advice: Don't consult USC Coach Lane Kiffin.
It's amazing how a split-second decision can change the course of destiny.
Alabama remained a runaway No. 1 in this week's BCS standings in part because of what LSU Coach Les Miles did — or rather, didn't do, last Saturday.
LSU thoroughly outplayed Alabama in the second half and led 17-14 in the closing minutes. The Tigers stood fourth and six at the Crimson Tide 28 with 1 minute 39 seconds left in the game.
A first down clinches victory for LSU, but Miles — the so-called "Mad Hatter" — elected to play it safe and have Drew Alleman attempt a 45-yard field goal.
Even had Alleman made the kick, which he didn't, Alabama was going to get the ball back with a chance to win.
"The six-pointer [lead] means that they have to score a seven-pointer to beat you," Miles later explained. "The three to tie is no longer there."
Alabama got the ball back and won with a seven-pointer anyway, driving 72 yards in five plays over 43 seconds.
What should the contending coaches be worried about this week?
Everything from girlfriend breakups to inappropriate Twitter blasts.
Kansas State's undefeated season may rest on whether quarterback Collin Klein can play at Texas Christian. The only things at stake are the national title and Klein's Heisman Trophy hopes.
If Kansas State were a pro team that had already clinched a playoff spot, Klein could simply take a week or two off and not risk another blow to the head.
Alabama and Oregon need to worry about the disease that plagues most young players after an emotional win — complacency. You could almost predict — and we did — Notre Dame's letdown against Pittsburgh a week after a big win at Oklahoma.
Alabama, after its eke-out at LSU, had better not sleep on Texas A&M on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban is America's best college coach because he knows how to navigate his team through these roller-coaster rides.
"When you don't do the right things, when you don't pay attention to detail, there are going to be consequences for it," Saban reiterated this week.
Why should Coach Chip Kelly worry about Oregon at crummy Cal a week after his Ducks scored 62 points at USC? Cal may even be playing without starting quarterback Zach Maynard, who injured his knee last Saturday in a loss to Washington. Cal's backup is junior Allan Bridgford, who has thrown only 48 passes in his career.
Here's why: For some inexplicable reason, Cal gives Oregon trouble.
Two years ago on its way to the BCS title game, Oregon barely escaped Berkeley with a 15-13 victory. Oregon scored more points against national champion Auburn that year (19) than it did against Cal.
You would hope last week's home scare against Pittsburgh would get Notre Dame's attention at struggling Boston College on Saturday. What you can't explain is Boston College's uncanny ability to raise its level of play against the Irish.
"Our players understand that if they don't play their best, they can be beat," Kelly said in his opening statement Tuesday at his weekly news conference. There were then more than 40 questions asked of Kelly — not one directly related to this week's opponent.
You'd think BC would be of more concern given that the Eagles won six straight against Notre Dame from 2001 through 2008 and lost the last two games by a total of five points.
Kelly has to worry about media and fans jumping three weeks ahead — and about keeping duplicate uniform numbers off the field.
"I would like the NCAA to come in and say only one guy can have this number," Kelly said. "That would make my life a whole lot easier."
These are not issues that keep Bill Belichick up at night.
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