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The Kickoff: Don't count LSU out of BCS race

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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The fourth team in everybody's three-team race

The way I see it, four teams currently control their own destinies in the BCS Championship race:
If Florida wins out, it's your 2009 national champion. If Alabama wins out, it's your 2009 national champion. If Texas wins out, it's your 2009 national champion. The fourth team? It's not the Iowa Hawkeyes. It's not red-hot Cincinnati. Not TCU or Boise State, either. Oregon? Nah. Penn State? Nope. The LSU Tigers — currently ranked ninth in the BCS standings and just three weeks removed from a deflating 13-3 loss at home — more than likely still control their own championship dreams. Win out, and LSU should be your 2009 BCS champion. Huh? What? How? Believe it. If LSU beats Alabama in Saturday's much-anticipated Saban Bowl III, and then goes on to win out the remainder of the season (victories over Ole Miss, Louisiana Tech and Arkansas), the Tigers are your 2009 SEC West champions. Beat Florida in a rematch of their Oct. 10 meeting in the SEC championship game, and you're looking at a one-loss SEC champion LSU squad that would have wins over previously unbeaten Florida and Alabama on its résumé. That should be enough to ensure a place in the BCS Championship game. Iowa, Cincinnati and TCU fans may go wild and the BCS antitrust lawyers may throw a fit, but that's the likely truth of the situation. The SEC, with Alabama and Florida jockeying for the top spots in the human polls and computer rankings all season and the last three BCS championship trophies encased in Gainesville and Baton Rouge, has so much weight that a one-loss LSU squad would likely get the nod over an undefeated Big Ten, Big East, Mountain West or WAC champion. Outrageous? Sorry, Hawkeyes fans. But, 'dem da breaks. We probably shouldn't get ahead of ourselves just yet, though. No need to start the protests and picketing in Des Moines. Beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa will be no easy task. The Tigers know that. Though the Alabama players and coach Nick Saban downplayed Saturday's game in interviews Monday, the vibe coming from the LSU locker room had an entirely different feel. This is the biggest game of the season. They're well aware of it. "Since I've been here, this team enjoys playing big games," coach Les Miles told reporters Monday. "It only counts as one, but it's a very important one. We always want to honor our best opponent with our best effort. Every time we play Alabama, home or on the road, we realize that it's going to be a very competitive game. It matches two of the best college football programs in the country." "Our football team wants to compete for the Western Division championship every year. That's this game. The game is very significant. Our guys understand that." Tigers linebacker Perry Riley was a bit more direct, "This is what you come to LSU for. The national championship game, the SEC championship game and a bowl game are not as important as this game. To get to any of those games at the end of the year, we have to win this game." He's right. LSU had beaten Alabama the five meetings prior to last season's Tide 27-21 overtime win in Baton Rouge. This year, the focus should be on the defenses. Alabama is ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense, while LSU is seventh. In Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas, Mark Barron and Kareem Jackson, the Tide D features five potential future NFL first-round picks. LSU's Chad Jones and Patrick Peterson, meanwhile, are considered two of the best defensive backs in all of college football. If you're an NFL draft wonk, this one's a can't-miss. If you're a college football fan, it's one of the top 2-3 most important games of the season. LSU can really shake up the BCS bowl picture Saturday. The fourth team in what's been chronicled as a three-team race since September, the 2009 BCS title is improbably still theirs to lose. Alas, I think the dream ends this weekend. Look for McClain to have yet another dominant performance in a hard-fought 'Bama win. From title-game dreams to the Capital One Bowl ... just like that. Thus is the modern-day world of college football. The Pick: Alabama 26, LSU 13

The real BCS busters

While we all scratch our heads and play part-time prognosticator/part-time conspiracy theorist/part-time jigsaw puzzle extraordinaire, there's one team currently lingering on the outer edges of BCS relevancy that could really screw up — or save, depending upon whom you ask — the 2009 BCS bowl picture. You either love them or hate them. And if they keep on winning, there's actually a pretty decent shot you're going to have to deal with them in some capacity on New Year's weekend. That's right, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish — with their two losses, their high school-caliber defense, their coach permanently on the hot seat and their nation of critics and haters — are still very much alive in the BCS hunt. Boise State fans, you might want to stop reading this article right about ... now. Because if given the choice, you better believe the Fiesta or Sugar Bowl would rather have the two-loss Irish — with their rabid traveling national fan base and their plush national TV ratings — over an undefeated Boise State. Complete rubbish? An absolute injustice? Pure and total bull crap? Against all things American? Well, welcome to the BCS. Get comfortable, because it isn't changing anytime soon. Remember, the BCS has a bunch of funky loopholes. And if Notre Dame can somehow qualify for a place in college football's 10-team version of "postseason match game," the BCS will find a place for them. As an independent, Notre Dame more or less plays by its own unique set of BCS rules. While no BCS conference can send three teams in any given year, the Irish get an automatic bid if they finish in the top eight of the final BCS standings. They can be picked as an at-large team if they finish in the top 12. There's a caveat there, though. Because in truth, anytime the Irish finish in the top 12, they're getting in. They're too big a TV draw, too sexy a ticket at the gate, to ever be passed over for another at-large team. That includes USC. That includes Ohio State. That includes Miami. And that certainly includes Boise State and TCU. Notre Dame currently sits on a perch, like a hawk eyeing its prey. Slotted at 22nd in the latest BCS standings, the Irish are far enough out of the picture to be out of sight, but just close enough that their presence can be felt from above. Oddly enough, though, Notre Dame's last two wins over Boston College and Washington State did very little to impress the human voters or the computer rankings. After demolishing the Cougars in San Antonio on national television Saturday night, the Irish moved up only one spot from their previous post at 23rd in the BCS standings. In a quirky turn of events, the computers — which make up one third of the BCS standings — actually moved the Irish down four spots from 19th to 23rd.
Left on Notre Dame's schedule is a showdown with 6-3 Navy on Saturday, a trip to Pittsburgh the following week, and then games home against Connecticut and at Stanford to close out the season. Pitt's currently 13th in the BCS standings. Other than the Panthers, though, none of the Irish's remaining three opponents crack any of the Top 25 polls or BCS standings. UConn's lost two straight, while Stanford's dropped two of its last three and faces Oregon, USC, and Cal in consecutive weeks before taking on the Irish. In truth, Notre Dame's likely going to need a bit of help to get off that perch and into the BCS picture. Its strength of schedule is in desperate need of a boost. To get into that top 12 by the end of November, Notre Dame is going to need a few teams to lose games they shouldn't and for the voters and computers to start respecting them a wee bit more. They'd be greatly aided with at least one Stanford upset victory during the Cardinal's brutal three-game Pac-10 stretch and/or a big Connecticut upset win over Cincinnati or South Florida. Pittsburgh victories over West Virginia and Cincinnati would help the Irish tremendously, as well. A few Michigan wins (maybe Ohio State?) wouldn't hurt and a strong USC close to the season would be necessary. Additionally, looking down the line toward Orange Bowl at-large invite possibilities, they'd be greatly assisted with an Ohio State win over Penn State in Happy Valley this weekend. Yes, that's a lot of ifs. But they're on the cusp of the BCS conversation. They're looming. And if they get in that top 12, they're going BCS bowling. Why? Because it's good business. And in college football, good business reigns supreme. The three highest-rated BCS TV ratings years of all-time were the three years in which Notre Dame played in BCS bowl games: • 2006-07: 56.0 rating, (Sugar Bowl: ND vs. LSU) &bull: 2005-06: 55.9 rating, (Fiesta Bowl : ND vs. Ohio State) • 2000-01: 55.5 rating, (Fiesta Bowl : ND vs. Oregon State) Additionally, the Notre Dame Fiesta Bowl losses in 2006 and 2001 are two of the three highest-rated non-title game BCS bowls aired in the BCS's 11-year history. It's not merely coincidence. Those who love the Irish tune in to watch their beloved team. Those who hate them tune in to watch them lose. Either way, people watch. It's just not TV, though. Irish fans travel, attend bowl games and spend big bucks in the respective host cities. The Irish are 0-3 all-time in BCS bowls and are currently a long shot for qualifying for January's five-game BCS slate. But they haven't been eliminated just yet. And for the 21 teams currently ranked ahead of them in the BCS standings, that's a pretty scary reality. The Pick: Notre Dame 45, Navy 21

Suh what?

By now, you've heard and read all about Nebraska's decorated senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Widely considered the top defensive lineman in all of college football — and a likely bet to become the top overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft — Suh's gotten plenty of media love. After dominating performances on national television vs. Virginia Tech and Missouri, the agile 6-4, 300-pound DT even entered the nationwide Heisman conversation. And that's all good and well. But I've been almost as impressed with the performance of one of Suh's 'Husker defensive linemates, fellow defensive tackle Jared Crick. Crick's game Saturday vs. Baylor was one of the most dominant individual efforts you will ever see from a collegiate DT. Aided by double teams on Suh all afternoon, the sophomore notched 13 tackles, five sacks, seven tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in Nebraska's 20-10 win. Not surprisingly, he was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week. With Crick, Suh and a Blackshirts defense that has yet to surrender more than 300 yards in a game this year, you'd expect the 'Huskers to be a whole lot better than the 5-3 squad they currently are. Unfortunately, the offense is pitiful. Facing a Baylor defense that had given up an average of 26 points per game in its previous three Big 12 contests, the 'Huskers offense notched just one TD and 273 yards in the victory. Freshman quarterback Cody Green got the start, becoming the first (and only other) Nebraska true freshman to start at quarterback since Tommy Frazier. His performance — 12-21, 128 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception — was hardly worth writing home about. But a win's a win, and Nebraska — despite its anemic offensive production through eight games — currently finds itself in second place in the Big 12 North standings. The Huskers control their own destiny in the division race. Win out and they'll be playing in the Big 12 championship game. A win over Oklahoma on Saturday night in Lincoln would be huge. Suh, Crick and the rest of the Nebraska D will likely do their part. As for the offense? Having a breakout day against Brent Venables' tenacious Sooners D sure is asking a heck of a lot from a true freshman in just his second career start. Colt McCoy struggled tremendously vs. this Oklahoma defense. Is Cody Green capable of doing much better? I'm sorry, 'Huskers fans, but I just don't see it happening. The Pick: Oklahoma 24, Nebraska 10

Schrager's current BCS projections

Title game: Florida vs. Texas Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Iowa Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. Cincinnati Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. TCU Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Penn State

Schrager's current Heisman ballot

1. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas 2. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida 3. Case Keenum, QB, Houston 4. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson 5. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

Upset picks of the week

I went 0-2 for the third straight week last Saturday, falling to an embarrassing 6-10 on the season. This week, I like South Carolina over Arkansas and Kansas State to take down favored Kansas in Manhattan.
Tagged: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Boston College, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Boise State, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State, USC, Oregon, Florida, Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Navy, Connecticut, Louisiana Tech, Notre Dame, Baylor, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas State, Kansas, Texas, Cincinnati, Houston, South Florida

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