Could Irish be on outside looking in?

<P>Coach Willingham isn't going to look ahead to any single game this year. I am quite sure he is going to have this team prepared to play on Saturday. The last thing that is on Willingham's mind is the possibility of taking a 12-0 record into January and getting shut out of a championship game but it's very possible that could happen in the unlikely event that Notre Dame finishes 12-0. </P>

I write this article not because Notre Dame could be shut out but because a number of teams could be shut out. It's very possible that quite a few teams could finish with an undefeated record. I don't think Notre Dame will finish the season 12-0 but it could happen. The Irish have some serious challenges in the weeks ahead but I don't see a single team that they can't beat. Notre Dame could win the remainder of their games with some excellent play and a little bit of luck. Considering how "lucky" the Irish have been according the national media, we might as well assume that "luck" will continue.

The Irish go through a three game stretch of very difficult games. Air Force this weekend is going to be a very difficult game for the Irish. The Falcons are 6-0, they have a lot of confidence and it's a night game. ESPN Game day decided to show up to add to the frenzy. If the Irish win this game, they will have to face a bitter Florida State squad coming off a crushing loss to Miami. The Seminoles have already lost two games so you will see either one very excited and motivated team or a team doubting themselves. With a weak off, I am going to guess you will see the former.

If the Irish can get by the Seminoles, they then face Boston College at home. Boston College is probably on of the better 3-2 teams right now. The Eagles have lost to #1 Miami and #3 Virginia Tech. They played Miami to a draw for a half in Miami and battled the Hokies until the end before losing a close game. These two teams hate each other, which always adds fuel to this flame. Boston College could come in with a 0-7 record and will still play Notre Dame tough. The Eagles get to beat on Navy this week and then face Pittsburgh before coming to South Bend.

After that 3 game stretch, the Irish face Navy and Rutgers. The Irish should have an easier time with both teams but Navy always comes to play. The Irish finish their schedule against archrival USC in sunny Southern California. USC has a difficult schedule ahead of them with a home game with Washington this week and then at Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona State at home, at UCLA and then a home game with the Irish. The Trojans have a very difficult schedule ahead of them and could lose quite a few of their remaining games. One thing is certain however; the Trojans will come to play against Notre Dame.

With Miami, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Georgia and Oregon in front of them, a lot of these teams will have to lose for the Irish to even have a shot. One team will be eliminated because Miami plays Virginia Tech. Texas and Iowa State are also breathing down Notre Dame's neck ranked behind them. If both continue to win big, they could jump the Irish in the polls. Notre Dame hasn't looked pretty winning this year and I doubt that changes in the next three games.

Miami is the best team in college football, I don't think anyone can challenge that. Miami faces a tough road challenge at Tennessee but has its two toughest challenges both at home in Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes should skate into the National Championship game unless they have a miserable game. They aren't as dominating as last year and they can be beat.

Oklahoma has a difficult schedule as well. They play a very good Iowa State team at home this weekend. They then play Colorado at home, at Texas A&M, at Baylor, Texas Tech at home and then at Oklahoma State. If Oklahoma can get by the next three games; they could cruise to the National Championship game. Oklahoma State did beat Oklahoma at Oklahoma last year. That could be an interesting game. Oklahoma would also have to beat the Big 12 North champion as well and we have seen this game ruin National Championship hopes for teams in the past.

Virginia Tech has a manageable schedule until they meet Miami at Miami the last game of the year. The toughest games will be Pittsburgh and Virginia but both games are at home. The Hokies should roll along the rest of the year waiting for their final game against the Hurricanes.

The Buckeyes appear to have the easiest schedule to end up undefeated. They appear to be the best team in the Big 10 and have their toughest games in Columbus this year. They play at Wisconsin this week and then Penn State and Minnesota at home, at Purdue, at Illinois and then Michigan at home. The next two games could be difficult and Michigan is always a battle but the Buckeyes got that monkey off their back. The Buckeyes could cruise to an undefeated season rather easily.

The Georgia Bulldogs have played in many difficult games already this year. Many have been waiting for the Bulldogs to fold but they appear to be playing very disciplined football. When they need to score, they do and they don't choke in the clutch. The Bulldogs play Vandy at home this weekend and then at Kentucky, at Florida, Ole Miss at home, at Auburn and Georgia Tech at home. Kentucky and Florida away are always a difficult game but neither team has shown the discipline that Georgia has. Auburn is a pretty good team that needs a better defense. Ole Miss is pretty good as well. Georgia Tech is always a grudge match but Georgia Tech just isn't very good this year. If Georgia remains undefeated; they still have to play the winner in the West division. It won't be easy but Georgia appears to be playing the best football in the SEC right now.

The Ducks have a difficult schedule as well. The best news for Ducks fans is they have the best coach in college football in my opinion. Oregon will have to be beaten because they will not beat themselves. Oregon has the next three games at home with Arizona State, USC and Stanford. They then play at Washington State, Washington at home and then the battle royal with Oregon State in Corvallis. Washington State will be very difficult. The rest should be easier. The Oregon bowl is always one of the best games of the year and I don't expect this year to be any different. If I had to bet on any team being undefeated other than Miami, it would be Oregon.

It's quite possible that 6 top teams could be undefeated when the season ends. It's not likely but 3-4 is very likely. There are plenty of games that could trip up any of these teams. Out of the remaining 7 teams, each team should be favored to win the remainder of their games if they keep winning other than Notre Dame. Even if the Irish finish 12-0, it's very unlikely they would get a shot to play for the National Championship. That would be a very sad ending to a great story. Like I said, Notre Dame will likely lose a game this year. The sad part is that someone else could be shut out once again after finishing their season with a perfect record.


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