In his 22nd season as a collegiate head coach and his 3rd at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has led the Irish back to greatness. A 22-13 win at USC on Saturday night secured an undefeated regular season and a certain berth in the BCS title game in Miami. Notre Dame last won the national title in 1988 in the third year of the Lou Holtz era.
Notre Dame's win was bad news for Florida and the SEC which had a real shot at monopolizing the BCS Championship game for a second straight year. Had Notre Dame lost, a Florida-Alabama matchup was a strong possibility. Now, the opponent will almost certainly be the winner of the SEC Championship game between Alabama and Georgia in Atlanta.
Ohio State moved to 12-0 with a 26-21 win over Michigan, but is ineligible for the postseason along with Penn State (8-4) and North Carolina (8-4). Miami (7-5) self-imposed a bowl ban for the second straight year.
Alabama's clinching of the SEC West was a foregone conclusion, considering their opponent was a reeling Auburn squad. The Tide beat their state rival 49-0 to send the Tigers to a 3-9, 0-8 finish. The lopsided score was identical to Alabama's win over Western Carolina a week earlier.
Georgia concluded an 11-1 campaign with a 42-10 rout of state rival Georgia Tech. Florida also finished 11-1 with a 37-26 win at Florida State in which the Gators outscored the Seminoles 24-6 in the 4th quarter. The Gators are still in great position to earn an at-large bid to another BCS bowl game, thus still giving the SEC a double-dip in major bowl revenue.
The ACC went 0-3 vs. the SEC on Saturday as Florida State's loss, combined with Clemson's 27-17 setback to South Carolina, removed almost all likelihood of the ACC getting two BCS bowl bids. Both teams were 10-1 heading into Saturday's action. The ACC Championship game in Charlotte will pit the Seminoles against a Georgia Tech team that is just 6-6.
The Legends half of the Big Ten Championship was filled when Nebraska downed Iowa 13-7 on Friday. The Cornhuskers, who last won a conference title in 1999 (Big 12), will face Wisconsin in Indianapolis. This game is also a rematch as Nebraska rallied to beat the Badgers 30-27 in Lincoln on September 29. Nebraska hit 10 wins (10-2) in the regular season for the second time in the last three years under Bo Pelini after managing 9 regular season victories just once from 2003-2009. Meanwhile, Wisconsin limps in at 7-5 after a 24-21 overtime loss at Penn State. It was the third overtime loss for the Badgers in their last four games. The game did produce a new FBS record for Wisconsin as Montee Ball scored his 79th career touchdown. Interestingly, the career rushing yardage record also belongs to a Badger - Ron Dayne.
The PAC-12 Championship will be an instant rematch of Stanford and UCLA. The Cardinal took a convincing 35-17 win at the Rose Bowl on Saturday to eliminate Oregon and earn the right to host the Bruins on Friday night.
The Conference USA championship game will send UCF back to Tulsa where the Golden Knights lost 23-21 just two weeks ago. UCF romped 49-24 over UAB to to secure the East. Tulsa had already wrapped up the West before losing 35-27 at SMU in a game that made the Mustangs bowl eligible.
Kent State will face Northern Illinois in Detroit on Friday night in the MAC Championship game. The Golden Flashes notched a 10th straight win by drubbing Ohio 28-6 to finish 11-1 overall and 8-0 in the MAC. The Huskies also finished 11-1, 8-0 with a 49-7 blowout at Eastern Michigan on Friday. This will be the first year that both MAC teams head to the championship game with perfect conference records. The MAC split into two divisions in 1997.
Oklahoma rallied to beat Oklahoma State 51-48 in overtime in Norman. The Sooners never led in regulation, but tied it on backup QB Blake Bell's 4-yard run with 4 seconds left in regulation. Kansas State would have clinched the Big 12's automatic BCS bid had Oklahoma lost.
Besides the Big 12 and those conferences holding championship games next week, conference titles are still yet to be decided in the Big East, Mountain West and Sun Belt.
In the Big East, Rutgers lost 27-6 at Pitt and Louisville fell 23-20 in overtime at home to UConn. It was Rutgers' first conference loss of the season to drop to 5-1 while Louisville slipped to 4-2. Syracuse and Cincinnati also have 2 conference losses. Rutgers still controls its own destiny and can advance by beating the Cardinals at home next week while other scenarios leave the Orange and Bearcats in the mix. The Big East has had tri-champions each of the last two years. Pitt and UConn each need one more win to become bowl eligible.
The Mountain West still has Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State in a dead heat. Each has one conference loss and is 1-1 vs. the others. Boise State was idle this week while Fresno State beat Air Force 48-15 and San Diego State downed Wyoming 42-28. Boise State visits Nevada on Saturday while Fresno State and SDSU are done. A loss by the Broncos would hand the title to Fresno State by virtue of its mid-season win over the Aztecs. A BSU win would leave it up to the bowls and conference to decide who goes where.
The Sun Belt comes down to a de facto conference championship game when Arkansas State hosts Middle Tennessee on Saturday. Arkansas State was idle this week while MTSU tripped Troy 24-21.
Late Saturday night, San Jose State defeated Louisiana Tech 52-43 to finish 10-2 overall, 5-1 the WAC. It's the first 10-win season for the Spartans since the 1986 and 1987 clubs also finished 10-2.
Among the last-minute bowl eligible teams was Virginia Tech which kept a 20-year bowl appearance streak alive by beating Virginia 17-14 in Blacksburg. The game was decided on the final play with Cody Journell's boot of a 29-yard field goal.
Ole Miss beat rival Mississippi State 41-24 in the Egg Bowl to become bowl eligible. Michigan State also got in under the wire with a 26-10 win at Minnesota, and Baylor made it to 6 wins with a 52-45 overtime win over Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
The action started on Tuesday night with Toledo dumping Akron 35-23 to secure a 9-3 finish for the Rockets while Akron lost its 16th straight MAC game.
The lone Thanksgiving Day game saw Big 12 upstart TCU knock homestanding Texas out of the conference title race with a 20-13 upset in Austin. The Horned Frogs took Texas A&M's spot when the Aggies bolted to the SEC.
Friday's games provided some tight, and one surprising, finishes.
East Carolina denied Marshall bowl eligibility with a 65-59 double-overtime win in Greenville. The Pirates went 8-4 overall, 7-1 in CUSA play with the only conference loss coming at division champion UCF, 40-20, in Orlando on October 4.
An incomplete pass in the endzone as time expired helped LSU escape Arkansas with a 20-13 win. Later replays showed 1 second should have still been left on the clock and the Hogs should have had another shot at winning or tying the game. Actually, it seems like a fitting end to Arkansas' season that began with so much promise of possible SEC and BCS titles and ended instead in a 4-8 nightmare.
Washington State upset Washington 31-28 in overtime in Pullman to end an 8-game losing streak and give the Cougar faithful something to cheer about for the first time since a 35-27 win at UNLV on September 14. Washington State trailed the annual Apple Cup rivalry game 28-10 entering the 4th quarter.
Friday night, Arizona State grabbed the Territorial Cup by scoring 24 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to turn a 17-17 deficit into a 41-27 advantage before winning 41-34. Both teams finish 7-5 overall, but ASU moved ahead of Arizona in the PAC-12 bowl pecking order by improving to 5-4 in conference play while the Wildcats slipped to 4-5. Todd Graham slightly improved on Arizona State's 6-6 regular season finish a year ago when Dennis Erickson coached the team to a 6-6 regular season before a blowout 56-24 loss to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Rich Rodriguez significantly improved Arizona's 2011 finish of 4-8 under Mike Stoops (1-5) and Tim Kish (3-3).
Yet another tight PAC-12 contest witnessed Utah rally past Colorado 42-35 with a 22-7 4th quarter. Colorado's lone score in the final period came on Marques Mosley's 100-yard kickoff return to tie it at 35-apiece, but the Utes immediately returned the favor with Reggie Dunn's 100-yard kickoff return for the final margin. It was an NCAA record fifth career 100-yard kickoff return for Dunn and his fourth this season. The Buffaloes ended the year with a dreadful, but expected, 1-11 record which is a game-and-a-half worse than their 3-10 finish in Jon Embree's first season a year ago. Utah also had a disappointing year with a 5-7 finish that is well under everyone's preseason expectations and down from last year's 8-5 campaign in the school's PAC-12 debut season.
West Virginia has needed just one more win to become bowl eligible since early October. It finally achieved that victory on Friday with a 31-24 escape at Iowa State that ended the Cyclones' regular season at 7-5 while improving WVU's record to 6-5 with a home game left versus Kansas.
The week also saw East Carolina beat Marshall 65-59 in double-overtime, while Oklahoma and Washington State each needed just one overtime to beat Oklahoma State and Washington, respectively.
REALIGNMENT - HERE WE GO AGAIN:
UConn appears to be the front-runner to replace the Terps in the ACC when the moves happen in 2014, but Louisville has reportedly expressed an interest, too.
FBS vs. FCS:
The last such game of the year will take place next week when Nicholls State heads to Oregon State to make up a game that was forced to be postponed on Labor Day weekend by Hurricane Isaac.
When all is said and done for this year, 101 FBS teams will have played a total of 108 games against FCS foes. UTSA played 4 such schools in its first year of transitioning from the FCS. Cincinnati, Florida State, Pittsburgh and Texas A&M each played two such games.
Here are the results of the FBS losses to FCS schools this season:
Ohio State - Won 12 straight overall. Won 26-21 vs. Michigan on Saturday.
Kent State - Won 10 straight games. Won 28-6 vs. Ohio on Saturday.
Northern Illinois - Won 15 straight conference games (MAC), 21 straight home games and 10 straight overall. Won 49-7 at Eastern Michigan on Friday.
LSU - Won 41 straight nonconference games. Won 20-13 at Arkansas on Friday.
Michigan - won 14 straight home games. Lost 26-21 at Ohio State on Saturday.
Oregon - Won 15 straight road games. Won 48-24 at Oregon State on Saturday.
Southern Miss - Lost 12 straight overall. Lost 42-24 at Memphis on Saturday.
Akron - Lost 26 straight road games, 22 straight FBS games and 16 straight conference games (MAC). Lost 35-23 at Toledo on Tuesday.
Kansas - Lost 20 straight FBS games, 20 straight conference games and 18 straight road games. Idle this week. Visits West Virginia on Saturday, 12/1.
UNLV - Lost 22 straight road games. Lost 48-10 at Hawaii on Saturday.
Here are this week's games for each new head coach: