As gut-punched LSU fans filed out of Tiger Stadium and the Alabama band chanted the name of every Crimson Tide player or coach who walked past late last Saturday night, Alabama center Barrett Jones toggled between euphoria and dejection. After a gleeful recounting of a two-minute drill run to perfection by quarterback AJ McCarron, Jones offered a sober appraisal of the 28 minutes and 26 seconds that preceded Alabama's miracle drive. "I don't feel like we could have played worse in the second half," Jones said.
Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Kans., coach Bill Snyder vacillated between joy over Kansas State's brilliant three-phase win against Oklahoma State and concern for do-everything quarterback Collin Klein, who left in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury. In Los Angeles, Oregon coach Chip Kelly celebrated a 62--51 win against USC in which his offense gained 730 yards but his defense allowed 615. And in South Bend, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly decompressed after his team came within a missed 33-yard field goal from of being a national-title also-ran in a triple-overtime win against Pittsburgh. "It was not our best effort," Kelly said.
It's time to stop the BCS hand-wringing about the season's ending with four undefeated elite teams. If this past Saturday taught us anything, it's that chaos is coming. A week ago the big four looked invincible. On Saturday flaws were exposed that another quality opponent might exploit, and Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon each have two more potential chaos-makers on the schedule, while Notre Dame has one.
For Alabama the newly revealed soft spot is, surprisingly, its defense. Unlike Florida earlier in the season, the Crimson Tide couldn't get consistent pressure against LSU with only four rushers. Alabama had to blitz. Meanwhile, the Tide's secondary didn't blanket LSU's receivers in man coverage. A team with a good line, a quality back and a quarterback who can throw and run could cause problems. Here comes Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has 3,449 total yards and 31 touchdowns (16 passing, 15 rushing). Against A&M's hurry-up spread, Alabama will have to play man-to-man and use a linebacker to spy on the freshman QB known as Johnny Football. That puts the onus on the line to get pressure with four rushers, or Manziel could pick the secondary apart.
For Kansas State the immediate problem is Klein's health and also the depth of the Big 12. The conference might end the season with nine of its 10 teams bowl-eligible. Remaining consistent and emotionally invested week after week in a league with so many above-average teams is tough, and the Big 12's schedule requires the Wildcats to play everyone. This week the Wildcats head to Fort Worth to face a TCU team eager for a signature win in its first season in the Big 12. If Klein—who leads the nation in passing efficiency (174.4) and has accounted for 29 touchdowns—is out or limited, the trip could become treacherous.
In Oregon the Ducks have looked the least likely to be upset. But the offense gains so many yards so quickly (561.2 average) that the defense faces more plays and therefore gives up more yards (380.9 average). It's worked so far, but it puts a lot of pressure on the O. Oregon's skill-position players have avoided turning the ball over much, but Stanford's hard-hitting front seven can shake things loose, and all bets are off against Oregon State in the Civil War. In those games Oregon's defense will have to be better than it was against USC, and even then a fumble or two could ruin the whole thing.
The Fighting Irish have lived on the edge for much of the season, but the Pittsburgh game should serve as a wake-up call for upcoming games against ACC weaklings Boston College and Wake Forest. The test will come on Nov. 24 at USC, where Notre Dame's suspect secondary must try to cover Trojans receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Lee, who averages 14.6 yards a catch and has 12 touchdown receptions, could be especially problematic in quarterback Matt Barkley's final home game.
When asked about the BCS, Notre Dame's Kelly said it best: "We can't worry about all those other things." They can't. That's the beauty of chaos. No matter how much micromanaging coaches plan for it, they can't predict where or when it will strike.
Stop the BCS hand-wringing about four undefeated teams.
JOHN BIEVER (TE'O)
Top to Bottom: Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Klein and McCarron.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BARNER)
[See caption above]
PETER G. AIKEN/GETTY IMAGES (KLEIN)
[See caption above]
AL TIELEMANS (MCCARRON)
[See caption above]