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Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Enjoy rivalries like Notre Dame-Southern Cal while you can

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Let's start with the good, because there has been a lot of bad this rivalry week.

Notre Dame is believed to be the first BCS No. 1 to also be No. 1 in graduation rate. In other words, 15 years into the BCS and with two weeks left in the season, Irish football has caught up with the school's curriculum. This is a positive in a week when schools sold their souls, conferences were wrecked and college athletics was made to look like one big Wal-Mart.

Buy in bulk and save money.

During this time when it seems tradition and history are becoming fuel for a book burning, it's nice to know that rivalries still matter. Ohio State-Michigan, LSU-Arkansas, Arizona State-Arizona, Florida-Florida State, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Oklahoma State-Oklahoma, Oregon-Oregon State.

Then there is the feature game of the week, Notre Dame-Southern California: No. 2 in all-time wins (Irish) vs. No. 8 (Trojans). The perfect Heisman candidate (Manti Teo). A national championship on the line (at least for Notre Dame). A chance for redemption in the Coliseum (for USC).

Yo, Delany. This is the way business is supposed to be conducted, the way titles are supposed to be decided.

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Unless, of course, Notre Dame goes ahead and full-on joins the ACC at halftime. Sorry, but WWL needs a drink.

Variations on a rant

Saturday marks the 109th edition of The Game as we know it. Ohio State-Michigan will be missed. The two sides have been going at each other's throats for 11 decades. It never fails to provide classic hate.

If not for Ohio State, Michigan never would have gotten Rich Rodriguez, which means it never would have gotten Brady Hoke to fix things. See how it all worked out?

But as you slice into that turkey, consider that Ohio State-Michigan is in danger, not so much as a game but as a concept. If realignment has taught us one thing, it's that rivalries don't matter. Gone as conference blood-lettings: Missouri-Kansas, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Texas-Texas A&M.

A shame because this is rivalry week and like a lot of college football traditions, it is dying too.

After the developments of this week, it has occurred to WWL that anything is possible. Look what expansion has wrought: Stanford and UCLA playing in back-to-back weeks? Could happen to decide the Pac-12 championship. Someone remind WWL again, why we're playing that first game?

The death of the Big East? Poor Mike Aresco. The Big East commissioner was everyone's best friend when he was a CBS executive. Now he's going door-to-door hoping to find a TV home for his diminished league.

Ohio State-Michigan will never go away ... we think. But what the commissioners have told us in this crazy chase for cash is that rivalries don't matter. Neither does your credit card limit. They used to play Nebraska-Oklahoma this week and there was no better build up.

Now, in the future, Nebraska will be playing Rutgers. The best part about that for the Huskers is the Newark airport. It's close to Piscataway, allowing tailgating to begin at Gate 37A.

Maryland fell into a vat of red ink and thought nothing of severing ties with the ACC, where it had been a charter member. It's an insult to our senses to hear phrases such as "perfect fit" and "academic profile." Like Missouri and Texas A&M before them in the SEC, Maryland and Rutgers were warm bodies available for the Big Ten. Rutgers won the proximity lottery, locating itself only 35 miles from New York.

If it was about winning or bookkeeping, Maryland would be in the Sun Belt. But, by golly, you can see the Washington/Baltimore market from College Park. Hooray.

Something sacred and holy died this week, a week we should be celebrating. It's rivalry week and it doesn't feel like it. It feels like those rivalries are dying.

Rivalry week quick read

Notre Dame-USC: Heisman ballots went out this week, reminding us it's time to admit a defensive player could win the Stiff Arm. The planets are aligning for Manti Teo. The Irish linebacker makes his final statement in prime time against the Trojans. There is no downside to the kid unless you, as a voter, are prejudiced against defensive players, which you shouldn't be.

Big Ten-ACC game of the week: Rutgers-Pittsburgh. Sitting here with my Big Ten Football Encyclopedia. Don't know whether to loan it to Rutgers or sell it in the next neighborhood garage sale. Either way, it's outdated.

Auburn-Alabama: National quarterfinal for Tide. Will Gene Chizik make it to the fourth quarter?

Georgia Tech-Georgia: Both teams are guaranteed conference title games. Dawgs with much more at stake.

Michigan-Ohio State: Urban's first Michigan game as Buckeyes head coach. Nice season, Urb -- so far.

Arizona State at Arizona: Three words -- two nice hires.

Florida at Florida State: A team that is 104th in total offense could play for the national championship. FSU isn't out of the chase either.

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma: Big 12 Bedlam. Four-way conference tie between Sooners, Cowboys, Longhorns and Wildcats still possible. If Texas beats TCU and Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma, the possibility exists going into the final week.

Oregon-Oregon State: Ducks can salvage Pac-12 North with Stanford loss to UCLA. Oregon can also get back in BCS title picture if Notre Dame loses. The difference in the Civil War combatants was once described as space ships vs. covered wagons.

Don't bet against the Beavers circling the wagons.

A case for No. 1

You might have noticed Ohio State is on pace to be The Best You Never Saw (in a bowl game).

And that's a shame. Ohio State and Michigan measure their worth on how they do against each other. For the 2009 (and before) Buckeyes it was worth a few dollars to trade in their usually treasured Gold Pants -- given to each player who beats Michigan. Lowlife Eddie Rife gladly paid off, setting in motion a scandalous NCAA case you may have heard about.

Usually the standards are much higher. Michigan lost a coach and then a game on this weekend six years ago. Lloyd Carr had tears in his eyes explaining what Bo Schembechler meant to him following the great coach's death a day before Ohio State's epic win in 2006.

The result pushed the Buckeyes into the BCS title game. Some of that is what will be missing Saturday in Columbus. Unless ...

Unless Associated Press voters start thinking about the possibility now. What if at the end of the season, Ohio State is the only undefeated team left? Everybody else has a loss. How do you deny the Buckeyes players and coaches who had nothing to do with the probation but were the Big Ten's best team this season?

There is history to be made here. Good history. Right history. Honest history. The AP remains the most independent, accurate, credible measuring stick in the process. It also is the only way Ohio State can win a national championship this season.

The AP rightly ranks teams on probation. The last time something like this happened, Auburn went 11-0 in 1993 while on probation and being banned from a bowl. The Tigers started the season unranked and finished fourth in the AP poll. The Buckeyes are currently ranked No. 4, but you wonder where they would be without the scarlet letter of probation.

Second? First?

 One wonk on Twitter suggested it's easier going unbeaten while on probation because there is less pressure. If that was the case, everyone would be cheating.

 Another said Ohio State should be dismissed for being on probation. Again, the participants have nothing to do with the current situation. It was the NCAA's decision to ban them from a bowl. It was the administration's fault not to see far enough into the future to take the ban last year.

 Another said Ohio State should be penalized for not playing two games it could lose (Big Ten title game and bowl game.) Good argument, but you're describing half the formula that got Alabama to the national championship game last season. You're also describing the Big 12, which doesn't play a conference championship game.

I'm looking for reasons to keep the Buckeyes from the top ranking on Jan. 8 and I can't find many.

Next man up at USC

He's bigger than Matt Barkley, with a stronger arm and -- who knows? -- a better pro future.

That's the profile being circulated of USC backup quarterback Max Wittek, who takes over for Barkley in the Notre Dame game. Wittek can salvage a disappointing USC season and perhaps kick off his career with a win. No pressure there. The Trojans only control the fate of all seven teams still in the running for the national championship.

"He'll break the mold of past USC quarterbacks," said Southern California-based QB guru Steve Clarkson, who helped train Wittek. "He's able to make more plays with his big arm and give the offense more opportunities with his legs."

Wittek moved with his family from Connecticut at the urging of Clarkson to face better competition in Southern California. He came from the same Orange County power that produced Matt Leinart and Barkley, Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif.

You guessed it -- product of prep Catholic powerhouse trying to beat the ultimate Catholic college powerhouse.

At 6-feet-4, 235 pounds, Wittek has the size at least to stay upright behind a line that was attacked by UCLA last week. That's important going against Notre Dame, which has posted 31 sacks this season (tied for 13th nationally).

Bowl mess

With Miami removing itself from bowl consideration this week, that makes five teams with no postseason aspirations. That also makes it a potentially horrible bowl season. Horrible in that there were only 72 bowl-eligible teams for 70 spots last season.

Jerry Palm is currently projecting that three sub-.500 teams will have to play in bowls to fill out those 70 spots this year -- Rice, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Miami's decision to take a second consecutive self-imposed bowl ban particularly impacts Georgia Tech. It will be an underdog Saturday and the next week against Florida State in the ACC title game. That makes it likely the Jackets will have to be considered for a bowl at 6-7.

The NCAA has "fixed" things by deciding that those sub.-500 teams be ranked by highest APR. Smart kids outclasses bad football, get it?

This will have a cascading effect that will lead to an eight-team playoff. Please, follow the logic:

 The lower-level bowls are in financial peril as it is. Their bottom line won't be helped by having to take sub-.500 teams. The world can live without the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.

 When market factors take effect and those bowls begin dying out, natural selection will take hold. That lessens the commissioners' argument that they must protect the bowl system. There will be less of a bowl system to protect.

 That makes it easier to expand, quickly, to an eight-team playoff. If the world can live without a Beef O'Brady's, it can certainly live without a GoDaddy.com, which means it can live without a GMAC Bowl. It's simple: More meaningful games at the top. Less meaningless games at the bottom.

To paraphrase the great Warren Zevon, enjoy the dressing.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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