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Fighting Irish could get shut out of title game

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Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson celebrates after scoring the game-winning touchdown in the third overtime period against Pittsburgh in an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Dame defeated Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime. AP Photo

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Scott Brown
Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 10:28 p.m.
 

A National Championship game without an unbeaten Notre Dame could very well happen.

Notre Dame needed LSU to topple Alabama, something it would have done had Tigers coach Les Miles stayed out of his own way.

Alabama's improbable rally in the toughest place to play in the country led to something even harder to fathom: the real possibility that Notre Dame could go undefeated while playing a difficult schedule and get shut out of the BCS title game.

The Irish (9-0) are fourth in the latest BCS standings, and winning out doesn't guarantee anything to the program that has tradition, a national following and its own network TV contract.

Notre Dame's remaining schedule includes games against Boston College and Wake Forest as well as a finale against a Southern Cal team that may have four losses and be unranked before it hosts the Irish.

The reality is Notre Dame almost certainly needs help from two teams if it is to play for its first national championship since 1988.

And it's not like any of the three teams in front of Notre Dame in the BCS rankings have daunting paths to South Florida, which will host the BCS title game. Consider:

Alabama: The defending national champions have to think destiny wears crimson and white after quarterback A.J. McCarron led a late touchdown drive that stunned LSU, which had dominated the second half. Alabama will likely have to get past a top-five Georgia team in the SEC title game, but it also has remaining games against Western Carolina and woeful Auburn.

Kansas State: The Wildcats' only remaining ranked opponent is Texas, and they get the Longhorns at home. Road games at TCU and Baylor should be manageable, particularly if quarterback and Heisman Trophy front-runner Collin Klein is healthy, and Kansas State does not have to play in a conference championship game.

Oregon: The Ducks are the closest to Notre Dame in BCS standings but they have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Irish. Oregon finishes the season with three ranked opponents assuming it makes the Pac 12 title game, and it's hard to see any defense this side of Alabama's slowing down the Ducks.

The good news for Notre Dame is even when fans and pundits were howling for a playoff, the national championship picture usually sorted itself out through attrition and upsets.

Rare was the year when an undefeated team from a major conference didn't get an opportunity to play for the national championship. That history is a reminder that a lot can still happen before the BCS title-game teams are set.

The Irish may need a little luck to be one of those teams. They just have to hope they didn't use all of theirs up against Pitt last Saturday.

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com.

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