Notre Dame is still on the outside looking in as the first BCS standings were released Sunday night, and also was shut out of the AP and coaches top 25 polls. But an unstable college football landscape may wind up benefiting Notre Dame, which could quietly head to Stanford with a 9-2 record and shot at a BCS bowl.
This is a flawed Notre Dame team, to be sure. But the Irish aren't buried.
If Notre Dame runs the table the rest of the way -- meaning they'll win Nov. 30 Stanford game in Palo Alto -- they'll finish the regular season 10-2. Given the Irish have a fanbase that travels as well as any program in the nation, and given they'd finish the regular season with a road win over Stanford to cap a seven-game winning streak, a BCS bowl could be in the picture.
Helping that push would be the kind of chaos across college football that's developed in the last few weeks -- the kind of chaos that has Missouri, Baylor, Texas Tech, Auburn and Fresno State ranked in the AP top 15 this week.
The Pac-12 may very well send Oregon to the BCS Championship but field a slew of three-loss teams. The SEC, aside from Alabama and Mizzou, is cannibalizing itself. The ACC has its title contender in Florida State, but quite a bit remains to be sorted out between Miami and Virginia Tech (and Clemson still has to play South Carolina). The dilapidated Big Ten may get two BCS bids, if only because its contenders behind Ohio State (Wisconsin and Nebraska) have easy schedules the rest of the way.
Of course, chaos mattering to Notre Dame is contingent on Notre Dame actually winning its next five games. That means the defense continues playing well, and the offense gets an effective Tommy Rees back.
"I don't know if there's a lot on the table -- there obviously is, but the way that our coaches want us to approach it is it's a four‑week season, so it's just these four weeks up until the bye week and then just the last two," wide receiver T.J. Jones said Saturday. "So we're taking it each week of these next four weeks and then just paying attention on that one game."
Notre Dame should be favored to win its next four games against Air Force, Navy, Pittsburgh and BYU. Pitt and BYU may give the the Irish fits, but a Notre Dame defense finally rounding into form should, on paper, be good enough to to win both those games.
Notre Dame, too, gets a well-timed bye week after the Pitt game and before slug-it-out, physical contests against BYU and Stanford.
If Notre Dame wins those four games, it'd set up a showdown with Stanford with BCS hopes on the line. That may sound like a terrifying proposition, but it's a sliver of good news.
While Notre Dame can't control what happens around the country, it just might be able to still control its own bowl destiny.