From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Kansas State and Oregon are now on course to play for the BCS national championship.After Alabama was upset by Texas A&M, the new BCS standings have the Wildcats (.9674) first and the Ducks (.9497) second.Notre Dame (.9396) is third, not too far behind, but most likely in need of a loss by Oregon or Kansas State to reach the title game on Jan. 7 in Miami."These teams are in their order and the only way that order changes is if somebody gets beat," said Jerry Palm, of CBS Sports and collegebcs.com.As for Alabama's run at three championships in four seasons, and the Southeastern Conference's string of six straight BCS titles, both are in peril.Five SEC teams follow Alabama in the standings: Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina. But it will take a couple of upsets to give the SEC champion a shot to reach the BCS title game.Kansas State is second in both BCS polls -- the coaches' and Harris -- and in the computer rankings. The Wildcats have two games left, at Baylor on Saturday and home against Texas on Dec. 1, the day of most of the conference championship games.Oregon is first in the both polls and fourth in the computer ratings. The Ducks have two more regular-season games left, against Stanford on Saturday and the next week at Oregon State. They can clinch the Pac-12 North and a spot in the conference title game with a win against Stanford. If they get there, the Ducks would play either UCLA or Southern California in the league title game.If the Ducks and Wildcats can avoid the type of upset that dropped Alabama -- and there are plenty of good teams left on their schedules -- they will play for the national title.The Fighting Irish are third in the polls and first in the computer ratings."Notre Dame is not going to jump (Oregon and Kansas State) without their help," Palm said. "They're way too far behind in the polls. The voters are not on board with Notre Dame."The Irish play Wake Forest on Saturday and are at USC two days after Thanksgiving.Alabama (or Georgia or Florida, which could also both win the SEC with just one loss) needs two of the top three to lose to get to the title game no matter how it finishes.
“We’re a blue-collar team…”
Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers
“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”
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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.
“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”
“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”
The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.
“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”
“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.
Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.
“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”
The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro.
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What predictions did Tom E. Curran get right? What predictions did he get wrong? Find out in the preview/review of Sunday's game between the Patriots and Raiders