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Notre Dame No. 1, Alabama No. 2 in AP Top 25

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Notre Dame No. 1, Alabama No. 2 in AP Top 25

NEW YORK (AP) Surprise! Surprise!

Two straight weekends of seismic upsets not only sent tremors throughout college football from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest, they've all but cleared the way for two marquee teams and best-known brands to play for the national title.

Notre Dame was No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll released Sunday and Alabama was No. 2 after a pair of stunning Saturday night upsets rearranged the rankings. When the BCS standings came out later Sunday, they lined up the same way.

Notre Dame needs only to beat struggling rival Southern California (7-4), with its star quarterback injured, to secure a spot in the BCS title game for the first time. In the 76-year history of the AP poll, Notre Dame has been crowned national champion by the media panel eight times, the last in 1988.

"It's like being selected for the playoffs," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "Now you know you're in if you take care of business."

The only other school with as many AP championships is Alabama. The Crimson Tide potentially has two more games left. The Tide is at home Saturday against rival Auburn (3-8) and, if it beats the Tigers, advances to the Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 3 Georgia on Dec. 1.

Win that one, too, and it will be Notre Dame and Alabama playing in Miami on Jan. 7 for the championship.

Sounds simple enough. But when it comes to college football, the last two weeks of the season have been a consistent reminder that it's best to expect the unexpected.

Oregon and Kansas State were in the front row of the BCS race as of Saturday. All the Ducks and Wildcats had to do was win the rest of their games and they would have played for the BCS crown. No easy task for sure, but considering they had been walloping opponents, winning their first 10 games by an average of more than three touchdowns per game, it looked like a solid bet that they'd close the deal.

A week earlier, the same was said about Alabama - before it was upset at home by Texas A&M, a loss that cleared the way for Oregon to be No. 1 for the first time this season.

Saturday's first shocker came when then-No. 2 Kansas State lost at Baylor after barely putting up a fight.

The Bears (5-5) ran out to a 28-7 lead behind Nick Florence, the quarterback who replaced last year's Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III, and won 52-24. Not only did the Wildcats lose all hopes of playing for a national championship, its much-heralded quarterback, Collin Klein, lost his front-runner status in this year's Heisman chase.

This was all wonderful news for Notre Dame, which was sitting at No. 3, had shut out Wake Forest earlier in the day, and needed only Oregon or Kansas State to lose to have a chance for the national title.

One down, one to go.

While Kansas State was lamenting its lost opportunity in Waco, Texas, over in Eugene, Ore., Stanford was pushing around the top-ranked Ducks as no opponent had this season. The Cardinal (9-2) tied up the score with 1:35 remaining in regulation on a touchdown pass that many Ducks fans likely will be seething over for years.

Tight end Zach Ertz caught Kevin Hogan's pass, juggled it on the way down, landed on an Oregon defender, and rolled out of bounds. Incomplete was the ruling on the field. After video review, the call was overturned. TD Stanford, 14-all.

In overtime, Oregon missed a field goal try, Stanford made one, and the upset was complete: Stanford 17, Oregon 14.

If they listened hard, Stanford players might have heard the Alabama fans yelling and screaming from clear across the country.

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper tweeted as the dominoes were falling: "I don't think I've ever been this excited before haha."

The Crimson Tide wasn't the only SEC team lifted by the upset, but Bama benefited most. A week after giving up control of the national championship race, the Tide is back in charge, looking for a third BCS title in four seasons. A win would be seven in a row for the Southeastern Conference.

If Alabama can get past lowly Auburn on Saturday, and Georgia can avoid a K-State-like loss to Georgia Tech (6-5), the Tide and Bulldogs game will essentially be a national semifinal, with the winner advancing to the BCS title game.

No. 6 Florida (10-1), another SEC team, has a chance now, too. The Gators play No. 10 Florida State (10-1) in Tallahassee on Saturday, and the Seminoles think they have a shot to reach the BCS title game as well.

Oregon slipped to No. 5 in the rankings, and probably believes it can still get a second chance, the way Alabama did, but time is running out. Same goes for No. 7 Kansas State.

A Notre Dame-Alabama BCS championship game would mark the first meeting between the storied programs since 1987, and the biggest since the 1973 Sugar Bowl.

That year, coach Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide was No. 1 and Ara Parseghian's Irish were No. 3 when they met in New Orleans. The lead changed hands six times and Notre Dame won it 24-23 and was voted No. 1 in the poll to win the national championship.

Now the question is: With two more weeks to go in college football's regular season, can the Irish and Tide calm the chaos and set up what could be the most-hyped national championship game in history?

Stay tuned.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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USA TODAY Sports

The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

MORE CAPITALS: WHY THERE'S NO REASON FOR CAPS FANS TO WORRY