Stuffed with morsels on changing landscape

The week that was in college sports becomes a weekend that isn't.

Like you did Thursday, college football went back for seconds and thirds this week. The stretch was this remarkable: Storied Notre Dame became the top team in the BCS standing for the first time in its history, and it wasn't the week's biggest development.

Let's digest the topics one helping at time and see where that leaves us heading into a weekend that could make the Dec. 1 games an empty calorie dessert when it comes to shaping the national championship picture.

A victory over an average Wake Forest team usually isn't enough to propel the winner two spots in any poll, but it got the Irish to No. 1 on every list when Kansas State and Oregon crashed. That sets up three games on Saturday with direct national championship implications: the Irish at Southern California, Auburn at Alabama and Georgia at Georgia Tech.

The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs are second and third in the BCS. If those favorites win, their SEC Championship Game the next week becomes a national semifinal. And if Notre Dame takes down a Trojans team led by confident first-time starter Max Wittek, who stopped just short of a Joe Namath-like guarantee of victory Saturday, the Irish will begin their six-week preparation (ugh) for the BCS title game in Miami.

But can college football deliver a second straight week of upset frenzy, and will you be prepared after a turkey and Black Friday-sales-receipt coma?

The Heisman Trophy race became the sidebar to last weekend's action. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein dropped from definitive front-runner. How far is difficult to say. But he remains in the top three along with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

In the past, a senior quarterback would have a decided advantage over a defensive player (one winner in the award's history) and freshman (no winners). But voters are less influenced by those types of boundaries. My lean is toward Klein, but it's a toss-up among the three who all have a final opportunity before the ballots are counted.

Less certain is how the latest round of conference realignment impacts college sports. Don't think of Maryland and Rutgers bringing competitive worth to the Big Ten — although the Scarlet Knights might have been fighting for a football championship in that league this season. The true value is the property: The Big Ten spreads its network and brand to the nation's most densely populated corridor.

The broader implication is the uncertainly created by Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's land grab. If the ACC simply adds one, Connecticut or Louisville, to return to 14, things may calm down for a while.

But if the SEC, Big Ten or the Pac-12 or Big 12 want to balloon to 16, the merry-go-round begins anew, and one conference, perhaps the ACC, will cease to exist. The ambition is there. The Pac-12 twice in the previous two years made a play for 16.

College sports one day will be a landscape of streamlined conferences, shaped to format a college football playoff. Whether it's two years, five, a decade or longer, the message of the past few years is clear.

College football programming in the fall and through the postseason drives everything. It's about creating desirable matchups, and conferences with the greater numbers have more opportunities to do so. That, more than the need for a conference championship game, is what could prompt Big 12 expansion, something the conference is reluctant to do.

Prime time matchups are the game's most valuable currency, and they've come at great expense.

Fans don't matter. Take that back. Fans matter, but not the ones at the stadium. The ones watching at home, delivering the rating the networks so proudly promote, matter. It's why so many great matchups this season kicked off at 6 p.m. and later, and that will become the norm.

Geography doesn't matter. Rutgers-Nebraska? Maryland-Minnesota? Temple-San Diego State? Please.

Traditions don't matter, and this is weekend to be reminded of what we've lost: the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pittsburgh, Texas-Texas A&M and the Border War, which would have completed its six-year run at Arrowhead on Saturday. The guess here is the hate fest would have been the final one in Kansas City and returned to the Missouri and Kansas campuses.

We'll never know. But we have Missouri at Texas A&M this weekend and Kansas at West Virginia next weekend, so there's that.

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