Is Notre Dame a Legitmate National Title Contender?

J.P. Scott@TheJPScottSenior Analyst ISeptember 17, 2012

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 15:  Cierre Wood #20 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates with John Goodman #81 after Goodmans first quarter touchdown catch while playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on September 15, 2012 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

When the first poll of the season came out, I was one of the first people to scoff at the idea of Notre Dame being ranked in the top 25. After all, we see it every year. Certain teams routinely appear in the top 25 of the preseason polls based off what appears to be the historical pedigree of the program and nothing more.

Notre Dame's Week 1 blowout of Navy in Ireland caught my eye. I didn't expect much from a Notre Dame team that finished last season with a loss to a depleted Florida State squad. Navy is traditionally a difficult team to prepare for, so the fact that Notre Dame beat them as soundly as they did early in the season spoke volumes to me.

Week 2 against Purdue was a bit of a different story. Chalk it up to a rivalry game for Purdue, which appears to be improved this season. Nonetheless, the Irish were able to escape with a win.

Then came the events in East Lansing this past Saturday. Living in Big Ten country, people around my parts were starting to crown Michigan State as the flag-bearers of the conference. They were supposed to be the best that the Big Ten had to offer, and to be honest, still may be. Notre Dame's sound victory over the Spartans should have opened more eyes than just my own.

Led by an efficient, mistake-free (for the most part) offense that has become the signature of Brian Kelly's teams, along with the efforts of the freakishly talented Manti Te'o's linebacker play, Notre Dame turned in one of the more impressive wins of the young college football season.

Looking ahead at Notre Dame's schedule, I see a real opportunity for the Irish to make a solid move back to relevancy.

Starting with Michigan, which has shown various vulnerabilities in games against Alabama and Air Force, the Irish will play four high-profile and very winnable games based on their performances this far.

They'll follow up the Michigan game in South Bend with three more home stands against Miami (FL), Stanford and Brigham Young. 

If they can survive that stretch, they'll be 7-0 heading into a trip to Norman, OK to face the Sooners. That will be where the Irish can make a serious jump into the title picture. We've seen Oklahoma lose to lesser teams at home recently, and I would not put it past this Notre Dame team to pull out the win on hostile grounds, just as they were able to do in East Lansing.

Survive the Sooners, and the only obstacles left between them and an undefeated record heading into their end-of-season matchup in Los Angeles with Southern Cal are Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest.

In regard to Southern Cal, Stanford proved that the Trojans are beatable and may actually be reaping the rewards of both programs being overrated in the rankings. By playing the same efficient style of offense they have played so far, Notre Dame should be able to put enough points on the board to take pressure of Te'o and the defense to come away with their third signature road win of the season.

It's a lot to digest, and to be honest, very wishful thinking if you're a Notre Dame fan. Nonetheless, the talent and coaching are there for the Irish to take this giant step. Running the table with that schedule would make it nearly impossible to keep Notre Dame out of the BCS title game, especially with a win over Oklahoma and the fact that either LSU or Alabama will have one loss again.

It may take a few lucky bounces and chips falling into place to make it happen, but if it does, you can bet Irish eyes will be smiling from coast to coast.