Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Irish Are Legitimate BCS Threat After Big Win

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 22:  Quarterback Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates with teammates guard Christian Lombard #74 against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Cierre Wood #20 in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 22, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With a 13-6 over pesky rival Michigan, Notre Dame has established itself as a legitimate BCS threat and a factor in the polls moving forward.

We've grown accustomed to seeing the Irish blow close games against the Wolverines that send them off to slow starts—the Irish lost to Michigan by less than a touchdown in each of the last three seasons entering this year's game.

However, the 2012 edition of the Irish showed that they have much more resolve than in years past. Despite a quarterback change and a late-game surge by Michigan, the Irish prevailed and found a way to hold on for a hard fought 13-6 win in South Bend.

We've heard the "Notre Dame is BCS Material" narrative before, but here's why the hype is legitimate in 2012.


The Defense Is Elite

Spearheaded by stud linebacker Manti Te'o, this Notre Dame defense is legitimately one of the best in the country.

Head coach Brian Kelly may be best known for his offensive brilliance, but this team is definitely a defensive team that will win games by keeping teams out of the end zone rather than lighting up the scoreboard as many anticipated.

Any concerns about an inexperienced secondary have certainly been minimized, if not erased, thanks to another great performance that left the opposing quarterback frustrated. Robinson was forced to throw four interceptions and the Irish threw in an interception on running back Vincent Smith for good measure.

After holding Michigan State to three points and Michigan to six, there's no doubt that this defense has the personnel to frustrate any offense.


The Running Game Is Stout

The Notre Dame offense won't be confused with Oregon's high-flying attack. In fact, scheme-wise they've looked more like the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Kelly has instituted a straight forward running game to complement his spread offense that has bolstered its versatility and provided consistency to an offense that wasn't very consistent in 2011.

The greatest strength of this rushing attack is depth—the Irish have three running backs that can carry the running game in Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III.

As we saw with the Michigan game, Riddick has no problems playing the role of the workhorse, getting the lion's share of the carries and churning out tough yards between the tackles. Wood is probably the best receiver out of the backfield and Atkinson III is the burner that can break huge runs.

With Tommy Rees and Everett Golson both seeing time at quarterback, this running attack can pace the Irish offense.


The Schedule Is Looking Easier

There's no questioning that the Irish have a tough schedule this season.

Nearly every game on the slate is against a dangerous team and they'll need to come up big every time if they want to maximize their opportunity for a BCS berth. However, the schedule looks a bit more manageable than may have been thought in the preseason.

The victory over the Wolverines kicks off a four-game homestand for Notre Dame and they should easily be the favorites at home against the likes of Miami (FL) and BYU, and the Irish will have a much greater chance of beating the Stanford Cardinal at home.

The Cardinal are currently ranked in the top-10 after stunning USC last week. However, they looked very beatable in the opening week of the season against San Jose State when they won 20-17, so they've struggled with consistency this season.

Road games against Oklahoma and USC still loom, but after Oklahoma's loss to Kansas State and USC's loss to the Cardinal, those games aren't as intimidating as originally thought.

If the Irish continue to play like they did against Michigan, they could very well find themselves in a BCS game at the end of the season.