Brian Kelly and the unbeaten Irish must navigate a tough remaining schedule in order to clinch the program's first BCS bowl berth since 2006.
For the first time since 2002, Notre Dame will carry an unblemished record into October.
Head coach Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish have looked impressive in jumping out to a 4-0 start, and with a decent spot in the polls (No. 10 in Associated Press, and No. 11 in USA Today Coaches Poll), the Irish are looking to earn their first BCS bowl bid since 2006.
Led by linebacker Manti Te’o, the defense ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense by only allowing nine points per game thus far (via cfbstats.com).
After back-to-back wins over Big Ten powers Michigan State and Michigan, the schedule does not get any easier for the Irish.
Which upcoming games will determine if the Irish can jump into the national title race?
Here are four remaining games that will define the season for Notre Dame.
As my B/R colleague Michael Felder points out, next weekend’s meeting at Soldier Field between the Irish and Miami will be a far cry from the old “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry.
The only similarity between this game and their meetings from 1988-90 is that both teams have plenty at stake when the old rivals hook up for just the second time in the last two decades.
For the Irish, a win would keep them in line for a potential showdown of Top 10 teams with Stanford coming into South Bend the following weekend. An upset for the Hurricanes could help propel them make a run toward claiming the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Heading into this season, few would have predicted that both teams would be unbeaten to this point in the season.
Following the Cardinal’s stunning upset of then-No. 2 USC, it became clear that there would be no hangover in Palo Alto in the post-Andrew Luck era.
The Irish have been dominant in the trenches to this point, but perhaps like no other team left on their schedule, the Cardinal will provide the stiffest test to Notre Dame’s newfound level of physicality.
With Stanford having won the last three meetings between these two teams, and this being a potential matchup of unbeatens, it may not be a stretch in saying that this is the most important game played in South Bend in the last decade.
In contrast to the Stanford game, the Irish’s trip to Norman looked like one of the most daunting tasks for Kelly’s club this season.
However, that does not appear as treacherous after the Sooners’ 24-19 loss to Kansas State—the fourth home loss in 82 games in Bob Stoops’ tenure as the head coach at Oklahoma.
The Sooners are susceptible to getting hurt by mobile quarterback, evidenced by their inability to slow down the Wildcats’ Collin Klein in last week’s loss.
The Irish have gone back and forth between quarterbacks Everett Golson and Tommy Rees, but Kelly may need both to play at a high level to get a victory in the toughest road environment they will see all season.
Also, with Oklahoma’s struggles in the secondary this season, senior tight end Tyler Eifert could play a huge role in helping the Irish escape with a huge road win.
The rivalry with the USC Trojans could once again carry significance on the national level for both teams.
The Irish secondary has yet to feel the loss of safety Jamoris Slaughter—out for the season with a torn Achilles—but chances are they will miss him dearly against the Trojans receiving duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
However, the Irish’s defensive end tandem of Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo are capable of harassing Matt Barkley in the same manner as Stanford was able to do in its 21-14 win over USC.
If Notre Dame has less than two losses entering this game, a win over USC would likely end its BCS bowl drought.
With Notre Dame’s ability to stop the run on defense and its offense avoiding the critical turnovers that doomed it last season, the Irish have a realistic chance to win each of these games if they follow that recipe for success.
If the offense comes around and starts to put up points consistently, the Irish have everything else in place to make their first serious run at a national title since the early 1990s.