Notre Dame's blazing start to the 2012 season—the Irish are 4-0 and ranked ninth in the latest AP Poll—has fans and talking heads discussing the chances of the Irish earning an invitation to a BCS bowl game.
The remaining eight games on the schedule don't appear to be as daunting as once thought, transforming Notre Dame's BCS dreams from wishy-washy to highly plausible.
What makes the Irish BCS contenders?
Let's find out.
When reminiscing about Notre Dame's 2011 season, horrid memories of momentum-killing turnovers continue to haunt the Irish fanbase. Those memories have been permanently seared into the collective conscience of Notre Dame nation.
However, the turnover illness has been eradicated, as the Irish are currently ranked third nationally in turnover margin at +2.25.
At this time last season, the Irish were ranked dead last in the same category, which was the direct cause of each of Notre Dame's five losses last year.
If the ball-hawking defense continues to record takeaways, the Irish's road to the BCS will be smooth.
Entering the 2012 season, concerns about a young, inexperienced Notre Dame secondary were rampant. The unit was expected to be the one glaring weakness of an otherwise solid football team.
Fast forward five weeks into the season, and those concerns now look silly.
First-year starting cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell have been more than impressive thus far, continuing to play with a certain swagger that has seemingly overcome their collective inexperience.
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco expected to have the comfort of fifth-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter to anchor the secondary, but the starting strong safety was lost for the season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon during the Irish's 20-3 victory over Michigan State back on September 15.
The loss of Slaughter hurts, but Matthias Farley has helped to lessen the blow, playing admirably in Slaughter's absence.
Prior to the opening weekend of the season, Notre Dame's 2012 schedule was pegged as the nation's most difficult.
Through five weeks, that notion has lost its substance.
Irish opponents USC, Oklahoma, Michigan and Michigan State—all considered to be boosts to Notre Dame's BCS resume—have faltered out of the blocks this season.
USC lost to Stanford (the Cardinal were upset by Washington last Thursday night), Oklahoma lost at home to Kansas State, Michigan has fallen out of the top 25 and Michigan State no longer looks like a top 10 team after losing to Ohio State at home on Saturday.
Add in a BYU team that lost to Boise State by a score of 7-6, and all of a sudden, Notre Dame is now ranked higher than each of the remaining eight teams on the schedule. None of the eight appear to be sure losses for the Irish, though road games at USC and Oklahoma are likely to be losses.
Even a two-loss Notre Dame team will be BCS-bound.
Going forward, Notre Dame can't solely rely on its defense to win games. The offense must pick up the slack, and that begins with the emergence of presumptive starting quarterback Everett Golson.
The red-shirt freshman was benched midway through the second quarter of Notre Dame's 13-6 victory over Michigan last weekend and watched former starting quarterback Tommy Rees manage the offense well enough to earn a victory.
While Rees seems to be earning back the confidence and trust of the coaching staff, Golson must continue to be Brian Kelly's man.
As has been discussed in great detail during the past six months, Rees presents no threat to run the football, making the offense very much one-dimensional. Golson, though he lacks Rees' level of knowledge of the offense, should be the answer during the remainder of the season.
If he can avoid turning the ball over, the Irish offense should be back on track in no time.
Notre Dame's path to the BCS lies in the hands of its stout defense, which is cemented in the front seven.
Defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Sheldon Day, along with a linebacking corps led by Manti Te'o, will prove to be the pivotal unit for the Fighting Irish.
It has been a special group thus far, helping earn the Irish defense to a national ranking of third in scoring defense behind only TCU and Alabama. As long as that trend continues, the Irish will have a shot at making a run toward a shocking undefeated season.