After jumping out to a 4-0 start for the first time in a decade, Notre Dame fans have dreams of reaching the BCS for the first time since 2006. Brian Kelly’s club has looked impressive in September thanks to a suffocating defense that has allowed only one opponent to score more than 10 points thus far.
That one opponent (Purdue) only scored 17 points, by the way. In fact, the Irish have avoided allowing a touchdown in the last two weeks against Big Ten heavyweights Michigan State and Michigan with 20-3 and 13-6 victories, respectively.
The stout defensive unit has been led by current Sports Illustrated coverboy linebacker Manti Te’o—who has been dominant enough to merit Heisman Trophy consideration, per Matt Fortuna of ESPN—and the menacing defensive end tandem of Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo.
However, if the Irish are going to make a run at a BCS bowl or even the national title game, the offense will have to find a way to get on track in a hurry. After putting up 50 points in a season-opening rout of Navy, Notre Dame has only managed to score 53 points in its last three games combined.
Kelly still has his fair share of issues to sort out on that side of the ball, but to his credit, the offense has succeeded in limiting the turnovers that derailed it last season.
The Irish’s quarterback situation looks far from being settled after junior Tommy Rees relieved an ineffective Everett Golson last weekend and helped the Irish put away the Wolverines.
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Regardless of how that plays out, the Irish boast plenty of skill players—led by receiver-turned-running back Theo Riddick and tight end Tyler Eifert—that are capable of helping the Irish put up enough points to get the job done.
With a demanding schedule that will only get tougher as the season rolls on, there are plenty of challenges left that could be potential pitfalls for the Irish. So how can Notre Dame lock up a coveted spot in a BCS bowl?
The Irish have to finish in the top eight of the final BCS standings to be eligible, and their current rankings—No. 9 via Associated Press and No. 10 via USA Today Coaches Poll—have them on pace to meet that requirement.
If the Irish finish 11-1 and or even 10-2, their strength of schedule should be high enough to merit them receiving one of the two at-large spots—especially considering normal BCS-busting schools like Boise State seem to be a minimal threat for a spot this season.
On the other hand, if the Irish are still unbeaten heading into November, Kelly will have Notre Dame in the national championship picture for the first time since 1993.