Notre Dame: Wake Up the Echoes, the Irish Are Primed for a BCS Run

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2012

Coming into this season, many were already writing off the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Some even began to debate the team's overall relevance to college football in general, feeling that the team was living off a past legacy it was unlikely to revive.

The game had passed the Irish by, with their iconic gold helmets and Touchdown Jesus, as the college football universe had settled in the SEC with powerhouses like Alabama and LSU leading the pack.

And in many cases, the facts backed up the rhetoric.

The Irish have not won a major bowl game in the BCS era, losing all three BCS games they've appeared in since 1999, and have not won a national championship since 1988.

Their last two bowl victories came in the Sun and Hawaii Bowls, games once considered beneath a proud program like the one in South Bend, Indiana.

Head Coach Brian Kelly, now in his third season, posted identical 8-5 records in each of his first two years, winning records, yes, but in Notre Dame it's about winning championships, not games. And neither of those two teams came close.

And finally there was the schedule, considered one of the most daunting in the nation. On it were five teams ranked in the preseason top 25, three in the top 10 alone, and road trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC.

It was reasonable to look at the schedule and conclude that if this team improved by leaps and bounds, they could still lose five games. 

But with Saturday night's 41-3 thumping of the Miami Hurricanes at Soldier Field, people are beginning to believe in the Irish again. 

They are 5-0 for the first time since 2002, ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll, and being discussed as a BCS, and even national title contender. 

And why not? The Irish already hold victories over Michigan and Michigan State, their defense has not allowed a touchdown in the last three games, and suddenly their once killer schedule looks manageable.

Thus far the key to Notre Dame's turnaround has been the oldest trick in football—run the ball effectively and play defense. 

Without one single feature back, the team has relied on a trio of effective runners. Seniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick have been explosive at times, but it has been sophomore George Atkinson III who leads the team with 269 yards and a robust 9.3 yards per carry. 

When taken as a whole, Notre Dame's three-headed monster has combined for 745 yards and eight touchdowns.

This has been especially important as the quarterback position remains in a state of flux.

While Coach Kelly has publicly remained committed to sophomore dual-threat Everett Golson, Tommy Rees started against Miami and has come into close games when the team needed a more conventional passing attack.

The old adage in football is that if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none. Thus far that hasn't played out for Kelly's team, as both have been used in situations that call for their unique strengths.

On defense, the Irish have been nothing short of suffocating.

They have not allowed a touchdown in the last three games, which is all the more impressive when you consider those games were against Michigan State, Michigan and Miami. 

The Hurricanes, who were limited to just a field goal, had scored at least 38 points in each of their previous four games.

They average only 7.8 points given up per game, good for second overall in the nation, and have a front seven that poses all sorts of matchup problems for opposing offenses. 

And now that once nightmare schedule looks a little less intimidating. The Irish will host No. 17 Stanford next Saturday in South Bend. 

The Cardinal hold an upset victory over USC, but also an upset loss to the Washington Huskies.

A win would set the stage for one of the biggest games, perhaps even the biggest game, in recent Notre Dame history on Oct. 27 when they travel to Norman to face the Sooners.

Oklahoma has also has looked vulnerable, struggling against UTEP to open the season and losing a close game to Kansas State. 

And finally, there's the Trojans. USC was the preseason pick of many to win this year's national title. But a loss to Stanford, and altogether too close calls against Syracuse and Utah have all but ended that talk.

It's important to not get ahead of ourselves. But a team that looked like a middle of the road bunch to start the season, now has a chance to crash the BCS party for the first time since a 2006 Sugar Bowl drubbing against LSU.

Where this Notre Dame team ultimately finishes is not yet determined. But for the first time in a very long time you can hear the words BCS and even National Championship being whispered around South Bend. 

And why not? This team is for real. If nothing else, they've given people reason to watch and believe again.

Wake up the echoes, the Fighting Irish are back in the hunt.


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