Notre Dame is on top of the college football world right now. No, the Irish aren't ranked as the No. 1 team, but they are back in the national discussion with substance to back the talk.
The way this team is progressing, the path to an undefeated season gets easier with each passing week.
There are a number of keys that have made this team so dangerous, both offensively and defensively. The secondary is much better than was expected, and Manti Te’o is having his best season in South Bend.
Brian Kelly has worked magic with a program that was scratching and clawing to keep itself relevant, and the Irish are relevant once again for all the right reasons. Here is why they continue on the path of the unbeaten.
Notre Dame entered the season with one of the toughest schedules of any major college football team.
Games against Michigan State, Michigan, Oklahoma and USC matched the Irish against four solid preseason Top 15 teams.
Those teams have lost their luster now that midseason is upon us. USC and Oklahoma remain on the schedule and are both still Top 15 teams, but they have some easy-to-spot holes that will play out well for this Notre Dame team.
Notre Dame faced a tough start and still has a big contest ahead this week against Stanford. This will be another tough battle, but the Irish should prevail handily.
The schedule still has more road bumps. With a now-veteran quarterback calling the shots and a defense that is playing as good as any in the country, the Irish will ride through them smoothly.
One of the most noticeable changes for the Irish has been the stacked backfield.
Cierre Wood was expected to be very good this year, but Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III were pleasant surprises.
Atkinson III is the leading rusher for the Irish right now and carries an astounding 9.3 yards per carry average. Cierre Wood is the third-leading rusher with 213 yards and a 6.1 yards-per-carry average.
Riddick has been dangerous on the ground, but his major contributions have come in the passing game, where he has snagged 17 receptions for 132 yards.
The combo of these three backs has given a lot of assistance to a young quarterback and growing offense. These guys will continue to progress, and as they do, the Irish will find wins much easier.
The Irish faced a lot of questions at cornerback to start the season, but those concerns are no longer a worry.
Bennett Jackson and Zeke Motta have lived up to the billing, but young guys like KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley have stepped onto the scene with authority.
The big story is the depth behind the starters. The Irish have underclassmen that cover the depth at nearly every secondary position. These guys are young, but they are good.
As the season moves on, this secondary will continue to progress. It will be tough to get much better, as they are the No. 22 pass defense in the country.
The biggest test will come in the season finale against USC and Matt Barkley. By Game 12, this secondary will be made of seasoned veterans ready to embrace the challenge.
USC has stumbled a long way from being the No. 1 team in the country. There have been issues with turnovers and a lot of sloppy play that has led to a number of key penalties at inopportune times.
Notre Dame has been stingy this year, ranking No. 7 in the country in turnover margin. That may be a key to the season-ending contest.
As the offense continues to get better, this Irish team will gain traction against upper-level teams. USC has not fielded its usual shutdown defense, which bodes well for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame will be a top-five team by this game. USC may not be in the title conversation. No matter the hype that leads to the game, it will be a huge win for Brian Kelly and his team.
Everett Golson has been a stud for Notre Dame this season.
The sophomore has been very dangerous both through the air and on the ground. The most impressive development has been his management of the offense.
With each passing game, Golson takes the steps to become the lone quarterback for the Irish. Tommy Rees has been OK in his time under center, but Golson has made himself the answer.
This offense has been Golson’s all season long, and his leadership is now starting to shine through. He is making this his offense.
The Miami (Fla.) win sealed him as the future for the Irish.