Notre Dame Football: What Successful 2012 Season Means for Fighting Irish

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IOctober 18, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 13: Kapron Lewis-Moore #89 and Matthias Farley #41 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a blocking field goal against the Standford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 13, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Stanford 20-13 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As the rain drizzled upon my already damp clothes, I gazed at the jubilant crowd at Notre Dame Stadium while searching within the depths of my mind to recall the last time there had been such a buzz in the house that Rockne built. 

Moments before, the Fighting Irish had put the finishing touches on their 13-6 victory over hated rival Michigan, who had beaten Notre Dame three seasons in a row, each in dramatic fashion. 

Those three losses to the Wolverines, along with embarrassing losses to Navy, Tulsa and South Florida in recent seasons, had seemingly conditioned Notre Dame fans to expect losing. They had become conditioned to mediocre seasons that gradually dulled the shine on a once proud program. 

While the scene at Notre Dame Stadium on the evening of Sept. 22 didn't signal that the Irish were "back," it signaled the awakening of a sleeping giant.

Unfortunately, that sentiment wasn't a common one among Notre Dame fans far and wide.

Because the Irish have labored through the previous 15 seasons under former head coaches Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis, the first signs of a "return to glory" would allow Notre Dame nation to believe that their beloved football program had indeed returned to glory.

But what does glory mean in today's college football landscape? What do Notre Dame fans expect glory to be? 

By definition, glory is "high renown or honor won by notable achievements."  

Through six games this season, the Irish have earned a top-five ranking via wins over then 10th-ranked Michigan State, then 18th-ranked Michigan and then 17th-ranked Stanford. While those victories are impressive in nature—and have brought unmistakable giddiness to a fanbase starved for success—they haven't solidified Notre Dame as a member of college football's royalty. 

That elite club includes the likes of Alabama, Oregon and LSU. Those programs have earned their places in the limelight not simply for what they've accomplished this season, but for the accolades they've accrued in the recent past. 

Alabama has won two of the past three BCS National Championships, while LSU holds the 2007 crystal ball. Oregon, though it hasn't won a BCS national title, came within three points of doing so in 2010, falling to eventual champion Auburn. The Ducks also won last season's Rose Bowl Game against Wisconsin. 

What's the common theme among those three programs? The answer is simple: sustained success. 

The Crimson Tide, Tigers and Ducks enter each season as college football's premier teams because of their consistencies of success. 

What will have Notre Dame fans salivating is the fact that the Irish are on the cusp of establishing a similar consistency from season to season. Head coach Brian Kelly has constructed an elite defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown in the past 16 quarters of play. 

The offense remains a work in progress, though redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson will only improve with each live-action rep he receives from here on out. Once he shows an ability to consistently distribute the ball through the air, the Irish offense may catch up to a lights out defense. 

When that happens, the Irish will finally be a well-rounded team that may reach the pantheon of college football: the national championship stage. 

But what's most important for Notre Dame fans to remember is that the current season—regardless of outcome—is part of a process. And if those fans are patient, it will prove to be a virtue.

Reaping the rewards is sweet, and watching Brian Kelly hoist a crystal football among gently falling confetti is even sweeter.