The No. 5 ranking for Notre Dame is as high as this program has been ranked since 2006. The 7-0 record the team has put together has not only put the Irish back on the map, but it has many believing 2012 could be the year this program returns to a national championship.
A game against the No. 8-ranked Oklahoma Sooners this weekend will tell us just how serious of a contender Notre Dame really is. And while a victory should make a believer out of those that are still doubting this team, a close loss could also gain some respect for head coach Brian Kelly and company.
But would a respectable loss keep Notre Dame in the title picture?
I would have to say no.
This is the game that many are considering the make-or-break game for Notre Dame’s season. Sure, victories over three ranked teams is worth something, but Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford have all shown to have taken a step backward from a year ago. Wins over those teams aren't looking as strong as they once did, especially with each team sitting with at least two losses on the year.
So the real question is: Is Notre Dame a BCS title contender right now?
If you look around, the college football world would say no, again.
After the close victory over Stanford a couple of weeks ago, Bleacher Report's Michael Felder said he still wasn't impressed with the resume of the Irish. ESPN, CBS Sports and Scout.com all have Notre Dame settling for a BCS bowl other than the BCS National Championship.
The truth is that many are now looking down on a schedule that was once considered the toughest in the country. Notre Dame has yet to beat anybody worth mentioning this year, and a loss to its first contender on the season wouldn't exactly help its fate.
Florida has already racked up two victories over Top 10 teams, while a third could come this weekend against Georgia. Kansas State has knocked off two of the best programs in the Big 12, both on the road. Oregon has a couple of ranked victories under its belt and will soon play two respectable programs in USC and Oregon State.
That doesn't even include Alabama and LSU, two SEC teams that the pollsters have again fallen in love with.
Many have had their doubts about this Irish team due to the lack of offense, constant quarterback switching and the lack of a quality resume at the moment. A loss against Oklahoma, even a single-digit nail-biter, would be too steep to overcome.
There would simply be an abundance of teams to jump in the rankings and not enough quality opponents left to help them out. While every other team in the polls is beginning the heart of its schedule, Notre Dame turns its attention to squads such as Boston College and Pittsburgh.
It's not whether Notre Dame would stay in the national title hunt with a close loss; it's that this program needs a victory just to put itself in the conversation. A late-second loss won't cut it, because it will just prove those critics right that the Irish are still a year away from being on that level.
A BCS bowl berth is a more realistic possibility, but a BCS National Championship is out of the question with a loss this weekend, even if that loss is considered respectable.