Notre Dame better finish this year undefeated and win the national championship, because that window is quickly closing.
The team that was able to beat the odds will have a lot of ground to make up once this year comes to a close. Every team in the country will have questions to answer during the offseason, but head coach Brian Kelly and his staff will have a laundry list of things to do in order for this program to build on this year’s success.
The chance to win the big game is now, as there may not be that chance next year with so many problems to address.
Here are just a few that don't exactly scream success in 2013 for Notre Dame.
Revamped Offensive Line
Everybody gets all googly-eyed over the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball and think that a great quarterback can carry the team to a national championship. The truth is that the offensive line is probably the most important unit in all of football.
If you can't protect that precious quarterback and open up holes in the running game, you can have Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson leading your offense and you likely won't get very far.
The reason Notre Dame has been able to find some success in the running game is because of the veteran offensive line that is leading the way. The Irish have one of the best units in the country that has only allowed 14 sacks all year and has been able to open up gaping holes against teams like Miami, BYU and recently Oklahoma.
The problem is that Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave and Mike Golic are all seniors this year, which means four of the five starters on this squad won't be back next year.
Missing a couple of key members of your offensive line is tough enough to replace, but losing nearly the entire starting unit has to keep head coach Brian Kelly up at night.
Teams like LSU and Washington have quickly found out how important an offensive line is, as both clubs have lost key players to injury this year. This will be the biggest area of concern once this year comes to an end.
Te'o and Others Leaving the Program
As if losing a good chunk of the offensive line wasn't enough, Notre Dame will also lose many other key players as well. Some guy named Manti Te'o, who is getting a ton of Heisman love this season, will move on to bless some lucky NFL team at the linebacker position.
Kapron Lewis-Moore will leave the defensive line, while Dan Fox is another linebacker that will no longer be there to help out this team.
The front seven of Notre Dame has been widely considered the main reason this team is currently where it is at right now, and that is three of the seven players gone from that unit.
This doesn't include safety Zeke Motta, who is the leader in this defensive backfield and tight end Tyler Eifert, who is one of the elite players at his position.
It is one thing to try and replace talent, but it is another to replace talented players that are also the leaders on your football team. Every team that competes for a national championship has guys that can be counted on to help guide the team. Unfortunately, the guys that step up for this year’s squad won't be around next season.
If you thought there was a quarterback controversy this season, you really haven't seen anything yet heading into next year. Notre Dame probably has more options to choose from than any other school in the country and all of those players are going to get tired of holding a clipboard.
Sure, Everett Golson has played well this year, but 5-star recruit Gunner Kiel didn't pick this program to keep the bench warm during cold November nights. He switched his mind multiple times during his recruitment to become the next starting quarterback at Notre Dame and will likely be given a fair shot as early as next season.
Then there is also still Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix that will likely still be around next year as well.
Hendrix actually pushed Golson for the starting job during fall camp and has the skill set that would shine in this Brian Kelly offense. And with the way Rees has led this team down the stretch, Kelly could possibly feel he gives this team the best chance to succeed next season.
Golson has shown that he has the ability to become the next great Notre Dame quarterback, but with many other options behind him, don't expect there not to be a quarterback battle next year in South Bend.
Will ND be a national championship contender in 2013?
If all of that wasn't enough to convince you that Notre Dame won't be as successful as it was this season, the schedule isn't much easier in 2013. Three of the first five games are against Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma, with the game against the Wolverines taking place in Ann Arbor, MI.
There will also be a big-time showdown between Arizona State that will be played at Cowboys Stadium, likely on prime-time television. There are also your typical games against USC and a road trip to Stanford, a team that isn't losing much on either side of the ball heading into next season.
Maybe the Irish get lucky again next year and everything falls in place, but what are the chances that this program will strike gold two years in the row, especially with the odds stacked against them?