If you've paid any attention to Notre Dame football this season, you've likely heard third-year head coach Brian Kelly mention "the process."
While there's no exact definition of Kelly's "process," the results have shown through nine games this season, with his team sitting undefeated into the first week of November for the first time since 1993. The Irish's chances at finishing the season with a zero in the loss column were hanging in the balance on Saturday, though.
The Irish narrowly defeated Pittsburgh, 29-26 in triple overtime, despite entering the contest as 17-point favorites over the Panthers.
Having a repeat performance of the nightmares from 1993 and 2002—the last two times an undefeated Notre Dame team lost at home to a double-digit underdog—likely wasn't part of the process, but it served as an opportunity for the Irish to prove that the woeful days of the Charlie Weis era are long gone.
Under Weis, the Irish would have certainly lost Saturday's contest. Take, for example, Notre Dame's matchup with Pittsburgh in South Bend in 2008. The Panthers rallied to defeat the Irish, 36-33, in quadruple overtime—the longest game in Notre Dame Stadium history.
But this 2012 Notre Dame squad is a completely different animal. This animal has survived and advanced through close game after close game this season, as five of the Irish's nine victories have come by seven points or less.
It's uncharted territory for Notre Dame fans, as they have been trained to expect their team to wilt in nail-biting contests such as Saturday's.
That's not the only lesson to be learned, either.
This Notre Dame team, though it has proved that it is a championship-caliber group, had yet to face a true test of adversity.
With 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Pittsburgh kicker Kevin Harper successfully connected on a 21-yard field goal to put the Panthers ahead, 20-6. The 14-point deficit was the largest the Irish had faced all season, and how they responded would be a crystalline indication of whether or not they were indeed a true contender rather than a pretender.
Yes, Notre Dame should have beaten Pittsburgh by at least two touchdowns. Yes, the three-point win felt more like a loss. And yes, the win didn't do Notre Dame any favors in the BCS race.
The media will pick apart the 29-26 victory voraciously this week and will find every reason to discredit Notre Dame. The media will say that Notre Dame is leaps and bounds behind college football's other championship contenders—Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State.
But the fact of the matter is that Notre Dame, like the Crimson Tide, Ducks and Wildcats, is 9-0 and in position to make a run at January's BCS National Championship Game during the final three weeks of the regular season.
Style points are nice, but they're not a necessity. Wins and losses, regardless of the score, are all that matter.
And Notre Dame has yet to experience the pain of a loss this season.
So if you're a fan of the Fighting Irish, sit back, enjoy the ride and don't forget that each win is just another part of the process.
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