Notre Dame is a "beat USC" and Oregon or Kansas State loss from being in the BCS National Championship Game.
However, with the changing landscape in college football and the way Brian Kelly is constructing this team, expect the Irish to stay in the national title hunt for years to come, not disappear like Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis' units.
Independent of what the Irish are doing in South Bend, the college football world is about to make a shift that gives more teams a shot at a title. Under the current structure only two teams get a shot, and as we're seeing with the Irish this year, you can have a stellar season and still be left out. TCU, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State and, if they finish behind Oregon and Kansas State, Notre Dame will be a part of that list.
Come 2014, that all changes as the field expands to four teams. That's two more squads with an opportunity to have a shot at the BCS. This year, Notre Dame (assuming it wins out) would be included in that semifinal. Just from that standpoint the Fighting Irish are in a better position going forward than they are right now.
Yes, the Irish, like every other school that's struggled to finish in the Top Two, are in better shape for that reason alone. However, Notre Dame is also in the midst of a remarkably successful build. Brian Kelly is recruiting everywhere from a position and a geography standpoint, and that means Notre Dame is going to continue to improve on the field.
The third-year coach for the Fighting Irish is recruiting the Midwest, he's getting down into the South, still doing work on the West Coast and is active in the Southwest. He's expanding his sphere and competing with the rest of the recruiting big boys for talented players. Kelly is getting talented players, he's getting depth and he's continuing to build this team in the trenches and on the edge.
Defense will no longer be an afterthought as it was under Weis. Offense will continue to improve as Kelly develops quarterbacks that better suit the system he's looking to run.
This season is more of a start than a finish. It's less about a destination play than it is an ongoing process for Kelly and the Fighting Irish. This team is closing in on that goal of a title, but this program is still working on getting to truly where it wants to be. The Irish are on the cusp of a great single season, but as the years go forward Kelly is working to build a powerhouse for years to come.