Based on the last 20 years, it is easy to understand why few outside of South Bend are giving any credit to Notre Dame.
Since 1993, the Fighting Irish have continued to stay relevant despite the lack of success on the field. This has fostered animosity, resentment and envy among the elite in college football.
Right now, Notre Dame is No. 3 in the BCS polls with little hope of catching Kansas State or Oregon without a major break.
Suppose Kansas State loses to Texas, Oregon wins out, Alabama wins the SEC Championship and Notre Dame finishes the season 12-0.
Should Alabama jump Notre Dame to claim a spot in the BCS Championship against Oregon?
The answer is no.
Ask anyone in SEC territory, and they’ll quickly dismiss the Fighting Irish, arguing that their schedule is weak, the offense is pedestrian or they could not handle the weekly grind of playing in the SEC. These are just opinions to protect their reign of power.
Regardless, none of these reasons actually apply to this season. Notre Dame is earning its ranking on the field this year.
If they beat USC next week, the evidence would be pretty concrete on how the Fighting Irish would have done if they were competing in the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and the Pac-12.
What we don’t know is how Notre Dame would have fared in the SEC.
This unknown is why there would be a heated debate on whether or not a one-loss Crimson Tide should leap over an undefeated Fighting Irish team to play for the national championship should Kansas State or Oregon fall.
For argument's sake, let’s put Notre Dame in the SEC East replacing Missouri and make their cross-division games are against LSU and Mississippi State.
Notre Dame would have little trouble mopping up the cellar-dwellers, so scratch off Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi State.
This leaves LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and the SEC Championship as the tests.
This minefield is typically treacherous, but might be less deadly this year.
Even though the Tigers, Gamecocks and Gators are ranked high, they are all seriously flawed on the offensive side of the ball.
The Bulldog bandwagon has been quickly filling up since their win over the Gators, but there are still legitimate reasons to be concerned.
Most teams have throttled Ole Miss, Auburn and Kentucky, and the win over Florida was an ugly, turnover-filled affair.
Furthermore, given the Gators’ struggles recently, this win might not be as impressive as it was after the game.
Two weeks ago, beating the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship appeared impossible. Alabama was rolling, and it looked unbeatable once again in its march toward another BCS title.
It is funny how quickly opinions can change. LSU exposed Alabama’s weaknesses, and Texas A&M took advantage of them in the upset win over Alabama last Saturday.
Given the circumstances, it is reasonable to ask whether or not the SEC is benefiting in the polls this year based on their successes of the past decade.
We know the Fighting Irish have all the characteristics necessary to win in the SEC. They have a solid quarterback, a good running game, tackle well in open space, dominate in the trenches and have a steady kicker.
They also have a heck of a coach. Entering his third season, the jury was out on Brian Kelly, as he was establishing his way of doing things. The doubts are now long gone, and he is paying dividends.
Truth is, we’ll never know how well the Fighting Irish would do in the SEC, but their defense is definitely strong enough for them to make a serious run.
What is important is that if they beat USC and finish 12-0 against a good schedule, they earned the right to play for the BCS title and not have to take a back seat to the SEC champion.