Before Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame, the storied football program hit what we can only hope was its nadir. After going 16-21 between 2007-2009, the once-proud Irish were left floundering, desperate for an invigorating breath of life.
Three years and three winning seasons later, the Irish aren't just back––they're back in a big way.
It's been a slow-but-steady climb back to the top, but in 2012, Notre Dame finds themselves back where the belong: in the thick of a National Title hunt. And even though their fate isn't in their own hands (they need either Kansas State or Oregon to lose), they know that taking care of business could very well get them a chance at eternal glory.
Taking care of business, however, is easier said than done. With two regular season games left––including a much-anticipated trip to Los Angeles to play USC––an undefeated season is far from a sure thing.
Here's one man's opinion on how the rest of this auspicious season will play out:
11/17 – Wake Forest @ Notre Dame
This has trap game written all over it.
Wake Forest isn't exactly a fear-inducing opponent, but with the showdown against USC looming, it would be easy for Notre Dame to look ahead and forget about the task at hand.
That's exactly what they did against a now 6-4 BYU team, letting the Cougars hang around all game the week before playing at Oklahoma. It'd also be easier to have faith in the Irish if their most recent home game––against 4-6 Pittsburgh, no less––hadn't gone into triple overtime.
Watch for Notre Dame to stumble out of the blocks in this one, potentially even spotting the Deacons an early lead. They'll come to their senses eventually, though, and win by low double-digits.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Wake Forest 13
11/24 – Notre Dame @ Southern California
As Notre Dame's run at perfection became more and more plausible, skeptics have taken solace in this game as the one that would eventually trip them up.
Now is their chance to prove the haters wrong.
USC thought that they'd be the ones playing for a chance at a National Title here, and are sure to be fired up by the unpredictable role reversal. And unlike some of the Irish's recent opponents, the Trojans have more than enough talent to pull the upset––if you can even call it that.
When the Trojans have the ball, it'll be a case of unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Barkley, Woods and Lee should test the Irish defense in ways that they haven't been tested all year long.
But the other side of the ball––the case of insanely stoppable force meets porous object––could decide the game. If SC's defense shows up and plays up to their potential, they could lock down Notre Dame and crush their title hopes.
And I think that's exactly how it's gonna happen.
Prediction: USC 26, Notre Dame 17
1/1 – Notre Dame vs. Nebraska (Rose Bowl)
Even if their title hopes are crushed in the Colosseum, Notre Dame should still be a safe bet for a BCS bowl.
If Oregon holds court in their three remaining games, that means Notre Dame would go to the Rose Bowl, since the Pac-12 Champion would be playing in the BCS Championship.
Nebraska, meanwhile, stand poised to reap the benefits of Ohio State's one-year bowl ban, as they are clearly the next best team in the Big Ten. If they win out against Minnesota and Iowa, they'll be able to hold off Michigan and play in the conference's second annual Championship Game.
This one won't be pretty, but it'll be a whole lotta fun to watch. Both teams struggle though the air, and both teams like to hit hard and often.
Ultimately, the Huskers will have been preparing for this game all season, whereas the Irish might be a little bummed at missing the Championship. How that manifests itself might be the ultimate deciding factor.
Prediction: Nebraska 17, Notre Dame 10