Notre Dame has done everything possible to be in the discussion for the BCS Championship Game this season, but that little thing called "strength of schedule" has the 10-0 Fighting Irish ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings in Week 12.
Kansas State and Oregon currently hold the top two spots in the country as Notre Dame faces its final two regular-season games against Wake Forest and No. 18 USC.
Naturally, the never-ending conversation about the BCS system has flared up again. Kansas State and Oregon fans currently love the system, while Notre Dame fans hate it.
Travis Haney of ESPN has been kind enough to torment Notre Dame fans even more by setting up a hypothetical eight-team playoff system for 2012.
In the hypothetical playoffs, he has Notre Dame as a three seed knocking off No. 6 seed Florida State in the quarterfinals, then going on to lose to No. 2 seed Oregon in the semifinals, 48-21.
So, relax Notre Dame fans, you wouldn't have made the BCS Championship Game anyway!
All jokes aside, there is still the potential for Kansas State and Oregon to lose a game in the next two weeks. Kansas State faces high-scoring Texas in its final game of the regular season (albeit at home) and Oregon has to beat No. 13 Stanford and No. 16 Oregon State to stay in the top two.
Of course, Notre Dame faces explosive USC in its final regular season game...in Los Angeles.
Head coach Brian Kelly said he's only focused on the Wake Forest game right now, but that doesn't mean he won't be Notre Dame's biggest supporter if the program is undefeated by the end of the season.
Kelly told SiriusXM College Sports Nation, via CoachingSearch.com:
Let's take Wake Forest, see what happens there, and then USC. Then, if we get to the point after USC that we're undefeated, I'll go on Oprah if I have to. Maybe I'll come back on Sirius.
Regardless, Kelly said the Fighting Irish should hold their heads up high even if they don't get the opportunity to play for a national championship this season.
Kelly told the Associated Press, via the Boston Herald:
I would tell our players that everything that was within their control, they handled and that they’re champions because of it. A pollster or computer rankings really can’t diminish what you’ve accomplished.
Indeed, it's hard for the Fighting Irish to feel too disappointed if they don't win the title, given their spectacular season thus far. Boosted by their defense and a strong running game, they have beaten four ranked teams this season, including Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford and Oklahoma.
The defense, led by premier NFL prospect Manti Te'o, has allowed 11.1 points per game this season, tops in the nation. The Fighting Irish have been dynamic against the run and against the pass.
The running game, led by Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, has averaged 4.79 yards per carry (tied for 37th in the nation) while posting 19 rushing touchdowns. per CFBStats.com. Riddick rushed for 104 yards against Boston College last week.
As for Wake Forest this week, the Fighting Irish shouldn't face too much of a challenge. The Demon Deacons have averaged 20.1 points per game this season (108th in the nation) while allowing 28.9 points per game (78th).
Even if Wake Forest holds Notre Dame on the ground and starting quarterback Everett Golson struggles, it's unlikely the Demon Deacons will score enough to shock the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame fans will get a chance to see Te'o one last time on Saturday at home, as he heads to the NFL after this season.
Notre Dame has won seven straight games at home, dating back to the 31-17 loss to USC last October.
Kelly said on Tuesday, via ESPN:
One of our goals, a tangible goal for us, was to protect our home field. We felt, I felt, I think everybody in the program felt, that if you want to take that next step in terms of success, you got to win at home.
For a program still in the hunt for the BCS Championship Game, you can expect Notre Dame to come out with some fire on Saturday in South Bend.