Notre Dame is headed to the BCS National Championship.
This is not a drill, don’t adjust your computer screen, and don’t throw away your magnificent new flat screen. This is real, that baby works just fine, and there are no more landmines on their schedule to disrupt the path to the postseason.
Its regular season is complete and Notre Dame will head into 2013—assuming the Mayans weren’t right, although at this point who knows—undefeated. Yes, that Notre Dame. Your father’s Notre Dame, although history is no longer the only thing we're talking about.
Brian Kelly’s crew traveled to Southern California and took out USC by the score of 22-13. The Trojans, of course, were playing without starting quarterback Matt Barkley, and they put up a valiant effort up until the very end. Well, literally.
USC had a chance to bring the game closer in the fourth quarter, although the Notre Dame defense stuffed the Trojans and prevented them from bringing the game within one score. The play-calling was also questionable in crunch time (and “questionable” isn’t the word USC fans would use for it), but give the Irish credit for coming up with big stops in big moments. A familiar sight, really.
Notre Dame got up early and they never squandered the lead.
This wasn’t a blowout, and it didn’t feel all that comfortable until Notre Dame’s final knee was taken. But it doesn’t matter. In fact, after the season Notre Dame has maneuvered through, winning any other way would have been out of character.
Notre Dame’s victory not only punches their ticket for Miami, but it also simplifies the BCS picture a great deal. It’ll be the Irish against Alabama or Georgia, i.e. the winner of the next week’s SEC Championship Game.
No need to break out your BCS calculators, although the Florida Gators would love to show you their 2012 resume and probably have a legitimate beef. With that being said, it’ll be Nick Saban or Mark Richt that meet up with Brian Kelly on January 7, which is entirely too far away. But that’s another argument for another day.
And now, we’re left with time, one more game, and plenty of questions. Bigger yet, we’re left with assumptions.
The overwhelming assumption you’ll hear over the next seven days is that Alabama will throttle Georgia and earn its ticket to face Notre Dame. I wouldn’t assume that just yet, especially given the way Georgia has played leading up to this game, although many will discount this one before it’s even played.
The bigger assumption that will be cast—especially once the SEC Championship Game has come and gone—is that Notre Dame is a sitting duck, regardless of who it plays.
The Las Vegas Wynn has already appointed Alabama a 9.5-point favorite in this title game that isn’t official, and the “blowout” conversations are already well underway.
By no means am I passing along gambling advice, especially with an incomplete title picture and 60 minutes to judge from, but I believe we should show caution when heading down this path. Taking it one step further, I feel Notre Dame can most certainly hang with either of these teams.
That shouldn’t be a bold statement—they are the nation’s No. 1 after all—but it probably is to many.
It hasn’t been pretty for ND at times, which is why you’ll hear this talk surface. They could (and perhaps should) have lost to Pittsburgh in early November, were tested by the likes of Purdue and BYU, and they’ve battled tight games throughout the 2012 docket.
There’s no fighting this, it’s who they are. And with an SEC team on tap, many will assume that Notre Dame’s reckoning will finally come.
In Notre Dame’s defense, however, is, well, their defense. It has been superb, and although it bent at times against USC, it did not break. Linebacker Manti Te’o gets much of the accolades—and rightfully so—but the defensive line has been exceptional and the cornerbacks have held up above and beyond how many thought they would.
On offense, however, is where things get interesting. Quarterback Everett Golson has become a different player over the past eight weeks, and his progression has been evident. He hasn’t gone up against a defense like Alabama’s or Georgia’s, but he suddenly looks the part.
And while we’re unhappy with having to wait more than 40 days to crown a champion, Brian Kelly is likely thrilled to give his quarterback more time and practices. Golson's young, still developing, and extra reps and film time could pay large dividends. Plus, it’s become quite clear that he can handle the moment.
Running back Theo Riddick—who was superb against USC—and tight end Tyler Eifert give the Irish some potential matchup advantages. Not just against these two teams, but anyone.
Notre Dame has the players to win it all, they have the talent, they are the nation’s most confident team and they have “it.” “It” is not something you can’t easily identify—not something we can handicap or forecast, but whatever “it” is, they’ve got it.
This isn’t a prediction just yet, we'll have plenty of time for those, and I’m not ready to pronounce Notre Dame champions yet over a team we don’t know yet. All I’m saying is looking beyond them would be even more foolish and careless. It’s happened all year, right up until the very end.
The end is getting closer, and there’s no reason to believe the Irish will go quietly.