Notre Dame has seemingly accomplished the impossible: It has reasserted itself as the most dominant team in college football.
Or so the BCS rankings say.
Strength of schedule and BCS controversy aside, the Irish's resurgence has people talking. It has people excited. It makes for a good story: One of the most storied programs in college football history struggles for years and loses its starting quarterback weeks before the 2012 season begins, yet somehow manages to post an undefeated season and earn a berth to the national championship.
Love or hate the Irish, they've made the college football universe a much more interesting place in 2012.
Here's a roundup of the latest news and analysis regarding the Irish's unbeaten season and their quest for the national title.
Time magazine isn't pulling any punches: It's just coming right out and saying that Notre Dame's success this season has re-energized college football. In a way, it's a fair assessment: The Irish do have a whole lot of fans, and chances are, if you are a fan of college football, you care about Notre Dame one way or the other.
As Sean Gregory points out, the Irish are generally met with adoration or hatred and there is really no in-between. Because so many people care whether they win or lose, having them in the national championship game is huge for the sport.
College football needs no popularity boost right now. The sport is booming, and with a long-awaited playoff system being introduced in 2014, things will only get better. But without question, Notre Dame’s success raises the profile of college football, and this upcoming title game, to even higher levels. The Notre Dame mystique brings in more casual fans.
Ever since the stage was set for a title game featuring ND and the winner of the SEC championship, much has been made about how the Irish will fare against a team—any team—from the nation's strongest conference.
And though most of the pundits have already given the edge to the undetermined SEC team that earns the right to face ND, without even knowing which team that is, Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde has some words of advice: Slow down. He writes:
…Occasionally arrogance leads to blindness, or at least severe myopia. And for all the SEC elitists guaranteeing a blowout by whoever wins its league against Notre Dame in the BCS championship game, I'm here to offer an eye test. Look at the facts, get over the regional bias and acknowledge that someone outside of Dixie might actually be good at football.
In addition to steadfastly defending the Irish against SEC apologists (of which, I admit, I am one), Forde also compares, case by case, the strength of ND's 2012 schedule versus the strength of each SEC team's schedule. Definitely worth a look—the disparity isn't as wide as you may think.
Now, it's true that a lot of people hate Notre Dame. Some hate the football program because it does well (generally). Some are annoyed by the overzealous fans, much in the way they're annoyed by Red Sox fans or Duke fans. But many of those people who hate Notre Dame actually have legitimate reasons for disliking the Irish.
And Forbes' Roger Groves does a nice job of laying them all out.
Some of it is the holier-than-thou attitude (no pun intended) that comes from being a Catholic institution (Groves calls to mind the infamous "Catholics vs. Convicts" T-shirts Irish fans used to sport for games against the University of Miami). Some of it comes with the Irish's status as independent, which is perceived as a slight to the rest of the college football world. There are plenty of reasons, and not all of them are petty.
While major conferences now have their own networks, ND is the only school to have its own joint venture with a national TV network. NBC televises every ND home game. … And what galls many, ND is the only independent school that is a founding member of the BCS ... Most disturbing is the undeniable fact that ND has remained part of that elite circle of influencers though it was mediocre on the field during the bulk of the BCS existence. No one likes unearned privileges except those who receive them.
One thing that does make the Irish an easy team to respect this year: the way they've won. They've gotten their fair share of lucky bounces in 2012, particularly in games against Stanford and Pittsburgh, but they've won with the kind of defense-first approach that fans love. It may not be flashy to watch, but you have to respect it.
One of the oldest adages in sports is that defense wins championships, and the Irish are one step away from proving it. Disguised by that stellar defense, though, is the true mediocrity of their offense. USA Today's Mike Lopresti writes:
Here's to the defense. Notre Dame will play for the national championship with the 75th-ranked scoring offense in the nation, just three spots ahead of 1-11 Akron.
When you put it like that, watching the Irish compete against one of the SEC's best will certainly be interesting.