Notre Dame Football: Manti Te'o and the Fighting Irish Still Get No Respect

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Notre Dame Football: Manti Te'o and the Fighting Irish Still Get No Respect
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Thanks, Notre Dame. It was a great run. Now if you could move over to your left a bit, that'd be great. We're trying to picture the next national champion here.

And so it goes for the 2012 Fighting Irish, who put together perhaps the quietest title-game run any football powerhouse ever has. If not for the Look-It's-Notre-Dame! angle, they might have no angle at all.

But somewhere between the warm fuzziness and the waking up of the echoes, the team somehow found a way to go 12-0, regain the top position in college football and produce a Heisman Trophy candidate. Not too long ago, as you might recall, they beat archrival (or one of them, anyway) USC to reach the BCS title game. That's all right for a collection of players with a grand total of one big name in its midst.

They've certainly earned a week off. On Saturday, the Irish need only lean back in the old La-Z-Boy and see which team from the SEC has the stuff to take them on.

But as they do it, they cede the spotlight they barely entered in the first place, and even then only as a relative novelty. But hey, when you're a lightning rod like Notre Dame, and you've been in a bit of a coma for the last few seasons, you can't always just sit back and let the roses come to you.

Why do they deserve respect among the Crimson Tides of the world? At the player level, let's take that one big name. Manti Te'o has been surpassed in the Heisman watch by Texas A&M teenage folk hero Johnny Manziel. But Te'o could demand a blue ox of his own.

Like Johnny Football, Te'o steps up in the biggest spots. In that grinding, title-game-clinching USC win, Te'o had five tackles and an interception (the pick brought him to seven on the year).

He did even better against other archival Michigan: eight tackles and two interceptions. And who could forget the tone-setting win the Irish got when then went into East Lansing, the one where Te'o almost single-handedly stymied Michigan State with 12 tackles, seven of them solo? That's crazy.

And yet, here he is, carrying Johnny Football's train up the aisle. It's not easy being kelly green.

The team itself offers its own example. The nation's second-ranked defense, sure. But 27th in rushing yardage, too, led by Cierre Wood, who would surely have more than 740 ground yards had he played in the team's first two games. As a whole, Notre Dame has only seven fumbles lost all year. The Irish rank 20th in third-down conversion rates. And they've only scored fewer than 20 points twice all year.

They're within no sane person's shouting distance of offensive juggernaut status, but they do as much as they can with what they have. Their meat-and-potatoes offense is not the world's most impressive thing. But when you put the key in the ignition, it starts. Every time. That's not nothing. 

And yet, here they are, already being picked as a significant underdog to whichever of the two louder, shinier war machines emerges from the SEC. Everyone is in such a hurry to clear the Irish stuff off the shelves to make room for the real merchandise. Great story, guys. But surely you don't mean to threaten the real teams.

Here's hoping they do. If for nothing else, then for the sake of a discourse that too often gets too far ahead of itself, and far too fast at that.

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