While fighting the masses to exit Sun Life Stadium in Miami after witnessing Alabama steamroll Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7, I had one prevailing thought that may surprise you.
The movie Spiderman came to mind, specifically the scene in which Peter Parker's uncle, Ben, tells Peter, "With great power comes great responsibility."
Uncle Ben may as well have been speaking to Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his team following the program's widest margin of defeat since a 38-3 drubbing at the hands of then fifth-ranked USC in Los Angeles on Nov. 29, 2008.
Despite the unfavorable outcome, the Irish's appearance on college football's grandest stage placed them in a rather precarious position.
Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, Notre Dame fans have spent each offseason proclaiming that the next season is a 'BCS or Bust' season, despite the fact that their beloved Irish were, oftentimes, wallowing in mediocrity.
But this time around, those same fans have a true right to believe that next season is, indeed, a "BCS or Bust" campaign.
Unlike Notre Dame's trips to the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls in 2006 and 2007, respectively, its appearance in the BCS National Championship Game was not a product of smoke and mirrors.
Those Charlie Weis-coached teams relied heavily on pro-style, high-scoring offenses, and were embarrassed by stout defensive teams—their 41-14 loss to LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl being an unmistakable example of that common scenario.
Surprisingly, Brian Kelly, despite achieving success in previous coaching stops via flashy, high-scoring offenses, returned Notre Dame to "elite" status by building what championship-caliber teams are made of: Defense.
In his third season on the job at Notre Dame, Kelly's desired vision of his defense finally came to fruition.
The "D-Boys," as the Irish defenders commonly refer to themselves, have the numbers to back up their confident attitude.
As of Jan. 8, the Irish were ranked seventh nationally in total defense, 11th in rushing defense, 22nd in sacks and, most importantly, second in scoring defense.
Will Notre Dame return to the BCS in 2013?
What should have Irish eyes smiling is that eight defensive starters return next season.
Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, linebacker Manti Te'o and free safety Zeke Motta each must be replaced, and the sting of their departures has been lessened due to the Irish's success on the recruiting trail.
But what the Irish simply cannot repeat in 2013 is a strong reliance on that rock-solid defense.
Balance must be a priority during spring practices and fall camp. Notre Dame's offense paled in comparison to its superb defense in 2012, as it finished the season as the nation's 78th-ranked scoring unit.
That was largely due to the offense's tendency to sputter within the red zone, often settling for field goals. Remember Notre Dame's 22-13 victory against USC to end the 2012 regular season? Five of the Irish's 10 possessions ended with field goals.
For Brian Kelly and Co. to contend for another title, it's paramount that those drives end with touchdowns rather than field goals.
In this writer's humble opinion, Notre Dame's offense will be an improved unit in 2013 with Everett Golson in his second season as the Irish's starting quarterback. Many dislike the idea of Golson starting once again next season, but face the facts—Kelly is going to stick with him. I will gladly eat crow if I am wrong.
Either way you frame it, the odds that Notre Dame develops into a more balanced squad in 2013 are high, which will play a significant role in the Irish's run to the BCS.
That's a responsibility the Irish must handle carefully, because for the first time in more than two decades, Notre Dame will be fresh from an appearance in the national title.
BCS or Bust.