Notre Dame Football: Why the Irish Are Still BCS Bound

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Notre Dame Football: Why the Irish Are Still BCS Bound
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Notre Dame trotted off the turf at Michigan Stadium two weeks ago digesting its first regular-season loss since 2011 and the burning thought of whether its BCS dreams had been put to rest.

Following the humbling 41-30 loss to the Wolverines, Notre Dame fans and the college football universe went to extremes, predicting the Irish to finish the 2013 regular season as a middle-of-the-pack team. Surely, Notre Dame's run to last season's BCS National Championship was a fluke.

As ESPN's Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend." 

Are the Irish out of the running for the final BCS National Championship Game of the BCS era?

Probably.

But are they completely out of the running for one of eight spots among the other four BCS bowls?

Not even close.

In fact, Notre Dame still controls its own destiny in terms of reaching either the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl. All Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and Co. have to to do is finish the season in the Top 14 of the final BCS rankings to be invited to the party that is the BCS.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

I understand an unnerving number of doubts continue to linger around this season's Notre Dame team.

The secondary, despite three returning starters from last season's 12-1 team, appears vulnerable. The lack of an effective pass rush is also disconcerting, as are the difficulties experienced sparking a consistent rushing attack.

Those issues must be resolved or any BCS-related discussion will be shot.

But remember folks, it's still extremely early in the season.

And believe it or not, there are positives to draw from Notre Dame's first three contests.

First and foremost, let's start with the Irish rushing defense. After allowing a combined 300 rushing yards against Temple and Michigan, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's bunch tightened up, limiting Purdue to just 38 yards on the ground.

Following his team's 31-24 victory against the Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium, Kelly praised the effort of his run-stoppers, via UND.com

Well, we played much more physical. I was very pleased with that. Obviously stopping the run. Purdue, this offense, is built to run the football. That's what they wanted to do. They weren't able to do that. Those are all great forecasts.

Possessing the ability to consistently stop the run will be an influential factor in the success of this Notre Dame team, with "consistently" being the keyword.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Counterbalancing that outstanding effort from the front seven is an offense that has churned out points at a higher rate than last season's unit led by former quarterback Everett Golson.

That offense was limited to 20 points or fewer in eight of 13 contests a year ago.

Despite the lack of a run threat from the quarterback position this season, the offense is poised to score at a more efficient rate due to Tommy Rees' ability to read the defense pre-snap and getting the offense into the right looks.

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That experience will be critical against the remainder of Notre Dame's schedule, which includes matchups with Michigan State, No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 23 Arizona State in the next three weeks.

Worth noting is none of those games are true road games—Michigan State and Oklahoma are at Notre Dame Stadium, while the Irish meet Arizona State at AT&T Stadium in a neutral-site game.

If Kelly and Co. exit that brutal stretch of three games unscathed, the other six games shape up to be a navigable path to the BCS.

Even a loss at Stanford, which seems likely, would still allow for a BCS berth if the Irish arrive in Palo Alto sitting at 10-1.

Tell me I'm looking through rose colored glasses if you will, but that outcome is still perfectly plausible.

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