Despite Notre Dame reaching the halfway point of the regular season outside of the Top 25 looking in, hope hasn't been lost for the Irish's BCS aspirations.
At 4-2, the Irish remain in contention, however sparingly, for a BCS at-large bid.
With a favorable second-half schedule—Notre Dame will play just one ranked opponent the rest of the way—a run to either the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange or Rose bowls can and should be considered feasible. But two of the Irish's six remaining opponents—USC and No. 13 Stanford—loom large.
Aside from those two annual rivals, Notre Dame's other remaining foes—Air Force, Navy, Pittsburgh and BYU—each appear on the surface to be very winnable games.
Thus, the Trojans and Cardinal serve as the proverbial roadblocks the Irish need to plow through in order to reach their goal of attaining a BCS bid.
USC and Stanford also serve as the respective beginning and end to the Irish's second-half schedule, with USC scheduled to visit Notre Dame Stadium Saturday for a prime-time showdown under the lights in South Bend, Ind.
While it would be easy to quickly write off the Trojans because of former head coach Lane Kiffin's midseason firing, doing so would be a mistake.
USC looked every bit the part of a rejuvenated program during a 38-31 victory against Arizona last Thursday evening, giving interim head coach Ed Orgeron his first win as a head coach since his final season at Ole Miss in 2007.
The Trojan offense was as balanced and consistent as it had been this season, piling up 546 yards (297 passing, 249 rushing), while also winning the time of possession battle by more than seven minutes.
That explosive, dynamic offense paired with the nation's 19th-ranked defense that has limited opponents to 107.2 rushing yards per game presents quite a stiff challenge to Notre Dame's goal of ending the Trojans' five-game winning streak at Notre Dame Stadium.
Should the Irish snap that bothersome streak, and barring any upsets, Stanford would remain as the lone obstacle on Notre Dame's road to the BCS.
Given how the Irish's seven-point victory against the Cardinal ended last season, Stanford will be likely be firing on all cylinders to avenge that excruciating loss.
Some may disagree, but by season's end, Stanford will be the best team the Irish will have played during the 2013 season, as was the consensus belief during the preseason. Making matters even more interesting is the mirror image effect between both teams: The Irish and Cardinal pride themselves on running the ball and playing stout defense.
In no other contest will controlling the line of scrimmage and avoiding turnovers be more significant factors for Notre Dame than against Stanford at Stanford Stadium Nov. 30.
That condition along with the Cardinal's success in defending Irish quarterback Tommy Rees—the current senior was benched shortly before halftime at Stanford two years ago—have all the makings of a rather deflating Notre Dame loss.
If the Irish take care of business against the aforementioned beatable opponents and earn a victory against USC, their season finale at Stanford would be a de facto BCS qualifying game for head coach Brian Kelly and Co.
Yes, it will be absolutely and unnecessarily nerve-wracking at times (when isn't it?), but if Notre Dame receives just a few breaks against USC and Stanford, the 2013 season could be "salvaged," as it has often been framed the last few weeks.
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