Beating a 1-6 team—now a 1-7 team—does not automatically catapult you to the center of the BCS discussion. It's taking care of business, and assuming it to be anything more is grasping for something beyond what it deserves.
For Notre Dame, however, taking care of business is a step in the right direction, even against inferior competition. It's the little things—the things that have hampered the Irish through much of the 2013 season—and also the things that could make the difference during the home stretch.
These little things were on display in the Irish's 45-10 win over Air Force on Saturday, and the Irish are improving at a critical point of the season.
Although the defense was on its heels early, it quickly adjusted to the unique offensive attack that Air Force delivers. And on offense, Notre Dame delivered its most impressive output of the year, making it look easy at times.
Last week, we were given a glimpse of life without quarterback Tommy Rees. Rees was injured in the team's home win against USC, and the offense did not look functional without him.
On Saturday, we got a glimpse of what Rees adds, and he delivered perhaps the best performance of his career. Even more impressive is the fact that he didn't see the field in the fourth quarter. He didn't have to with the game well in hand.
Rees completed 17 of his 22 passes for 284 yards and five touchdowns. He spread the ball around, making some history with his distribution, per Irish Illustrated:
First time in school history where Notre Dame had five different players make a touchdown catch in a game.— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) October 26, 2013
Outside of the first half against Oklahoma, Notre Dame's starting quarterback has been fantastic this season. Even without key weapons from a season ago and a running game that has struggled at times, Rees has delivered and—as a whole—protected the football very well.
The rushing attack wasn't brilliant against Air Force, although it didn't have to be. Cam McDaniel, however, averaged more than six yards per carry on the ground, and his emergence has come at a time when the team needed him.
With the victory, Notre Dame has entered a unique (but favorable) position. Somewhat quietly, the Irish are moving up with chaos in front of them, setting themselves up favorable for the home stretch.
They're not a story, and they'll gladly embrace the anti-spotlight, a position they rarely have access to.
The Irish will finish with games against Navy, at Pitt, against BYU and close at Stanford. The final two opponents will likely poise the biggest challenges, although all of these games can be won. It comes down to the little things, and Rees will have to keep up his incredible play for the Irish to have a chance.
Just like we thought back in February.
If—and this is an enormous "if"—Notre Dame can win out, it will likely make it to a BCS bowl. There is plenty of football to be played, of course, but the possibility is alive and well. And after last season's turbulent (but perfect) regular-season run, nothing should be considered impossible.
Much is still to be decided, but Notre Dame has responded to some early struggles with an encouraging stretch of victories. Beating a 1-6 team doesn't mean you're ready for prime time, although the Irish are content to keep it that way until they have to be.
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