Ugly only begins to describe it. One look back at Notre Dame's past four appearances gives you a decent idea of the Irish's unprecedented ineptitude in the Bowl Championship Series.
- Oregon State 41, Notre Dame 9
- Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 20
- LSU 41, Notre Dame 14
- Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
Four BCS appearances, four lopsided losses. It's an average defeat by 25.5 points. No team has done as poorly in the life cycle of the BCS. And with college football's highly anticipated playoff coming after this season, the Irish have only one more opportunity to win a BCS game before the system gets put out to pasture.
Much of November will be dedicated to debating Notre Dame's worthiness for an at-large BCS bid.
If the Irish manage to beat Stanford, does a 10-win Notre Dame team deserve to leapfrog Northern Illinois or Fresno State even if they remain unbeaten? As the Irish's victories over Michigan State and Arizona State get more attractive every week, will that push them ahead of the Spartans or Wisconsin in the polls?
Voters won't likely be inclined to give the Irish the benefit of the doubt (and that's even before sliding by Navy). But with a defense decimated by injuries and an offensive line that's now playing four first-year starters, does it benefit the Irish to get matched up with a team like Florida State, Auburn, Clemson or Baylor, games that could follow history and end the season on an ugly note?
At this point, it's worth noting that Brian Kelly's team has nothing in common with the three teams that lost to Oregon State, Ohio State or LSU. It is also not the Irish's fault that they are among the most attractive bowl teams in the sport. In a system that was designed only to match No. 1 and No. 2, the Irish wouldn't be the only team to punch their ticket because of brand appeal.
Few teams travel fans as well as Notre Dame (ask the people of Dublin or hoteliers in South Beach). No team pulls better TV ratings. (How else do you explain an 8 p.m. kickoff for this weekend's game against Pitt?)
Notre Dame is routinely pulled up a rung when it comes to bowl games, forcing the Irish to essentially fight up a weight class, something not that easy to do when an opponent has a month to prepare superior personnel.
Last year's dream season ended with a thud that resonated almost until September, with the Irish run off the field by Alabama, turned into a punchline after Manti Te'o's fiasco and then further gutted by Everett Golson's dismissal. Could the Irish withstand another long winter if they faced an ugly matchup that turned lopsided if they managed to limp into the BCS after finding a way to beat Stanford?
With uncertainty looming if the Irish don't find their way in, winning out is a priority to both Brian Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick. One more loss could put the Irish in the Little Caesar's Bowl in Detroit on December 26.
Kelly's also smart enough to only worry about what he has to right now.
And for this week, it's Paul Chryst's Pittsburgh team that could have defensive tackle Aaron Donald matching up with Steve Elmer, Conor Hanratty and Nick Martin. And it's a defensive line that'll need to rely on reserves Tyler Stockton, Justin Utupo, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, four guys barely even contingency plans when this season started.
From there, the road map emerges: Get by Pitt, recover over bye week. Get guys healthy, then find a way to beat BYU. Beat BYU, onward to Stanford. Win in Palo Alto? Spend a month worrying about the rest of it.
As the BCS turns 16, it could very well have license to run Notre Dame over one last time. But if it even has the chance, it'll mean Kelly and his Fighting Irish already pulled off a minor miracle.
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