Notre Dame's Glass Half Full with Plenty To Play For, Including BCS Bid
Similar to this year's version of the Fighting Irish, Charlie Weis found his '08 team sitting at 5-2 heading into November, his fourth season as the head coach of the nation's most hated, yet loved, college football program.
After an up-and-down start to their '08 campaign, the Irish began their disappointing second half of the season after the longest game in school history, a deflating overtime loss to Dave Wannstedt's Pittsburgh Panthers.
Charlie Weis and his team now face a decision heading into the month of November, after a Halloween "fright fest" match-up with an unfortunate foe in the Washington State Cougars.
Do they build on their momemtum and run the table? Or do they fail to live up to expectations and take another late-season plunge?
Contrary to popular belief, the Irish have plenty to play for the rest of the way.
Reaching a BCS bowl isn't out of the question, even with the Irish sitting at No. 23 in the latest BCS rankings. With a bit of a break in the schedule for the Irish, vs. Washington State and vs. Navy, Notre Dame seems to be ready to make its way up the polls.
If the Irish can take care of their opponents the next two weeks, it isn't unfathomable to find them somewhere in the range of Nos. 18-20 heading into a very important November 14 matchup with Pittsburgh. Some people have overlooked the Panthers, and if they can also take care of business the next two weeks against South Florida and Syracuse, this game will push for the game of the week.
Notre Dame cannot reach a BCS game without running the table, including a win against a top 15-ranked Panther team. There are still plenty of "if's" out there (including a six-game winning streak), but Weis knows his team will need more of the luck of the Irish (is that even possible?), now more than ever.
One question looms for this team: Can it run the table?
My response: Why not?
If I were a betting man, I wouldn't bet on it due to the number of last-minute wins and the Irish defense, or lack thereof. However, with Michael Floyd expected to return at latest for the game against Pittsburgh, and an improving defensive front seven, Notre Dame will be at full strength heading into its deciding stretch of the season: at Pittsburgh, vs. Connecticut, and at Stanford.
Again, a big if, but if Weis and his team can take care of their competition, they will have made a strong case for a BCS bowl game bid.
Another thing going for them: The BCS computers seem to have a small crush on this year's team compared to rest of college football. The computers have Notre Dame's schedule ranked as the 19th hardest in the country.
The Irish need to finish in the top 14 in the BCS rankings in order to be eligible to be invited to a BCS bowl this year. If they get as high as No. 8 somehow, they will be a lock for a bid.
Although many will say the biggest test of the remaining schedule is against Pitt, a case can also be made for the season finale in California against Stanford. If Notre Dame enters the game with a 9-2 record, expect the Cardinal to do anything possible in order to serve as this year's BCS late-season spoiler.
It will be interesting to see how the pass defense turns out in the home stretch of the '09 campaign. The Irish will go as far as their defense will bring them. Even if they can reach the level of average, Notre Dame will be in a BCS bowl.
If they continue to struggle and let the likes of Bill Stull and Andrew Luck to pick them apart, the Irish are Gator Bowl-bound.
Besides a very rewarding BCS payout and invite, Notre Dame has plenty else to play for: a Heisman trophy, five-star recruits, and job stability for Charlie Weiss can all be gained with a six-game winning streak to end the '09 season.
Which path will this year's team choose: success or disappointment?
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