For the Irish, There's Bigger Fish To Fry

Ed LeiserCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 29:  Kyle McCarthy #28 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish returns an interception eight yards out of the endzone against the USC Trojans in the third quarter on November 29, 2008 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  USC won 38-3.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

I'll be the first to admit I was impressed by Notre Dame's victory on the opening weekend of the 2009-2010 season. 

They looked sharp on offense, sharper on defense, and were sound in the special teams game. Counting last season's bowl win, the Irish have put together two very impressive victories.

Irish fans have been starved for two blowout victories. This feels good at the moment.

The problem, of course, is that the two blowout victories have come against teams from the WAC conference. Not that beating Hawaii and Nevada isn't good, but this is Notre Dame. They routinely play one of the tougher schedules in the nation, and typically will be loaded with top-25 opponents on their schedule.

This year, their schedule is fairly easy. Only one team (USC) is ranked on Notre Dame's schedule. They should win at least nine games, with the real possibility of 10 or 11 victories.

That's great news for a team that has won a combined total of 10 games over the last two seasons.

But will a 10-win season mean the Irish are firmly back in the mix among college football's elite? I would love nothing more than to firmly believe that the Irish are back and will once again be in the mix for a national championship.

But opponents such as Washington, Washington St., Nevada, UConn, Stanford, and Purdue don't leave much cause for celebration, assuming the Irish defeat those teams.

Even Michigan, Boston College, and Pittsburgh are not what they were, say, two or three years ago. Remember when the Irish hosted Boston College two years ago, when they were ranked in the top-five?

How about Michigan and their consistent top-10 teams that battled the Irish?

The only game that will truly test the Irish on all levels will be the USC game Oct. 17.

Not to say that the Michigan game won't be a battle, or that Michigan State will be an easy win. In fact, Michigan State scare the hell out of me, always have.

But USC is still a factory, churning out NFL athletes en masse. A win over the Trojans could mean the Irish are back, at least in some regard. A loss to the Trojans, and, well...it would be back to the drawing board.

I know that USC have a true freshman at quarterback. I know they lost their three linebackers from last year all to the NFL. They are down, but only slightly in my mind.

Their trio of running backs (C.J. Gable, Joe McKnight, Stefan Johnson) still make them a talented team capable of running the table.

And Taylor Mays in the secondary? He counts for three guys, because he is that good.

All things considered, I can't wait for the season to continue and see where the Irish stack up against the Trojans.

One thing is for certain about the Irish: 2009 is just the beginning for this bunch. They can go to a BCS game and Notre Dame fans everywhere will celebrate, but it won't mean as much considering their strength of schedule, or lack thereof.

The sophomore and junior classes have the talent, and most of this season's starters will return next year as well for the Irish. That is the year to make a serious run at it.

This year the Irish hope to send out a signal to the rest of the nation that they are back.

Next year, they hope to signal the rest of the nation that they are back in the national championship game.

Take care of the Wolverines and Spartans first, then see what happens Oct. 17.


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