By Kevin McGuire
November 25, 2012
The nightmare scenario for many college football fans around the nation has come true. Notre Dame will play for a BCS national championship in January.
It may have taken a while but Notre Dame finally feels as though their approach to college football has been justified. Running an independent football program years after other big name programs decided the time was right to align with a conference has seen more than a fair share of criticism saying the life of an independent is not the way to go and by doing so actually leaves Notre Dame in the dust in terms of national relevance. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps this will be proven to be true, but this season Notre Dame made it work.
Returning to college football’s pedestal was a long and rough road at times for the Irish. Since last capturing national glory in South Bend in the 1988 season Notre Dame has made four coaching changes and even suffered through a 12-year drought without a single bowl victory, a stretch perhaps unimaginable since the Ara Parseghian era.
Through it all Notre Dame watched from South Bend as conference alignment seized control of the game, driven by massive television contracts and exposure for conferences in new, larger markets. Even Notre Dame felt compelled to make some sort of move to protect their entire brand, but independence in football was still a priority. Fortunately for Notre Dame they found a conference willing to work with that philosophy in the ACC.
I hold a certain level of respect for the way Notre Dame chooses to operate their football program. I may find flaws in the logic at times in a world where more money is good and even more money is better, but the traditionalist in me appreciates Notre Dame’s desire to work as an independent in football despite what some may say about their schedule.
At the beginning of this season, before the first kickoff of the year, many of us went down Notre Dame’s schedule and suggested the Irish would be lucky to reach eight or nine wins. I admit I was one of them at the start. Games against Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC were seen by many to be likely losses in August. As it turned out, some of them were still tough match-ups, but Notre Dame showed something they have improving on under head coach Brian Kelly that put this year’s Notre Dame team over the edge.
USC needed to score 23 points Saturday night with a backup quarterback to hand Notre Dame their first loss of the season. Heading in to the game the Irish had allowed 22 points all year in true road games.
The Trojans inexplicably tried to rush the football just 27 times Saturday night with a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first college start against one of the top defenses in the country. Notre Dame held USC to just 95 rushing yards, and proved to be up to the task with a critical goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter following a big pass from Max Wittek to Marqise Lee gave the Trojans some life. USC could not pound the football in from the two-yard line despite getting the benefit of a pair of pass interference penalties called against the Irish trying to cover Lee in the end zone. Curtis McNeal could not break through the line and Silas Redd was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage by a pair of safeties on a blitz package.
This Notre Dame defense is why the Irish will play for the first BCS championship in school history. It gives an average Notre Dame offense a chance to win every week, and that will once again be the case in January against Alabama or Georgia. Notre Dame’s offense will struggle at times against the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs, but Notre Dame’s defense will not allow either to run away from them from start to finish.
Despite going on the road and winning in the Los Angeles Coliseum against an offense that figured to have a legitimate speed advantage and going to Norman, Oklahoma and returning with a road victory few teams ever do against the Sooners, there are still doubters who anticipate Notre Dame has their charm spoiled in January.
In a bizarre twist for the casual college football fan, a rooting interest for the SEC has become common in hopes that the SEC champion, be it Alabama or Georgia, hand the Notre Dame faithful a healthy dose of reality. The SEC, home conference to the past six BCS championships, has suddenly become the conference many outside the conference abhor to the one they will champion.
This is the power Notre Dame has. This is why they say college football is at its greatest when Notre Dame is relevant. Whether you choose to believe in the Fighting Irish and their chances against the SEC champion or not, make no mistake about one thing.
Notre Dame is relevant, and that is OK to accept.
Notre Dame will play for a national championship, and that is OK too.
About the Author
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) is a college football journalist and host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. He resides outside of Philadelphia.