Probably. But only because we’re still technically required to include that word.
The newest official BCS standings come out tomorrow evening, and the top-ranked Irish do not play next week. Still, it’s impossible to think that Notre Dame won’t be No. 1 when the final BCS rankings come out early next month. Why? Because top-ranked Notre Dame did what it was asked to do: win every game on its 2012 schedule, including Saturday night’s 22-13 victory over rival USC.
Running back Theo Riddick was the game’s MVP with 146 yards and a touchdown. When the Irish needed yards, Brian Kelly went to Riddick. When the Irish needed touchdowns, Kelly… did not go to Riddick. At least not on a drive that could have officially iced the game. Facing a 1st-and-goal at the USC 9-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, Kelly elected to go to an empty set and put the ball in quarterback Everett Golson‘s hands after Riddick and Cierre Wood had rushed for 47 combined yards on just four plays earlier.
And, like four other times previously, the Irish had to settle for a Kyle Brindza field goal.
But that’s been Notre Dame’s formula all year — although not always on purpose. The Irish offense has shown big-play ability at times this season, but tying it all together for an entire game, let alone an entire season, has been a chore for the offensive-minded Kelly. So Notre Dame has relied on its defense. At no time was that more necessary than USC’s second-to-last offensive possession. Trojans backup quarterback Max Wittek finally connected with Marqise Lee (after trying all game) for a 53-yard gain down to the Notre Dame 2-yard line. The pass was perfectly defended; it was simply a better pitch and catch by Wittek and Lee. But then, Notre Dame’s defense bowed up and held the Trojans on a goal line stand when Wittek’s play-action pass went through the hands of fullback Soma Vainuku.
Why Lane Kiffin, still needing two scores to win, didn’t opt for the field goal is perplexing. Then again, much of why the Trojans, the preseason No. 1 team, sit unranked at 7-5 is difficult to comprehend. Will Kiffin lose his job because Pat Haden is racking his brain for answers? That too is hard to tell.
Likewise, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who had the foresight to predict that Notre Dame would be in this position three months ago. The Irish became the first team to go from unranked in the preseason AP poll to reaching BCS championship game in the same season.
Not that there haven’t been doubters along the way. When college football was still working with three to four undefeated teams, it was Notre Dame — not Alabama, Kansas State or Oregon — expected to be on the outside looking in once the final BCS standings were revealed. But, because college football is a tricky siren luring all us sailors to our inevitable and often gruesome demise, it was only Notre Dame that evaded the 2012 season unscathed.
It wasn’t sexy, and like all teams, Notre Dame needed some good fortune along the way. But this team got the job done when it mattered.
For that, no matter how you think the Irish stack up against other competition, Notre Dame has rightfully earned a spot in the BCS championship game. Notre Dame will play the champion of the SEC, winners of six straight national titles, too. What better way to prove yourself than to knock off the champs?
Remember the annoying “S-E-C!” chants raining down from inside JerryWorld when Alabama defeated Michigan at the beginning of the season? Notre Dame — hated Notre Dame, for all the preferential treatment it receives in college athletics — has the opportunity to silence them.
Wait for it: Notre Dame might actually be the lesser of the two evils here, especially if its championship opponent is Alabama. We’ll give you a minute to keep your head from exploding.
The ratings of an Alabama-Notre Dame BCS championship would be through the roof. Viewers by the masses would tune in for support, hate, curiosity and a stew of other (and possibly subconscious) reasons. Why? Because love ‘em or hate ‘em, Notre Dame matters, and its success (or failure) is going to be magnified.
But for now — finally — the Irish have the product on the field to back it up.