Notre Dame finds themselves atop the college football world for the first time since ’93. The trick now is to maintain their No.1 status against another worthy opponent this weekend. No matter how big the stage has been this season, the Irish have answered the bell, and the same will have to hold true in a hostile environment at The Coliseum on Saturday night. There has been a lot of talk about teams not being able to stay at the top of the BCS standings, but this Irish team is different. The proof is in their body of work and how they got to 11-0.
Notre Dame’s ascent to the top started with their front loaded, gauntlet of a schedule. Against the 10th ranked Spartans, an emotionally charged Irish team made their presence known in East Lansing with a dominating defensive performance, and carried that momentum into South Bend with an ugly win against Michigan. We got a glimpse of how explosive this offense can be against Miami, when it looked like Brian Kelly was playing a video game with his offense at times, expanding the playbook for Everett Golson. Stanford and BYU were both gutsy wins and solidified the fight that this Irish team possesses. Then there was Oklahoma; just like Michigan State, this team showed up in a warlike environment and was not intimidated. From start to finish, the Irish dominated the Sooners, proving they deserved to be in the National Title discussion. Pitt provided a bit of a scare but once again, this team found a way to win.
With emotional wins on a near weekly basis, Notre Dame has shown the mental fortitude that others seem to be lacking. The “other” top teams don’t seem to be able to overcome emotionally draining wins or losses week to week. Alabama had a tough win against LSU, only to lose to Texas A&M at home the following week. K-State got a good ol’ fashioned beat down from an unranked Baylor team after being No.1 for just a week, and the mighty Oregon Ducks couldn’t beat Stanford when it really mattered. Looking at the previously mentioned gauntlet the Irish faced in weeks 3-9 (including the bye), this team has shown they have the “it factor” that a true title contender possesses. As Lou Holtz once said, “You don’t have to be the best team in the world; you just have to be the best team in the stadium”. So far the Irish have been just that.
A good solid win against USC would cap off a more than memorable season. Don’t let the absence of Matt Barkley fool you. The Trojans are still a solid team with explosive players all over the field. It doesn’t matter who is throwing the ball to guys like Marquis Lee and Robert Woods, they are still game breakers. Along with Silas Redd in the backfield, there is more than enough left to keep Diaco’s defense off balance. USC will come out amped up and looking for a repeat of 1964 when the Trojans spoiled Ara Parseghians debut season, handing the Irish a 20-17 loss (this was the last time an undefeated Irish team faced and unranked SC team). Don’t expect the same outcome this time around, especially now that redshirt freshman, Max Wittek has only added fuel to the Irish fire. Someone might want to remind the youngster that he is facing the #1 scoring defense in the country, in his collegiate debut nonetheless. When it’s all said and done, look for Notre Dame to pull away in the 2nd half after allowing USC to hang around in the beginning. The time has come for Notre Dame to show the country what Irish fans have been saying for weeks. This team is for real and ready to fill a spot in the National Title game.