September 17th, 2014

Notre Dame won’t be a pushover

by RyanPorth

A friend of mine is as big a Notre Dame football fan as you will come across. Every Saturday this fall I have told him ‘Touchdown Jesus’ has aided the Fighting Irish in catching every break possible (for starters: a blown pass interference call and missed field goal against in overtime versus Pittsburgh; a controversial goal line stand against Stanford).

There is no hiding that the Irish have been lucky along the way. Without all the breaks, this is a team that easily could have been 8-4 and competing in some meaningless December bowl game. But they are not. They are 12-0 and will play for the BCS National Championship next Monday in Miami.

That’s all that counts.

A dream season in South Bend will finish with the top-ranked and undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish attempting to capture a 12th national title, first since 1988 – their longest drought between titles since winning their first in 1924.

Contrary to popular belief, their success isn’t necessarily a fluke.

The Irish may not play in the Southeastern Conference – or any conference for that matter –but Notre Dame’s road to Miami still had its obstacles. They had to stave off rivals like Michigan and Michigan State early on. They took down Pac-12 champion Stanford, albeit
controversially. They went on the road to Oklahoma and USC and came away with season-defining victories. Mixed in were the proverbial trap games in which the Irish prevailed with either ease or angst – but they won.

That’s all that counts.

Proving they didn’t just simply take advantage of one cupcake after another, the Irish beat nine teams that will participate in a bowl game. No one else in the FBS can say that. Most importantly, they finished the season unbeaten. No one else in the FBS can say that, either.

After last month’s win over USC, linebacker Manti Te’o simply described the team’s defense as “stingy.” The unit gave up 10.3 points per game this season, second only to their title game counterpart. Aside from Te’o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, the defense’s front seven as a whole is formidable.

Predictably, SEC fans are quick to point out Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t yet faced a “legitimate” offense, and they have a point despite Oklahoma ranking 10th in yards per game, 13th in points per game.

Still, that shouldn’t take away from Notre Dame’s defense. Dominant interior linemen Louis Nix III and Kapron Lewis-Moore will be playing on Sundays in the future, while Te’o is the defense’s backbone. It’s a solid unit that can wreak havoc on any offense.

Not many expected Notre Dame to beat Oklahoma back in October. Before that game, Oklahoma had cruised to a 74-3 record with an average margin of victory of 31.3 on home soil under head coach Bob Stoops since 1999. The Irish impressively held them to just 13 points in a 17-point victory.

It was a significant victory for head coach Brian Kelly, who is no stranger to winning – which is another reason why Notre Dame shouldn’t be overlooked.

All Kelly has done throughout his coaching career is win football games. He won two championships at Grand Valley State. Between his six seasons combined at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Kelly won three conference titles and took Cincinnati to the program’s first two BCS games in 2008 and 2009.

With his resume, it’s no surprise Kelly has brought Notre Dame back to prominence. With a win against Alabama, Kelly would follow in the footsteps of Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz to win a title at Notre Dame in his third season as head coach.  Kelly’s play-calling may be questionable at times, and the victories may not be pretty, but the guy knows what it takes to beat that given week’s opponent.

That’s all that counts.

Of course, Kelly and the Irish will be facing the nation’s top coach and most talented team.  Alabama’s Nick Saban runs the best program in America, and giving him four weeks to prepare for an opponent is asking for trouble. For Irish quarterback Everett Golson, facing Alabama’s suffocating defense will certainly be a challenge (and then some).

Other disadvantages for Notre Dame: having to face Alabama’s behemoth offensive line and the nation’s second-most efficient quarterback, A.J. McCarron, who has the ability to pick apart an opposing secondary when given the opportunity.

Alabama, who could extend the SEC’s national title streak to seven years, will be aiming for its third championship in four seasons. That kind of experience is another advantage over Notre Dame.

Once the Irish finished off a 22-13 win over rival USC to punch their ticket to Miami, football pundits and fans (read: Golden Domer haters) immediately began the barrage of predictions that Notre Dame will undoubtedly be kicked to the curb by the SEC champion.  Las Vegas isn’t optimistic about their chances, either, as oddsmakers have Alabama as 10-point favorites.

Good news for Notre Dame: the game will actually be decided on the field. If all their games this season were decided on paper, they wouldn’t be 12-0 and wouldn’t be taking their talents to South Beach.

Whether or not you believe they are worthy of winning (or playing for) a national title, whether or not you believe the Irish lucked their way to a 12-0 record, it doesn’t matter at this point. After some good fortune along the way and a little bit of help from Touchdown Jesus, Notre Dame will be playing for the right to hoist the cherished crystal ball Monday in Miami.

That’s all that counts.

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