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America, are you fully grasping the most unlikely shocker in recent college football history? Seriously, soak this in for a moment.
Notre Dame - NOTRE (bleep)ING DAME - will probably finish the season 12-0 and won’t play for the national title.
There are no politics involved like there were in the old Poll ‘n’ Bowl days. There’s no lobbying to be done for a top bowl matchup to give the storied program its shot. No, there’s absolutely nothing that can be done if Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon keep on winning, and while that might be the right call, it certainly doesn’t seem like the most interesting one.
From “unremarkable” gusts of wind, to the despicable handling of the Elizabeth Seeberg case, there have been plenty of reasons to not like about Notre Dame over the last few years, but even with the Tommy Rees and Carlo Cabrese situation, there’s little to root against when it comes to the 2012 Fighting Irish.
Manti Te’o is everything a program could ever dream of in a star middle linebacker, both in his play and in his demeanor. The team plays tough, hard-nosed defense, and it earns everything it gets on an offense that doesn’t have a whole bunch of downfield firepower.
There’s nothing flashy or gimmicky about what the Irish do, and the talent level isn’t quite good enough to have the same sense of entitlement that used to define Notre Dame football a few decades ago when it was really rocking and rolling. Te’o has a lot to do with that.
Has anyone come up with a more fun month than Notre Dame vs. Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma and Pitt? Whether or not you love or hate the Irish, the games have been really, really good, even when they’re not exactly played at a high level. Every game seems to take on interesting dramatic life of its own, because yes, it does matter when Notre Dame is really good.
And yet, in the end, the Irish might as well be Boise State, Northern Illinois or Utah State – it doesn’t make a lick of difference what they do from here on. Without a slew of breaks, there’s no chance they’re going to play for the national title.
Half of the teams come into every college football season knowing that they won’t play in the BCS championship no matter what, and everyone knows that 122 teams have no shot to play for it all if the top two teams in the preseason rankings don’t lose, but Notre Dame is obviously different. This is supposed to be the program that gets every break. This is supposed to be the school that plays by its own rules. This is supposed to be the charmed and fabled football team that gets the special treatment from the BCS, the networks, and the media because it’s the New York Yankees of college football. (Actually, in terms of national and worldwide interest, the New York Yankees are the Notre Dame of baseball.)
No one’s saying the Irish pass the eyeball test vs. Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, or a slew of other top teams, and it’s hard to sell a team that should have lost to Pitt, beat Purdue and BYU by three, and doesn't have a ton of offensive firepoower, but that’s not really the point.
Before the season, if you were to say that Notre Dame was going to be 9-0 with seven of the wins coming against certain bowl-bound teams, and with the other two victories coming against teams that are still in the bowl hunt in mid-November, you’d have assumed that the team would be given every benefit of every doubt in the rankings. Throw in that the 41-3 win over Miami was against a team that’s probably going to play for the ACC title, and the 30-13 win over Oklahoma came against a team that’s probably going to get an at-large BCS bid, and of course the Irish would be no worse than No. 2 in the BCS rankings, right?
The 1988 national champion Irish beat phenomenal Miami, Michigan and USC squads, but there were only five regular-season victories over teams that finished with a winning record. The 1993 team beat Florida State, but finished with a mere two regular season wins over teams with winning records.
This year, the Irish could finish the season having beaten 11 bowl-bound teams – or nine bowl-bound teams and Purdue and Wake Forest squads that come close – along with wins at Oklahoma and USC, and it still won’t be within ten miles of playing for it all.
Notre Dame is firmly entrenched in the No. 4 spot, and actually moved down this week in the BCS rankings. It’s going to take a few big losses to get the breaks needed to move into the top two, and there’s still the date against the Trojans to deal with, but there’s no way the human pollsters are going to budge if the teams at the top keep winning. That means, when push comes to shove, the college football world is going to choose Kansas State over Notre Dame.
Outside of myself and the die-hard college football fans who want to see the top matchups, does anyone outside of the greater Manhattan metropolitan area want to watch Kansas State play for the whole ball of wax over the Irish? The sad reality is that if it’s the Wildcats vs. Alabama for the BCS championship, the storyline on January 7th will be the NFL playoffs. Oregon vs. Alabama would certainly generate some pizzazz, but Notre Dame vs. Alabama would be the talk of the sports world for an entire month - with the 1987 Penn State vs. Miami Fiesta Bowl brought up more than a few times.
In the end, Notre Dame will probably have to settle for a big payday in a BCS bowl, while always wondering about what might have been had it been given a shot to truly restore the glory.
So for the Irish fans, no matter what, be fired up for what might be the beginning of a long run in the spotlight. For the Irish haters, enjoy this now, because the likable, easy-to-root-for, try-hard program that’s fighting the uphill battle as the unlikely underdog is probably going to be everywhere in the media from next year on after this taste of success.
And for all of college football, let this show once and for all that no, Notre Dame doesn’t actually rule the world, even at times when it probably should.
Of course, Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee might have something to say about that.