CFN Analysis: Notre Dame 22, USC 13

Posted Nov 25, 2012

CFN Analysis: Helped by an epic stand, the Irish are off to Miami to play for it all.

E-mail Pete Fiutak
Follow us ... @ColFootballNews 

- Don't let it be lost in all the excitement – USC sort of sucks.

- If Pitt beats South Florida, Notre Dame will have beaten ten bowl eligible teams and Wake Forest, who finished 5-7. It'll have won in Ireland, and it'll have come back to beat Purdue just a few days later after the trip back. It'll have beaten the best team in the ACC Coastal division, and it'll have beaten Michigan and Michigan State. It'll have won at Oklahoma and against USC. It'll have survived a controversial call against Stanford, and it didn't win, Pitt lost, in a stunning nailbiter. Whether you buy in or not, this hasn't been a cheap run, and whether or not you think the Irish are any good, if they beat the SEC champion to finish 13-0, they'll have really, really earned it.

- Because Notre Dame doesn't rely on a high-octane timing offense to win, it might be better equipped than most to handle the long layoff before the BCS championship.

- USC, I'd like to introduce you to an old friend – the tackling dummy. This team can get to the ball, but it can't bring anyone down.

- Fast forward nine months from now, and get ready for some piece done by someone about how USC's offensive line used the inability to get the push into the end zone as motivation to hit the weights a wee bit harder.

- He might be forever remembered for not being able to properly run a quarterback sneak, but Max Wittek can throw the bejeebers out of the ball. If you're a good receiver prospect with sub-4.4 wheels, you want this guy bombing away to you for the next few years.

- The USC coaching staff wasn't creative enough when it came to getting the ball in Marqise Lee's hands.

- THE Goal Line Stand makes up for the Bush Push.

- I love watching this Oregon team, Ohio State is 12-0, and Florida has enough of a defense to beat anyone, but when all is said and done, it's Notre Dame vs. the SEC for the national title. That's sort of cool.

Richard Cirminiello

With a few minutes to reflect, it's still difficult to process the fact that Notre Dame is undefeated. The consensus in the preseason was that the Irish faced the toughest schedule in America, yet despite starting a rookie, ND knocked down all hurdles en route to a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Remarkable.

How apropos is it that the Irish solidified their top ranking on the field of the school that was ranked No. 1 when the season began?

That sigh of relief you hear is coming out of, well, just about anywhere in America but Gainesville. The Gators do not belong in the title game, and nobody who follows the sport was interested in seeing two SEC teams squaring off for a second straight year.

Probably makes no difference, but don't you attempt a field goal at 22-13 with two minutes left , when it was obvious that Notre Dame was not going to allow a touchdown near the goal line?

The more I see Lane Kiffin's team play, the more I realize that he's still the equivalent of redshirt freshman quarterback—potential, sure, but extremely raw and vulnerable to be sacked if he can't achieve a higher degree of consistency in the future.

Oh, and Lane's dad, Monte, needs to be replaced as soon as the season ends. I'm not sure if there was a defensive unit in the country that did a poorer job of living up to its individual talent or exhibiting sound fundamentals on the field than the Trojans in 2012.

In the end, it was obvious which team was accustomed to winning close games, and which one had lost four that were decided by 11 points or fewer.

There's still a chance that USC, which got a gift when Matt Barkley decided to return for his senior year, will finish this season 7-6. If that doesn't get a coach firmly planted on a hot seat, nothing will.

Brian Kelly, who has to be the favorite for 2012 Coach of the Year, continues to show more confidence in young QB Everett Golson. And the redshirt freshman keeps paying back his coach by making sound decisions and improving on the fly.

All things considered , Max Wittek showed good poise in the first start of his career. He'll have a nice leg up on Cody Kessler when the two lock horns in the spring in the battle to succeed Barkley.

I'll have to dig deep, but I can't remember the last time I saw a goal line D consistently better than the one fashioned by the Irish this season. Message to Alabama or Georgia: Once you get inside the 20 on Jan.7, stop pounding and go right to the end zone through the air, because that's the only way to penetrate this defense.

By Terry Johnson
Follow me @TPJCollFootball

- Make no mistake about it: this was an impressive win for Notre Dame. Sure, USC has failed to live up to its lofty preseason expectations, but the Trojans are a very talented football team.

- Interesting historical note: the Fighting Irish won national championships in 1966 and 1988 by posting wins over USC in the final game of the season.

- Yes, the Irish can win it all. Sure, they'll have to defeat the SEC, who's won the last six national championships, but Notre Dame has turned in its best offensive performances when it played away from the friendly confines of South Bend. That trend should continue, as the Irish have an extra week of practice to prepare for the Alabama/Georgia winner.

- What was Lane Kiffin thinking on USC's final series? After running the fade routes to get the ball inside the one yard-line, Kiffin called two QB sneaks and a run up the middle -- right into the strength of the Notre Dame defense. Did he not watch the film from earlier this season, when the Fighting Irish stopped Stepfan Taylor?

- On the other hand, give the Manti Te'o and company credit for coming up with another game-saving goal line stand. Heroics like that warrant a berth in the national championship game.

- While Johnny Manziel is still the favorite to win the Heisman, Te'o certainly made his case tonight. It will be interesting to see how he does in the final voting.

By Phil Harrison
Follow me @PhilHarrisonCFN

- And so it is. For the first time since 1989, the Irish are going to have a shot at a national-title. It'll be the first time EVER in the BCS era that the Golden-Domers will be afforded the opportunity.

- Yes, yes, Notre Dame has not passed the eye-test on many occasions, and it doesn't have the gaudy numbers that fans and media-types gravitate towards, but the Irish have done it the right way. Brian Kelly has gotten his team to pass every challenge by way of a stout-defense, opportunistic-offense, and timely big-plays. Now they're off to Miami.

- Who will the Irish play? You can bet the farm now on the SEC champion getting a shot. The winner of the SEC Championship game between ‘Bama and the Dawgs will be lining up opposite of what will likely be America's team now as SEC fatigue is at a 105 degree temperature.

- You shouldn't count Notre Dame out either. It has the defense and IT factor to gut out a game against a talented SEC team. The Irish also have a QB that is getting better and showing that he can make things happen through the air and on the ground, (ala Johnny Manziel versus Alabama).

- Sorry Florida, you are out. Great win against the Seminoles though.

- Remember 2002? NOBODY, I mean NOBODY gave a very similar Ohio State team a shot at beating a Miami team that blew teams' doors off for almost two-straight years. The team the Irish will be facing won't be that type of juggernaut.

- Now that Ohio State and Notre Dame have both finished out undefeated regular-seasons, does anyone else feel a little cheated that this made-for-television matchup won't happen with all of the lights on?

- Yes he only plays defense, but discount the chances of Manti T'eo getting all of the love and push that a star can get for Notre Dame when discussing the Heisman. He'll have to overcome the eye-popping stats of Johnny Football among other contenders, but it's not out of the question.

- What has happened to USC this year? Who would have thought that the Trojans would stumble to a 7-5 season? All that talent with nothing to show. Lane Kiffin, you are on the clock young man.

- The college football world just seems more fun when Notre Dame is relevant and in the conversation for really big things.

- The goal-line stand at the end of the game epitomizes why the Irish are where they are today. It's a microcosm of their season. Is there more to come?

Can this overachieving Notre Dame squad REALLY finish things off and win it all? From unranked to...

By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek

The virile goal-line stands.

The iron will in the middle of a defensive line that simply has not buckled at all – not once, in any meaningful sense.

The efficiency and wisdom of a quarterback who plainly lacked a high football IQ in September.

The knack for making the timely play in the cauldron of searing pressure. The uncanny and unerring ability to right wrongs, fix problems, and force opponents to make three or four extra plays.

These have been the defining characteristics of the 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They're the characteristics of the 2002 national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. They're the characteristics of a team that has avoided every landmine in a season when every national title contender has displayed enough flaws to render itself vulnerable under the right (or wrong, as it were) circumstances.

The following is the lament of a beaten team, not a victorious team, after a typical 2012 college football clash: "Notre Dame (or Team X) was beatable tonight." It sounds intellectually and emotionally convincing. It even possesses a certain small ring of truth. In the end, though, it is a coulda-shoulda-woulda claim that can't be allowed to carry weight at the debate table.

Sure, USC fans and SEC fans (especially Florida Gator fans) saw the Fighting Irish kick five field goals while allowing the Trojans – with a freshman quarterback, Max Wittek – to move the ball down the field. One could craft a case which says that if not for a few plays here and there, USC could have created an all-SEC event on Jan. 7, 2013, in Miami.

Yet, isn't that what high-stakes competition under the klieg-light glare of late November is all about? Much like the Heisman Trophy debate – a necessarily granular comparison between closely-matched candidates – late-season college football games turn on a few plays. It is precisely the ability to regularly win that handful of plays which elevates one team over another. Notre Dame – like Ohio State in 2002 and, for that matter, Tennessee in 1998 – constantly stood on the precipice, ever so close to defeat. Yet, the Irish never fell off the ledge. They always rose above the moment… and each and every opponent.

That's how 12-0 seasons are created… with or without style points.

By Bart Doan
Follow me @Bart_cfn

Irish eyes? They smile. Because again, Notre Dame did Notre Dame things tonight again.

It wasn't pretty at all. It was Coyote Ugly late in the game, but that's how the Irish roll. It's not pretty, but the job gets done, 2002 Ohio State style.

When I went on a radio station earlier this week, I was asked why I think Notre Dame is the best team in the country. The answer was easy. They finish games. It might not be a Picasso. It might not be a Mila Kunis. It might be a date from a dark foam party the first weekend of college season. But the bottom line is, they get it done. Again, that was the truth.

Lane Kiffin will be crucified, and rightly so for his play calling late in the football game after a 53 yard sling to Marqise Lee that wound up inside the five yard line of Notre Dame. But that is where men have been made in this game, and that's where the Irish thrive. Even after a pass interference call brought the Trojans the football inside the five with plenty of time left, there as no budging. Kiffin let Wittek try a sneak. No dice. Kiffin let Wittek hand the ball off. No dice. Kiffin made an atrocious call, down nine, to try to get a touchdown instead of a field goal with a timeout and plenty of time to not worry about the clock. He didn't..

And when the rubber met the road, the Irish forced an incompletion and the fate was sealed.

So this particular story keeps adding chapters. Notre Dame finds ways to win, no matter how, where, or when. It smells of a team of destiny, if such things exist aside from broadcasting and writing hyperbole. Tonight, they sealed their fate one game from utopia. Well deserved, if you ask me.