All eyes are on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Oklahoma Sooners this week, as the two teams are set to make their case in the BCS discussion on Saturday night. ND is trying to make their case for a BCS title selection and the Sooners are, well, in the Big 12 title race. The story that not a lot of people have talked about is how much the Fighting Irish need this victory not just for their January plans, but moving forward in the future with national perception.
We’ve heard the last few years that ND isn’t relevant anymore, they’ll never be able to compete as a national power again and the program has nothing to sell recruits anymore. The old days where the coaching staff could sell high-school prospects on the idea of being on national TV doesn’t exactly wow anyone with all the other television deals now-a-days. It’s difficult for skeptics to see how the Irish can sway the nations’ top recruits away from Nick Saban, Lane Kiffin, Mack Brown and now Urban Meyer to name a few, but with head coach Brian Kelly at the helm and a BCS season, it’s possible.
Brian Kelly has guided ND to a level not seen since the 2006 season, but the 2012 squad certainly doesn’t want this season to end the way ’06 did. Notre Dame was hammered by the LSU Tigers in the 2007 Sugar Bowl, 41-14. That loss made it nine straight post-season losses and the truth is the Fighting Irish haven’t had respect from writers, outside fans or the entire nation really since 1988. Saturday is their chance to begin a trip on the road to gain favor with the nation.
Notre Dame is coming in as underdogs, despite being ranked higher in the BCS; yet, more evidence for the not relevant argument and it’s puzzling. As much talk as there has been about how the Irish defense hasn’t faced a team that can actually pass, which is true with the exception of the Miami Hurricanes, there isn’t much talk about how the Sooners have only been able to run the ball well against two atrocious FBS defenses and Florida A&M.
The passing game has been non-existent, averaging fewer than 200 yards a game, and the offense hasn’t lit up the score board, averaging less than 20 points a game, but with a very effective running game and a punishing defense, they haven’t needed anything more. Many don’t feel ND can compete with Oklahoma because their weak passing game, but keep in mind they have gone up against three teams in the top 20 nationally in passing defense and have come out victorious each time.
Everett Golson just needs to be as he was against Miami (17-for-22, 186 yards). That won’t be easy against the Sooners’ defense, but this won’t be a shot-out by any stretch. The Fighting Irish’s running game has a big opportunity to take over this game. Theo Riddick and Ciere Wood ran all over a BYU Cougars’ defense that has been better against the run than OU.
This is the week Notre Dame can show the nation in prime time they are serious players in the title race. If the Irish beat the Sooners all the doubt from media won’t be erased, all the annoyance from people tired of seeing Notre Dame on Mount Olympus despite no national championships in 20 plus years will most likely be at an all-time high. However, they can continue to build on the foundation Brian Kelly is constructing in South Bend and maybe BCS title hopes won’t be crazy anymore.