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Notre Dame Football: Top 10 Moments of 2012

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Notre Dame's Best Moments of 2012

Matt Cashore- USA TODAY Sports

It's been a banner year for Notre Dame and it has the potential to get even better.

The Irish find themselves undefeated at 12-0, they boast a Heisman finalist as well as the coach of the year and they are playing in the BCS National Championship next month. There's been a lot signature plays and moments throughout the season that's led up to this point.

Whether it's a goal line stop in overtime, avoiding upsets while doling out upsets of their own or inspirational performances this season had it all. Not many people predicted the Irish to be this good at the beginning of the season with an unproven quarterback under center and a tough schedule but they went out and proved everyone wrong anyways.

Manti Te'o could probably make up this entire list but after all it is a team game. He certainly is the Irish's best player and a lot of their success is due to his phenomenal play this season. Everett Golson, the redshirt freshman quarterback, exceeded expectations, didn't make many mistakes and now finds himself starting in the national championship game. Naming Golson, who threw 151 touchdowns in high school, the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season turned out to be the right move and now look where it has them.

Head coach Brian Kelly has done a special job this season but it's not over just yet. There's still a chance to add at least one more memorable moment this year come January 7.

But for now here are Notre Dame's top 10 moments of 2012.

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10. Everett Golson's Spring Game Performance

Matt Cashore- USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2012 season there was plenty of questions surrounding who would be under center for the Irish but that was all solved during the Blue/Gold game.

Redshirt freshman Everett Golson put on a show, 125 yards passing for 2 TDs, and clearly was the best QB on the field that day. Head coach Brian Kelly named Golson the starter mostly based off of that performance and it looks like it was the right decision now doesn't it?

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9. Manti Teo's Game Against Michigan

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Te'o was coming off a very emotional game the previous week against Michigan State after losing both his mother and his girlfriend. He played inspired and lit a fire underneath his teammates that propelled them to an upset of the Spartans.

The next week the Irish took on Michigan and Te'o had arguably his best game of the season. He finished with eight tackles, three tackles for loss and two interceptions. His play helped the Irish shut down flashy QB Denard Robinson and the rest of the Wolverines offense.

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8. Brian Kelly Being Named Coach of the Year

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Pretty much everywhere that Brian Kelly has been he's turned the program into a winner. Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now Notre Dame and he's finally being honored for it.

Kelly was named the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year for 2012 as he has the Irish at 12-0 and playing for a national championship. His job this year is the most impressive of all because of the microscope that the Irish are under and their difficult schedule. He's done a masterful job this season and while other coaches may have had better cases but there's no doubting that Kelly deserved it.

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7. First Signature Win: Upset of Michigan State

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The off-the-field tragedy that happened to Manti Te'o was sad but it certainly had Notre Dame playing inspired football for one of their teammates and it led to their first signature win of 2012.

Notre Dame went on the road and took out No. 10 Michigan State in dominating fashion, winning 20-3. After the Irish's win people quickly began to realize that maybe the Irish were for real and not just a fluke.

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6. Winning in Ireland

Matt Cashore- USA TODAY Sports

There's not much that's better than Notre Dame playing a game in Ireland. Seems fitting to watch a team called the Fighting Irish play in the place that inspired their nickname and it was even more fitting how the game turned out.

Notre Dame dominated Navy from start to finish en route to their first win of the season in front of 49,000 people. Irish citizens and fans alike were treated to a show and it's something that a lot of the visiting Notre Dame fans can remember for the rest of their lives.

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5. Avoiding Pitt Upset

Matt Cashore- USA TODAY Sports

There's always one game in the season that is a designated trap game and for Notre Dame it was Pitt.

The Irish were still riding high after upsetting Oklahoma and it set up the perfect scenario to get upset themselves. It looked like their perfect season was going to come to an end down 20-6 in the fourth quarter but they rallied, benefited from some lucky mishaps by the Panthers and forced the game into overtime where they won 29-26.

Once they rallied and won the game it was hard to think that Notre Dame wouldn't be able to overcome anything else the rest of the season.

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4. Upsetting Oklahoma in Norman

Matt Cashore- USA TODAY Sports

The win over Oklahoma was probably when the country finally realized that the Irish were as good as advertised. Not many people gave the Irish a chance to pull off the upset on the road but they proved all the doubters wrong.

They dominated the Sooners 30-13 in Norman, a place where Oklahoma rarely loses, especially in the fashion in which they lost. Notre Dame had everything going for them and it turned into their most complete victory of the season.

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3. Manti Te'o Being Being Named Heisman Finalist

Jerry Lai- USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame has seven Heisman Trophy winners in the history of their program and they had a shot at an eighth this season when linebacker Manti Te'o was named a finalist for the award.

Te'o eventually came in second place behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel but there's no overlooking the special season that Te'o had.He finished the 2012 regular season with 103 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery and seven interceptions. He was the leader of the nation's best defense and he deserved the trip to New York.

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2. Luck of the Irish Against Stanford

Brian Spurlock- USA TODAY Sports

It's never bad to have luck on your side and since Stanford's version was out of the picture it was the Irish who benefited from a little good fortune.

Notre Dame got a goal line stop in overtime but when taking a second look at the play it seemed that Stepfan Taylor actually broke the plain and scored the winning touchdown in overtime but the refs had already blown their whistle and called the play dead. It went to review but the play was upheld and the Irish remained undefeated.

There's no doubt that the fourth-down, overtime goal line stand is one of the signature plays of the 2012 season for the Irish.

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1. Punching Ticket to the BCS National Championship

Matt Cashore- USA TODAY Sports

All that stood between the Irish and a national championship berth was their bitter rival USC. There's no doubting that the Trojans weren't as good as they were predicted to be but a rivalry game doesn't take into account records, anybody can win.

Despite all the pressure that the Irish were under, knowing what was at stake, they calmly went out and took care of business 22-13. It wasn't the prettiest of performances but it got the job done and it punched their ticket to New Orleans to play for the BCS National Championship.

It's been a long time since the Irish have had a championship caliber team but all must be right with the world once again.