Joe Knows

Outlined against a black November sky set against the smoggy backdrop of South Central, the Fighting Irish rode again. Not that the boys of Notre Dame had ever left the national spotlight — record graduation rates and a national television deal would refute such a claim.

But on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Irish did what hadn’t been done since before the team’s players were born by punching their ticket to the National Championship game in Miami on Jan. 7 against the winner of Saturday’s Georgia-Alabama SEC Championship.

To Notre Dame naysayers and skeptics alike, the Irish don’t have a championship pedigree and their perfect record is as much a result of luck as it is the actual strength of this or any other championship team—resolve. For them, Notre Dame, the Teflon team, has no business in the National Championship game based on how the Irish snuck past Pitt, BYU and Purdue.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter.

SEC fans can speculate all they want about how the Irish would fare in the so-called “big boy” conference. But in the end, it makes no difference; the Irish earned this one. Just look at the facts.

Notre Dame has played four ranked teams – just as many as Alabama — which is two more than Georgia.

Perhaps most impressive, however, might be that the Irish scheduled no FCS schools. Alabama played three, Georgia two. Heck, all but two of Notre Dame’s opponents figure to be bowling this holiday season.

This isn’t ignoring the SEC’s superiority in recent years. It isn’t downplaying its dominance. And it certainly isn’t meant to say it’s not the best collection of teams in the country. The arrogance and insolence is anything but baseless considering the conference’s winning the past six national championships.

Early-line odds favor Alabama by eight and Georgia by three over the Irish — rightfully so.

But don’t think that this Notre Dame team cares about the past, however recent or ancient it may be.

Need proof? The 2012 Irish are the first school to play in the BCS National Championship after starting the season unranked in the AP Poll.

The Irish knew they have would have to battle every week, not just against the opponent and history, but against a skeptical electorate.

And even then, they had to realize that many people would never give them the respect they earned.

That’s OK. That’s what playing “big-boy” football means.

It was borne out on the field when the Irish denied Stanford, Pitt and most recently USC of the goal-line  scores they needed to legitimatize the claims so many had made about this team.

The results haven’t been pretty and certainly not textbook, but this is what Brian Kelly means when he says his team doesn’t care about style points.

Don’t like it? New episodes of “Pawn Stars” will air on the History Channel starting at 10 p.m. on Jan. 7.

 

JOE CUNEO

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