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Scott Novak: Notre Dame already a winner

Published 10:37am Monday, January 7, 2013

It doesn’t matter if Notre Dame wins tonight’s Bowl Championship Series national title game.

It would be nice for Fighting Irish fans, but it’s not really necessary to call the 2012 season a huge success.

Why isn’t it important to beat Alabama for the title?

It’s quite simple. Just by the mere fact that Notre Dame has climbed back into national championship contention is good enough for now.

The Fighting Irish have been mostly irrelevant for the past couple of decades. Nobody took Notre Dame seriously as a football power.

But times they are a changing. Brian Kelly has returned the Fighting Irish to the top of the college football mountain and I expect them to stay there as long as Kelly remains the coach.

It wasn’t easy, but Kelly and his staff worked their magic once again — just as they did at Grand Valley, Central Michigan University and the University of Cincinnati.

They worked hard, shuffled players around to get the best possible product on the field as quickly as possible and then hit the recruiting trail to begin bringing in the type of players that Kelly likes.

I can remember the fan base grumbling when Kelly was hired. Apparently he wasn’t a big enough name for them. He wasn’t Urban Meyer and he wasn’t Jon Gruden.

Wonder how those people feel about the hire now?

Notre Dame didn’t explode out of the gate under Kelly’s direction. While the fans were impatient, those in the know watched and waited to see if things would turn around.

They did.

About halfway through the 2011 season there was a change in how Notre Dame was competing. The Fighting Irish came off a bye week and they were a different football team.

With that came bigger expectations — not from the fans, but from the coaching staff.

Brian Kelly knew he had something special brewing in South Bend and soon the world would know too.

Coming off the bye week, Notre Dame won its next four games before losing to Stanford in the regular season finale and then blowing a 14-3 lead against Florida State and losing 18-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Going 8-5 wasn’t good enough at Notre Dame and Kelly, his staff and the players knew it. It seemed to motivate them for the coming year.

The Fighting Irish were by no means a polished football team this season. They had a few clunkers along the way to being 12-0. But the one constant that I saw was a team that was willing to play hard from start to finish and a team that got better as the weeks went along.

I told anyone that would listen that I would believe in this team if they went to Norman, Okla. and beat the Sooners. I said I didn’t expect a win on the road against Oklahoma, but if they did, then I was all in when it came to being a believer.

A dominating 30-13 victory by Notre Dame made not only a believer out of me, but a lot of skeptics around the country.

Despite struggling to beat Pittsburgh in triple overtime, I still thought Notre Dame had a chance to run the table.

We have all heard about the “luck” of the Irish. Well it played a big role in getting this team to 12-0 and to South Florida for the title game.

No. 1-ranked Kansas State and No. 2-ranked Oregon both lost on the same weekend, which elevated the Fighting Irish to the top spot in the polls.

Now all they needed to do was beat USC in Southern California.

More luck came their way when standout quarterback Matt Barkley was unable to play due to injury in that game and the Irish needed only to beat the freshmen-led Trojans to cap an undefeated season and earn a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

A 22-13 victory made it all possible.

It has been more than a month since either team has played a football game. And in 60 minutes a championship was decided at Sun Life Stadium.

But in my eyes, Notre Dame is already a winner and so is college football.


Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at

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