(MCT) — CHICAGO — Out in crisp, near-midnight air late Saturday, the thaw began. Notre Dame players lingered on the turf of Boston College’s Alumni Stadium knowing that one loss — just one — by one of two teams might mean a shot at a national title. It was now too bright and too tantalizing a reality to deny, diminish or otherwise disregard.
“You can’t really ignore it, as much as you say you want to focus on yourself,” Irish tight end Tyler Eifert said, smiling. “Obviously we still have two more games, but we notice when people lose.”
By morning, the Irish were on the case of making their case. They had been deemed the nation’s best team in the coaches’ poll by the man who coaches them, a generally defensible move by Brian Kelly. Besides, his club ended up where it was expected to end up by nightfall: No. 3 in the new BCS standings. One loss away.
Evoking their delayed charter flight back from Massachusetts, the Irish were going everywhere and nowhere at once. They need only one Oregon or Kansas State loss ... but they need one Oregon or Kansas State loss. Their BCS average of .9396 was .0101 behind Oregon and .0278 behind Kansas State — a fraction closer to the Ducks but further behind the Wildcats.
Notre Dame had done everything it could and basically idled while moving up. BCS No. 3: For now, and possibly for good, a terrific and terrible place to be.
“Things are going to happen throughout the season where other teams are going to lose, and it’s going to help our probability to move up,” cornerback Bennett Jackson said. “We really don’t try to focus on it too much. We try to keep our eyes and heads focused on the game ahead. If it plays out in the end, it plays out in the end.”
So for weeks, Notre Dame avoided BCS politicking. Maybe it was inevitable, but consider the campaign in gear as of Sunday.
“If you want style points, look at our defense, look at the schedule that we played, 10 (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams,” Kelly said. “It’s pretty clear that this football team has been built around its defense, and we’ve lived up to that each and every week. We’ll just keep working on one win at a time and let other people figure out where that puts us.”
Notre Dame has a case. There is the schedule currently ranked 25th-toughest by opponents’ winning percentage, versus 41st for Kansas State and 59th for Oregon. There is the defense now tied for No. 1 in points allowed per game at 11.10. There is a quarterback, Everett Golson, who “is getting better and better each and every week,” according to Kelly.
But after a skin-of-their-teeth escape versus middling Pittsburgh and a distinctly lo-fi night at Boston College, it may be impossible for the Irish to motivate massive voting blocs. It certainly won’t help blowout efforts that burgeoning receiver DaVaris Daniels is lost until a bowl game after Sunday surgery to repair a broken left clavicle.
In the coaches’ poll, the Irish are 81 points behind Kansas State, just like last week. They are 114 points behind Oregon, up from 110 the week before. There is enough to make people wonder, it seems.
“Each team has their own distinctions,” Kelly said. “The distinction of this football team, it’s the No.1 scoring defense in the country. It’s proven that against very, very good teams all year.
“If you look at national championship-caliber football, you’ve got to look at a defense, and so that’s why we feel strongly that our football team has put themselves in the discussion. We’ll let others decide, but I think we’ve played our way into the discussion.”
Where they are in the discussion, for the moment, is the problem. At No. 3, inextricably one loss away. A really good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.