Hey, everybody, it's official: Notre Dame is back.
Nobody seemed to be giving the Fighting Irish much of a chance heading into this weekend's showdown against mighty Oklahoma; to hear the so-called experts tell it, Notre Dame was simply too slow, too plodding and too offensively challenged to have any chance at all of upsetting the supposedly superior Sooners.
The oddsmakers liked Oklahoma (big) in this one, and so did everyone else, too.
And yet, in the end, and against all odds, it was the Irish who came out on top.
In one of the most impressive performances that we've seen out of Notre Dame in years (seriously, it's probably been seven years since this program has looked this good), the Fighting Irish relied on a relentless defense and a balanced, opportunistic offense to knock off the Sooners, 30-13. The Irish defense, led by the spectacular Manti Te'o, held the Sooners to just 15 rushing yards and shut down Oklahoma on third down, too, limiting them to just 4 of 14 on third down conversions.
Symbolically, the meaning of this win is obvious; quite simply, Notre Dame is truly once again a force to be reckoned with. And while the Irish were probably disappointed to see that they only rose to No. 3 in the new BCS Rankings, and while it can't be said that they control their own national title destiny, the thought here is that, so long as the Irish win out, they'll find themselves playing for the title.
If that happens, it won't have happened because Notre Dame is Notre Dame, and therefore gets all the breaks. Rather, it will be because Notre Dame is really, really good. For the first time in a long time.
♦ Speaking of teams that are really, really good, let us turn our attention to Columbus, where Urban Meyer is basically doing exactly what we thought he would do: Turning the Buckeyes into a perennial powerhouse. There are many who believed (and, yes, I was among them) that Braxton Miller and the Bucks were walking into a hornet's nest up there in Happy Valley. Penn State under Bill O'Brien had been playing some really good football, and the Nittany Lion faithful, still angry and bitter about everything that has engulfed their program over the past year, were fired up for this one like they've rarely been fired up before. And then? Well, after enduring an up-and-down first half that saw the teams go into their locker rooms tied at 7, the Buckeyes completely outplayed the Nits in the second half en route to a convincing 35-23 win. Leading the way was Miller, who was far and away the best player on the field. The Buckeye signalcaller was strictly average through the air, but nearly unstoppable on the ground; by the time the final whistle blew, Miller had carried the ball 25 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns. If there was any doubt before, there isn't any now: Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten. By a wide margin.
♦ And then there's Alabama. No, there weren't many experts out there who thought Mississippi State had much of a chance of knocking off the Tide on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, but there were plenty who at least expected the Bulldogs to make things interesting for a while. Well, not so much. Nick Saban's unstoppable machine just kept rolling toward the national title game with a typically dominant 38-7 win. Once again, it was the Tide defense that made the difference, limiting Mississippi State to just 256 yards on the day. It's true that this Alabama team is anything but spectacular on offense, but with a defense this good--and a team this disciplined--that's hardly a concern. I just don't see anybody beating this team this year, or even coming close. Yes, they are that good.