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Allen: Irish 60 minutes away from best season ever (Dec. 12)

Chris Allen | Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sixty minutes.

The 2012 season has been an epic four-month journey for Notre Dame, from Ireland to California and everywhere in between. But those sixty minutes are all that remain.

Sixty minutes. An hour of football between the Irish and a most improbable championship.

At stake is a simple proposition. It has been 125 years since the first season of Notre Dame football in 1887. In that time, the Irish have amassed the greatest history of any program in college football. But if Brian Kelly and his team defeat Alabama and hoist the crystal ball at midfield of Sun Life Stadium in January, they will have capped off what will be regarded as the greatest season in Notre Dame history. The history books that tell tales of The Gipper, the Four Horsemen and the Era of Ara will be rewritten around the miracle run of Manti Te’o and his brothers. In a sparkling history, 2012 will be the crown jewel.

You would be right to point out that I have not been alive for a Notre Dame national championship – those golden years were before my time. But this group of Irish players has a special claim at glory, and with a crystal ball in tow they will have achieved more as a unit than any previous iteration to wear the blue and gold.

A win over Alabama would bring an undefeated, national champion Notre Dame team to an unprecedented 13-0 record. First, the obvious: no Notre Dame team has ever won 13 games in a season before, not to mention doing so without losing a game. It is a remarkable number. 13 times Notre Dame will have lined up against an FBS opponent, and 13 times it will have fended the opponent off. In 1988, Lou Holtz’s Irish went 12-0 to set the record for wins in one season already tied by this year’s group. Before that, it was customary for national champion Irish teams to finish 10-0, 9-0 or even 9-1.

But it’s so much more than numbers. It’s the collective revival of passions that occurred this fall, the rumbling of decades-old fervor and the waking of seemingly dormant echoes. At no point in history has Notre Dame been declared dead and irrelevant in college football more than in the past decade. It has been 24 long autumns since Notre Dame touched the crystal ball and stood at the mountaintop of college football – the longest drought previously was 17 years between 1949 and 1966. While Notre Dame stood still and cycled through one disappointing coach after another, the college football world was seemingly passing it by. The SEC rose as a dominant conference and new polished offenses with speed and athleticism made the Irish look archaic by comparison. Even in 2010 and 2011, with Kelly at the helm, the Irish were out of gear and lost to Tulsa and South Florida on their own hallowed Stadium ground.

Then 2012 happened.

Every clich̩, every slogan used to describe the decline of Notre Dame is now out the window Рwith a first-year quarterback, an inexperienced secondary and an unranked spot in the preseason Associated Press poll, Notre Dame ripped off a season that nobody who works outside the walls of the Guglielmino Athletics Center could have seen coming. The season has been a cathartic release for a fan base that had grown tired of pointing to a past that was fading further into memory by the year. The Domer faithful have new heroes now. A whole generation of Irish fans are seeing a nationally relevant Notre Dame for the first time. If it is Notre Dame that leaves the field in Miami the victors, they will tell stories of 2012 for decades, and they will do so pointing to a bronze statue of Kelly outside the house that Rockne built.

The debate of which Notre Dame team is best on the field is another one entirely – and a fun one at that. But if Te’o and Kelly raise the Coaches’ Trophy under a sea of falling confetti, the debate of which Notre Dame team will have accomplished the most will yield an easy answer: It will be the current group.

Before they can stand as immortals in Notre Dame lore, though, they must conquer one final hurdle, equally simple and steep.

Sixty minutes.

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.