Being the No. 1 college football team and being the best college football team isn't necessarily the same thing. Even in these days of computer polls, media polls and coaches' polls all rolled into one.
Put a gun to my head and I'd agree with what most of the experts are saying six days from the Southeastern Conference championship game between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia. I'd say the winner of that game is the best team in college football.
But that doesn't mean undefeated Notre Dame doesn't deserve its No. 1 ranking over those two once-beaten SEC brethren.
More important, it doesn't mean the Fighting Irish can't or won't beat the eventual SEC champ in the BCS title game on Jan. 7 in Miami.
This may come across as blasphemy here in SEC country. So be it. Perfection is perfection, and ND has thus far achieved it over a 12-game world tour that began in Ireland, made its way west to Oklahoma, finally wrapping up in Tinseltown on Saturday night with a sterling performance against the nation's preseason best -- Southern Cal.
Not bad for a golden-domed bunch that began the season unranked in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Certainly there are those who would point to that fabled Irish luck as a huge reason for their season. Mediocre Pittsburgh should have beaten them in South Bend. A controversial official's call saved them against Stanford. They struggled with BYU. They beat the Trojans without preseason Heisman favorite Matt Barkley.
Doesn't matter. Hasn't mattered since Auburn ran the table in 2004 but was denied a BCS title game invite on style points.
Of course, had two teams from BCS leagues -- the Irish are independent in football -- also gone undefeated, ND probably wouldn't have reached the BCS title game this season, however wrong that might have been given the teams they did beat.
But when no one eligible for the BCS title game but the Irish failed to lose, the most storied name in college football history cemented its chance to finish No. 1 for the first time since 1988, when ND didn't need much luck to win its 11th consensus national title.
And don't think for a minute that they can't win. They may have the best college football player in America in linebacker Manti Te'o, who just may become Notre Dame's eighth Heisman Trophy winner.
Freshman quarterback Everett Golson gets noticeably better every week. The wide receivers are long and sure-handed and the lines are physical and formidable on both sides of the ball.
Then there's the coach, Brian Kelly, who may forever be The One Who Got Away to the Big Orange Nation, since most believe the only reason he didn't take the UT job in 2008 was because he believed the ND job would open at the close of the 2009 season, which it did.
The Vols' loss was clearly the Fighting Irish's gain, though it's difficult to imagine a more perfect fit for ND than a guy named Brian Kelly ... unless his last name was O'Kelly.
The critics say Notre Dame's been fortunate to get this far. That the Irish have faced good, not great competition to this point. That until they beat an upper echelon SEC team, they're something of a fraud.
But much of that has to do with the fact that ND is a defensive team instead of an offensive juggernaut. Those same criticisms were aimed at Penn State in 1986 before it toppled a loaded Miami team in the Fiesta Bowl. Similar charges were made against Alabama before it shocked Miami to close out the 1992 season both unbeaten and No. 1.
ND gave up more than 17 points once all season and that was in a three-OT thriller against Pitt. Moreover, the Irish twice stopped Southern Cal on fourth-quarter goal-line stands. That toughness and resolve only figures to get stronger over the next six weeks as a chip the size of the Golden Dome perches on the ND players' shoulders as they repeatedly hear how they can't and won't beat the SEC's best.
But the SEC hasn't faced the Irish. Southern Cal has, and when USC linebacker Hayes Pullard was asked by ESPN if ND was the nation's best, he answered, "Most definitely."
Said Kelly when asked to summarize the victory over the Trojans: "That's who we are. It's been our defense all year. Our offense is able to manage enough points."
Truth be told, that's how most championship teams are built. In both the SEC and beyond. So even though either Alabama or Georgia should have the talent to beat ND in the BCS title game, the Irish most definitely have a chance.
Especially if the SEC champs fail to appreciate that any team that can win at Oklahoma and Southern Cal can win it all.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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