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8-0 Notre Dame: 8 Burning Questions

Answering 8 burning questions surrounding the Fighting Irish now that they enter the national title discussion.

Wesley Hitt

1. Despite Notre Dame's massive victory over Oklahoma this past weekend, the Sooners remain a highly talented team. Talk about what to we'll see from next year's OU team that will visit South Bend.

Their offensive line will only lose one starter and will get another back from injury next year, so for the second straight fall they'll be returning an entire unit up front. Also, 4 of their top 5 running backs will return, including their starter Damien Williams. Only Penn State transfer and senior Justin Brown leaves from a deep and young receiving corps---assuming Kenny Stills doesn't go pro after this season.

Defensively, there will be much more turnover.

5 of their top 6 defensive linemen exhaust their eligibility, as do one corner and a safety. Corner Aaron Colvin and safety Tony Jefferson may also test the NFL waters this offseason as well. If they do, that's just 3 returning starters on defense for Oklahoma.

Obviously, the loss of Landry Jones is going to affect the offense. It will be interesting to see how Blake Bell acclimates himself to the passing game after being a battering ram for two years. OU will be bringing back plenty of weapons and linemen on offense and Bell is going to add a lot to their running game, but I don't see the Sooners turning into a tough run-first offense any time soon, nor becoming more efficient through the air.

After going into Norman this year and grabbing a victory, Notre Dame might like its chances even more next season at home.

2. Looking ahead Notre Dame now enters the easiest part of their schedule with games versus Pitt, at Boston College, and versus Wake Forest before a season ending trip to Los Angeles. On a scale of 1 to 10 how worried should Irish fans be about tripping up down the stretch before meeting USC?

With the way this team's played, with the physical and mental toughness, with the elite defense and clutch offense, I'll put the worry scale at 3.5 out of 10.

On a game-by-game basis the tilts against BC and Wake are closer to a 1.5 to 2.0 range, but I may convince you that the upcoming Pitt game is closer to a 5---which I just might do on Thursday!

I know a lot of people are looking ahead to USC, but I don't think this team is going to be that foolish. I expect three wins and not a lot of drama over the next three weeks.

3. Well, let's look at USC for a second. Is there any way the Trojans can beat Oregon this weekend?

My heart says yes, but my brain is screaming...

It would help Notre Dame tremendously if USC could knock off the Ducks on Saturday, but it seems unlikely.

Oregon is better, maybe far better, and the best thing Lane Kiffin and USC can do to help the Irish is to win. I'd be shocked if the Trojans put in anything more than a mediocre effort.

4. Isn't the sudden downfall of USC's season a major blow to Notre Dame's strength of schedule? Do the Trojans even make the Pac-12 title game now?

Oh, it definitely sucks for Notre Dame's SoS. It's funny how the more likely scenario this season would be a two or three-loss Notre Dame team heading into LA to play an undefeated USC team. Now, the reverse might happen.

I'm not sure USC does get into the Pac-12 title game.

The Trojans, UCLA, and Arizona State all have two losses in league play. USC will get their shot against the Bruins, plus UCLA still has to play Stanford. ASU has beaten three of the four weakest teams in conference and have lost their last two league games. I don't see them taking 3 of 4 down the stretch against a tougher schedule.

USC likely loses to Oregon this weekend, so there's 3 losses. Assuming they take care of business against Arizona State and UCLA will it be enough? Good old Rich Rod already has 3 losses in league play, but his Wildcats face a not-so-difficult finish of UCLA, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona State.

The Cats might be able to sweep those teams and sneak in the Pac-12 title game with a 9-3 overall record. They'll likely be ranked higher in the BCS than USC and they also own the head-to-head matchup after this weekend's win over the Trojans.

5. The new BCS rankings came out last night and Notre Dame moved up to No. 3 behind Kansas State and Alabama. How upset should Irish fans be that the Wildcats are ahead of Notre Dame?

At first glance, I think there is plenty to be upset about. Kansas State is a solid 0.0253 points ahead of Notre Dame---a large margin for BCS standards---while the Irish are just .0011 ahead of Oregon.

However, Kirk Herbstreit made a great point on the BCS Countdown Show, and that is as long as Oregon remains No. 2 in the humans polls, which make up 2/3 of the standings, neither Kansas State or Notre Dame are going to pass them if all the teams remain undefeated.

Basically the computers love K-State and ND right now (the Irish are 1 or 2 in every computer poll) but Oregon hasn't hit the tough part of their schedule yet. They'll finish the season with games against USC, Stanford, and Oregon State---none of the human voters are budging on Oregon if they keep winning and soon enough those tougher games are going to move Oregon easily into 2nd place in the BCS as K-State and ND hit softer spots of their schedule.

So I don't think Kansas State is the threat to Notre Dame even though they have a decent lead in the BCS standings right now. The Big 12 is going to fold down the stretch and I can't see the Wildcats staying ahead of Notre Dame if they both win out.

The Irish really need Oregon or Alabama to lose.

6. What if LSU somehow beats Alabama this weekend at home? Will the Bayou Bengals re-enter the BCS title game discussion?

Of course they will, it's the SEC and I'm sure they'll shoot right up inside the top 3.

If LSU beats Alabama on Saturday we could be looking at a situation where Notre Dame continues its undefeated season and falls a spot to No. 4 in the BCS next Sunday night. It's probably going to happen anyway if Oregon beats USC.

The thing to take away is that right now, it really isn't looking good for Notre Dame's title chances insofar as scheduling, human voting, and the BCS standings are concerned. We're officially in a situation where the unthinkable could happen: Notre Dame goes undefeated and doesn't play for a national title.

However, the other important thing to remember is that things can change awfully quick. Teams thought to be invincible can lose, and that includes Notre Dame, Alabama, or Oregon.

7. Notre Dame, led by Brian Kelly, just went into Oklahoma and beat Bob Stoops. Would anyone have believed this could happen as few as 3 or 4 months ago?

It is pretty crazy. Of course there have always been people who thought we'd win this game as far back as the summer (I believe Miesle picked ND to go 11-1 after all and Bill Rubin has been picking ND every week since God knows when!) but I was a skeptic.

Stoops was supposed to be one of the two or three immortal saviors who could save Notre Dame football, and here comes 7-0 Brian Kelly laying a whoopin' on the Sooners in late October. That doesn't mean Kelly is our immortal savior but heck if it isn't a sweet sight to behold.

I like football history and the stats that come along with them. Brian Kelly has a great chance to at least go 11-1 in the regular season. He'd have a .710 winning percentage at Notre Dame by then. The Irish would really have a good shot at winning their bowl game too and suddenly a 12-1 season seems kind of likely.

12-1 season seems likely?

That's not crazy talk.

8. With Notre Dame racing out to a 8-0 start, what is the impact on recruiting for the 2013 class?

Well, it doesn't hurt.

It'd be great if the Irish had about 6 or 7 more scholarships to give out but they only have 2 or 3 left. The coaches are going to have to walk a tight rope to make sure they bring in the best talent because it's there for the taking right now. However, nothing is official until February.

The good news is that Alex Anzalone is planning a trip to South Bend this upcoming Sunday after the Pitt game. He was originally scheduled to come for the Wake Forest game but his high school team is likely to advance deep into the playoffs and make that a tough trip for his family.

Anzalone will be finishing up his early enrollment paperwork while in South Bend and he does not have any plans for a return trip to Gainesville so there's some positive signs that the Pennsylvania prep star will remain committed to the Irish.

Elsewhere, the whispers remain that New Jersey defensive lineman Alquadin Muhammad is a silent verbal to Notre Dame and will announce at the U.S. Army Bowl.

Florida corner MacKensie Alexander said the Irish were "his leader for a reason" after the Oklahoma victory.

What's more California defensive back and USC verbal Max Redfield has serious interest in Notre Dame and the coaches are still hot after Florida running back Tarean Folston too.

One of the difficulties of recruiting each season, and particularly at Notre Dame, is juggling your available scholarships with kids who want to commit now versus some higher ranked kids who will wait until the new year. It appears the Irish are in waiting game right now with a handful of recruits and if they keep winning they might round out the 2013 class with a few blue-chippers.