Notre Dame football sits solidly in third across the BCS, AP, ESPN, and USA Today college football rankings. In recent years, the Irish have held a much lower position in the polls. This year, they are resurgent under head coach Brian Kelly, 10-0 heading into their weekend matchup with Wake Forest.
Fans in South Bend and around the country are excited about the bowl game prospects and a potential undefeated season.
Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune hosts a weekly chat with fans, and said people showed a sense of community surrounding the team.
“I’m getting yelled at a lot less. People are liking the articles a lot better.”
Hansen said fans came out in full force for the Michigan game.“Almost the whole stadium was filled with people wearing leis in tribute to Manti Te’o, the All-America linebacker, who lost his girlfriend and grandma within 24 hours. It’s been kind of a really neat community feel. And as you know with Notre Dame up in the northeast corridor, in Texas, California, Chicago—there’s pockets of Notre Dame fans around the country. So it’s been kind of a big community sharing with a resurgence of Notre Dame.”
Hansen said Te’o was a huge part of Notre Dame’s evolution in to such a successful team this year.
“He has been a transformative player on and off the field and in the locker room. He’s certainly the best defensive player in America, maybe the best player in America. He’s helped turn around recruiting, he’s a scholar-athlete, he’s kind of the kid you want to adopt and be your son.”
Some speculate that Notre Dame’s status as an independent team could hurt its chances of playing for the national championship, but Hansen said he doesn’t buy that argument.
“When you look at the schedule Notre Dame laid out before the season, it looked tougher than anybody’s conference schedule. Some of the teams that were on it that Notre Dame beat early didn’t end up being the elite teams we thought they were. For example, Michigan State—that was considered an upset at the time with Michigan State being in the top 10. Now they’re about .500 and Notre Dame’s in the top five. I’m not sure that’s going to help them. I’m not buying it. Someone has to make a better argument to convince me.”
Hansen predicted Notre Dame could appear in the Fiesta Bowl or the Rose Bowl if the team doesn’t end up in the national championship.
“Fiesta, they’ll probably play an SEC team, either LSU or Texas A&M. If they went to the Rose Bowl, it would be neat, but they would play a team ranked far lower than them, it would be Nebraska or Wisconsin.”
Head coach Brian Kelly said he wouldn’t be upset if the team went undefeated but didn’t play for a championship. Hansen believes many fans share his sentiments.
“I’ve seen a split in that. I think some people are really appreciative because they feel like this is the beginning: this isn’t a one time, one shot deal. Then there are other people who feel like ESPN’s against them, every voter’s against them, and they want to play for that national championship.”
Kelly, in his third year as head coach, is in a position that was a turning point for a number of former Notre Dame coaches including Lou Holtz, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Frank Leahy.
“There’s something about third year magic about Notre Dame and the coaches who’ve gone on to greatness have all won a national championship in their third year. And the ones that didn’t do well in their third year got fired,” Hansen said. “[Fans] don’t want Brian Kelly to have any gray area, they want Brian Kelly to be the guy, so I think they want that national title.”