The next three Saturdays just might make or break Notre Dame's BCS hopes.
After Saturday's contest against No. 18 Stanford, the Irish face unranked (but stronger than that) Brigham Young before facing No. 13 Oklahoma in Norman, where the Sooners have only lost four times under coach Bob Stoops.
A 2-1 record over these next three games likely would provide enough of a cushion to Notre Dame to its first BCS bowl since January of 2007, regardless of what the team does against USC the last week of the season. If Notre Dame beats USC and has 11 or 12 wins, then of course they'll be plucked for a top bowl -- but if they don't go into Los Angeles and win, a 10-win Irish squad would be a great bet to make a BCS bowl.
Fanbases often speak louder than rankings, and Notre Dame's fanbase arguably offers more national clout than any other in college football. We saw it last year, when the Sugar Bowl took No. 13 Michigan over No. 8 Kansas State because, and nothing against K-State fans, Michigan's fanbase is regarded as much stronger.
That kind of stuff happens all the time with bowl selections, and Notre Dame may benefit from it even if they're 10-2 and rank below a handful of teams.
But that kind of bet-hedging isn't something coach Brian Kelly is interested in, obviously. The Irish aren't shooting for 10-2 -- they're just shooting to win their next game.
"We don't talk about that level from 30,000 feet because it doesn't do us any good," coach Brian Kelly said. "All we can focus on is what we can control on a daytoday basis. When I do maybe press conferences or talk to the media, sometimes I let our team know, listen, I'll talk in those terms. But among us, it's about today and what we do today 37."
The defenses Notre Dame will face in these next three weeks are among the best in college football, even if Stanford did allow Arizona to hang 48 points and rack up 617 yards on Saturday. Those totals dropped Stanford's total defense from 24th to 54th and its scoring defense from 21st to 42nd, but by the opponent-adjusted S&P rankings (explained here), the Cardinal still possess the nation's 11th-best defense. Going by that, Oct. 6 was much more of an aberration than anything else for the Cardinal D.
But Stanford's defense isn't exactly rolling, even if its full-season work has been much better than it showed last week. A defense that is rolling, though, is BYU -- the Cougars' D ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring defense, allowing 8.8 points per game. Only Notre Dame (7.8) and Alabama (7) have been better, and S&P pegs BYU as the second-best FBS defense.
Oklahoma, too, rates in the top 10 defensively by S&P and has a top 20 scoring defense. The Sooners are a little further off, though, and if Notre Dame looks past BYU a week from now, that could be a problem on Oct. 20.
After OU, Notre Dame gets Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest before USC. If the Irish head to Los Angeles with one loss, they'll be in excellent shape. Two losses, and the pressure's on.
And these next three games will likely determine what direction Notre Dame goes before and after Los Angeles.