They do not have a quarterback capable of winning games by themselves such as Matt Barkley of USC or E.J. Manuel of Florida State. No running back on the team will guide them as much as De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon or Le’Veon Bell of Michigan State. They are without the explosiveness of a wide receiver such as Sammy Watkins of Clemson or Marqise Lee of USC. But the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have something that they have not seen in South Bend in years.
A defense capable of stopping opposing offenses. It is something that has been absent since the days of Charlie Weis, and even a little before.
That has all changed.
The Irish will likely vault into the Top 10 following another impressive defensive showing in a 13-6 win over the Michigan Wolverines. Led by superstar linebacker Manti Te’o, the Irish are for real. This is a team who can actually win games with their defense. They do not have to score 35 points per game because the defense is likely to allow just as many points. This team can sustain long drives when necessary, but it has been the defense that has them 4-0.
Granted, we have seen this before. The Fighting Irish start the year well and appear poised to make a BCS run, only to drop two or three games in a month, signaling that they were not all that good in the first place. But things look different this season.
The Alabama Crimson Tide have shown that you can win with a top notch defense and an offense capable enough of putting points on the board, especially when it results in a turnover. And as Notre Dame demonstrated last night against Wolverines dual threat quarterback Denard Robinson, they are more than capable or creating turnovers on defense. He accounted for five of the six Michigan turnovers.
This is also a different Notre Dame team, because this squad can actually close out big games. That has not been the case in past seasons, especially against Michigan. The Wolverines had defeated the Fighting Irish in each of their past three contests, with each game winning score taking place within the final 27 seconds of the game.
Not in 2012. Not against this defense.
Now, as exciting a start as this is for the Irish, expectations must still be tempered. The quarterback situation is unsettled, at best, between Tommy Rees and Everett Golson. Rees has outplayed Golson the past two weeks, and may have finally earned his starting job back. Still aside from tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Theo Riddick, this is not an explosive Irish offense.
And aside from the players, as always, Notre Dame has an absolutely brutal schedule. Having already played two games against teams who were ranked in the top 20 entering the contest, the Irish still have three games against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, as well as a couple of other rivalry games against teams who always step up when playing against the Golden Domers. They always take on one of the most difficult schedules in the country, and 2012 is no different.
Therefore, finishing the season undefeated or even with just one less will not be easy for Notre Dame. It would be the only way they could reach the BCS National Championship Game, but it will not be an easy task. With games against the Stanford Cardinal and Oklahoma Sooners, who are both currently in the top 10, as well a season finale against the USC Trojans, things will not be getting any easier for Notre Dame.
But after watching this team over the past two weeks, as they have shown an incredible amount of heart, they are certainly playing like a champion today.
Hopefully, they can continue to do so with each passing Saturday.