Notre Dame is in position to vie for the national championship for the first time in a generation. The Fighting Irish are undefeated and ranked third in the country in the latest BCS college football rankings. If their dreams are to be realized, they must remain focused. They have a stretch of four games – beginning with a home game against Pittsburgh on November 3 – with mediocre teams that the Irish should beat. But if they begin to look ahead, they could stumble and lose it all.
The Panthers come into South Bend with a 4-4 record and have lost the last two meetings against Notre Dame. They also find themselves in the midst of turmoil. The team’s leading rusher, leading receiver and leading kick returner were all arrested and charged with assault on November 1 following an October incident with fellow students. Their status for the game against the Irish is uncertain.
All season long, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has stressed to his team the need to take one game at a time. So far, it has worked. The Irish are the only team in the country to have beaten four Top 25 opponents. They are coming off their signature win, a 30-13 victory at Oklahoma. Kelly is adamant that his team not overlook Pitt, and he is confident that they are listening.
“If we start listening to national championship and BCS talk, we will lose a football game,” Kelly says. “This is a pretty smart bunch.”
One of the goals for the Irish will be the continued development of quarterback Everett Golson, who seemed to blossom against the Sooners. Kelly and his staff have been patient with Golson, expanding the Irish playbook as his skills sharpen, and slowly allowing him to blend passing and running plays into his arsenal.
“That’s what we’re trying to get with Everett in there,” the coach maintains. “Not an offense that throws it 50 times nor an offense that runs it 50 times, one that’s balanced and difficult to defend.”
For Notre Dame fans, and alumni like me, it is hard not to get ahead of ourselves and look forward to a showdown with traditional rival USC in the regular season finale. If things go the way they should, the Irish will be undefeated heading to the Los Angeles Coliseum for that game, with a real shot at one of the two spots in the BCS national championship game.
Hopefully, Irish players aren’t thinking the way we are. They need to remain focused on the task at hand. “One game at a time” may be a cliché, but sayings become clichés because they are so true.
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.