To guarantee itself a berth in a BCS bowl game – which was the whole point heading into the season, if you’ll recall – Notre Dame must win the rest of its games, starting with a showdown Saturday night against USC at Notre Dame Stadium.
Such is reality after the turnover-prone Fighting Irish opened the season with back-to-back losses to South Florida and Michigan.
The good news is, Notre Dame has been playing like team worthy of a BCS berth. Defensively, the Irish can put the clamps on oppo-nents. Offensively, they have enough balance and playmakers to remain potent against quality competition if they can get steady play from quarterback Tommy Rees and avoid the miscues that plagued them early.
‘‘From my perspective, they look like a BCS team,” NFL and Notre Dame analyst Mike Mayock said. ‘‘Without 10 turnovers in the first two games, they would be undefeated. You are what you are; they are a two-loss team right now. But they .â€‰â€‰.â€‰â€‰. should win every game [remaining] with the exception of Stanford being kind of a toss-up.”
If Notre Dame can make it two consecutive victories against the Trojans, a season-ending showdown against Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck and a Stanford team ranked eighth in the BCS standings looms. The Irish will have to extend their four-game winning streak to nine to make the Thanksgiving weekend game at Stanford Stadium a potential BCS-or-bust proposition.
Here’s a week-by-week look at what stands between Notre Dame and the kind of season it expected:
Signature victory: 30-9 over Cal on Saturday.
Key stat: Quarterback Matt Barkley has set single-game records for pass completions, yards, touchdowns and total offense this season.
Degree of difficulty: 8.
Quote: ‘‘They’ve made it, I’m sure, their Super Bowl by putting a bye before it, putting it at night,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said of the Irish. ‘‘We’re glad to be a part of their history.”
Signature victory: The Midshipmen still are searching for it.
Key stat: Navy ran for 367 yards against Notre Dame last season.
Degree of difficulty: 4.5.
Quote: ‘‘Offensively, this team is capable of beating Notre Dame again,” play-by-play voice Bob Socci said. ‘‘Defensively, this Navy team is searching. We have a lot of young guys, especially in the secondary.”
AT WAKE FOREST
Signature victory: 35-30 over Florida State on Oct. 8.
Key stat: The Demon Deacons are averaging 297 passing yards per game.
Degree of difficulty: 6.5.
Quote: ‘‘The Wake Forest program is really coming up,” former Demon Deacons tight end and longtime Bear Desmond Clark said. ‘‘Notre Dame is not a powerhouse, either. This is a winnable game for Wake Forest.”
AT MARYLAND (FedEx Field)
Signature victory: 32-24 over Miami on Sept. 5.
Key stat: The Terrapins’ defense is allowing 435 yards per game.
Degree of difficulty: 5.
Quote: ‘‘Maryland has been in every game outside of the Temple disaster, when they were beaten 38-7,” play-by-play voice Johnny Holliday said. ‘‘Every other loss could have been a win had it not been for injuries and turnovers at crucial times.”
Signature victory: The Eagles’ only victory was a 45-17 rout of Massachusetts.
Key stat: Boston College is ranked 105th in the country in scoring offense and total offense.
Degree of difficulty: 3.
Quote: ‘‘Boston College will be thoroughly outmanned,” said Mayock, a Boston College graduate. ‘‘They have a lot of injuries this year and have struggled against average competition and are going to have to play Notre Dame on the road. .â€‰â€‰.â€‰â€‰. It will be really difficult for Boston College to compete.”
Signature victory: The Cardinal has yet to play a top-notch foe.
Key stat: Stanford is ranked fifth in the country in scoring offense and second in rushing defense.
Degree of difficulty: 8.5.
Quote: ‘‘I told our team: ‘For those that will not get an opportunity to play professional football, you’re going to get an opportunity to see what it’s like going against Peyton Manning,’â€‰â€‰” Colorado coach Jon Embree said of Luck.