Notre Dame National Championship Bound: Why They're Special

Notre Dame National Championship Bound: Why They're Special

Everyone's spent the last three weeks (well, the last nine if we're honest) explaining why Notre Dame isn't as good as their record indicates.

Everyone has had a great time explaining why they're not worthy of a national title shot.

Now the Fighting Irish are undefeated and headed to the BCS Championship Game.

And they deserve it.

Consider these statistics for a moment.

On Sept. 15, the Irish beat then-10th ranked Michigan State 20-3. Yes, the Spartans ended up being one of the most overrated teams this year; their preseason ranking was a joke as they ended up 6-6 (3-5 in the Big Ten).

In that game, MSU running back Le'Veon Bell ran for 77 yards on 19 carries, and didn't get into the end zone.

Let's put that performance into perspective.

In MSU's 11 other games, Bell averaged 142.8 yards per game, rushing for 1,571 on 331 carries (4.8 yards per carry). He finished the regular season among the top-ten rushers in the country.

On Oct. 13, the Irish won an epic game in South Bend against a Stanford team that is now headed to the Pac 12 championship game (and potential BCS berth of their own). Not only did Notre Dame score more against Stanford (20) than the highly-touted Oregon offense (14), but Notre Dame once again faced one of the better running backs in the country.

In that game, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor ran for 102 yards on 28 carries. Like Bell, he failed to get into the end zone against Notre Dame.

Adding perspective to that performance, in Stanford's 11 other games Taylor rushed for an average of 114.7 yards per game. Only three teams - Notre Dame (3.6), Washington (3.6) and Washington State (2.8) - held Taylor to under four yards per carry this season.

Two weeks after defeating Stanford, the Irish travelled to Oklahoma. In that game, Notre Dame came away with a 30-13 victory against a Sooners squad that, in their other 10 games, averaged 44.6 points per game.

Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones had an impressive night against Notre Dame, completing 35 of 51 pass attempts for 356 yards. But Jones didn't throw a touchdown pass in that game.

Jones threw at least one touchdown in every other game he played this year, and had multiple touchdown passes in nine of the other ten games. Notre Dame was the only defense to hold Jones without a touchdown pass this year.

And on Saturday night, the Irish once again faced one of the premier playmakers in the country in USC receiver Marqise Lee. Lee is considered by many to be the best player in the country (he's at least on the short list with Texas A&M phenom Johnny Manziel).

In USC's 11 games before facing Notre Dame, Lee had 107 catches for 1,605 yards; he averaged 145.9 yards per game on 9.7 receptions. He was coming off an incredible five-game stretch in which he had piled up seven touchdowns and 924 yards on 54 receptions, a span that included games against Oregon and UCLA. Lee had been held to fewer than six receptions only once in those 11 games, and came into the game against Notre Dame as the nation's leader in receiving yards.

Against Notre Dame, Lee had five receptions for 75 yards. And, for only the third time this year, he was kept out of the end zone.

So yeah, Notre Dame's schedule might not have ended up being as sexy as a lot of people might have liked. And their offense isn't as awe-inspiring as some others near the top of the polls.

But give the Irish credit where it's due. They faced some of the best individual players in the nation, and they were excellent. Indeed, the Notre Dame game is the statistical outlier on the 2012 resume of each one of these heavyweights.

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