It's rare that you hear Notre Dame is the top ranked team in the country. Being in South Bend for another Senior Day that had the Irish looking to finish undefeated at home for the first time since 1998. While that was nice, the path to the National Championship game hanging on the hope that Kansas State or Oregon would lose one of their two final games.
From 3:30pm to 11:30pm, Notre Dame was able to take care of business and then watch Kansas State and Oregon play simultaneously that night. The result was one me and my family didn't expect.
Let's take a look back at what happened in South Bend Saturday night.
3:30-5pm: Notre Dame is able to jump out to a 21-0 lead against the Demon Deacons. While the fans start to feel more comfortable, knowing it will not be a close game like Pitt was, the game on everyone's mind is USC-UCLA (for now). They announce that UCLA holds an early 17-0 lead over the Trojans. Some in the crowd cheer, unaware of how the BCS works despite their hatred of USC. The Irish are up 31-0 at the half.
5:00-6:45pm: The Irish put up another touchdown with Tommy Rees in the game at quarterback. The backup squads get in and so do the rest of the seniors. Coach Kelly didn't put Rudy in. HIGHLIGHT OF THE HALF: Notre Dame Stadium revolutionizes "the wave" by creating two different waves that collided together and kept going. There are some smart kids at that school.
After leaving the stadium and attending postgame mass, we rush to find a place to watch the Kansas State-Baylor and Oregon-Stanford games. Like everyone else in the college football world, we are shocked to see Baylor is beating the Wildcats by two scores. Stanford and Oregon are tied 7-7.
The talk begins around the table. "What if Kansas State and Oregon both lose?"
Let's wind the clock back for a moment. My dad, uncles and grandfather, along with some other memorable characters, have seen the best and worst of Irish football at Notre Dame Stadium. The last time Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 in the nation, they saw Boston College kick a game-winning field goal to upset the top ranked Irish in 1993. So it has been a lot of "what could've been" and "maybe next time" with this group for almost two decades. Trying to understand the feeling of going to bed that night the top team in college football was hard to wrap our heads around.
So, getting back to the scene at the sports bar. Baylor is starting to pull away, especially after an 80-yard touchdown run by Lache Seastrunk gave the Bears a 52-24 lead, and sealed the upset win.
"Well, we know we're number two" was the saying being thrown around at the table. On the television just right of the screen with Kansas State, Stanford's catch was under review, and later ruled a touchdown. We had overtime in Eugene. The top spot was still up for grabs.
Stanford wins the toss. The Cardinal force the Ducks to try a field goal. Alejandro Maldonado's kick kisses the left goal post. Now Stanford is a field goal or touchdown away from putting the Irish at No. 1.
"Can you believe this?" I said with an excited tone. Williamson's game-winning field goal for Stanford had almost all of us out of our seats at the restaurant celebrating a rival's victory.
There we were. In Mishawaka, a town right next to South Bend, watching the road to the BCS National Championship get a little easier for Notre Dame around 11:30pm Saturday night.
In eight hours, the college football landscape was turned upside down. The "#1" sign is pulled out of storage for the first time in 19 years and back on top of Grace Hall, and we were there in the area as the events of that afternoon and evening unfolded.
Gotta love college football.
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