Just like that, it seems, Notre Dame is back among the teams in college football. The Fighting Irish were unranked as the season opened and in their third year under head coach Brian Kelly. Four games into the season, however, Notre Dame is back in the top ten rankings.
For Irish fans, and alumni like me, the sudden turnaround seems stunning. Sure, we had high hopes when the season began; as we have almost every year despite the disappointing results over the last 20 or more seasons. But the team had major question marks, including at quarterback, at it seemed best to reserve our enthusiasm.
Now, headed into week six of the college football season, Notre Dame is 4-0 and has stunned even those of us who hold her most dear.
As the season started, the Notre Dame schedule appeared particularly daunting. The Irish were unranked off consecutive 8-5 seasons under Kelly. Five of their 2012 opponents made the preseason Top 25 polls, and three of them - USC, Oklahoma and Michigan - were in the top ten. Heading into the October 6 game against the Miami Hurricanes in Chicago, Notre Dame is ranked higher than all five of those opponents seen as preseason powers.
The Irish are ranked ninth by the AP and 10th in the coaches' poll. Where USC and Oklahoma were in the top five earlier this season, they now sit at 12 and 14, respectively, according to the coaches. Stanford, still ahead on the Notre Dame schedule as well, dropped all the way to 18th after last week's loss.
As Notre Dame prepares for its Shamrock Series game at Soldier Field, they are the only remaining team in major college football that has not allowed a rushing touchdown all season. In addition, the Irish are the only major college team that has not trailed their opponents at any point during the season thus far.
"We've continued to maintain the same core beliefs and the same defensive ideologies that we've had since we've gotten here," maintains Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. But the results are certainly more impressive.
Luck of the Irish
It is difficult for a team to climb from outside the polls into contention for BCS postseason berths. Yet Notre Dame has done it after just four games. To be fair, they got some help. First USC lost to Stanford, then Stanford got knocked off themselves. Oklahoma was upset by Kansas State. In some respects, Notre Dame's climb up the polls has been a case of passing others who were falling down.
But Notre Dame remains in position to return to a BCS bowl game and, if things fall into place exactly right, could be in the mix for a possible national championship bid for the first time in a generation. There is a long way to go and a lot that could happen - good and bad. But there is no doubt that Notre Dame has rejoined the college football upper echelons, and that makes fans like me want to dance our own little jig.
Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.