Poll Position

Notre Dame won its tenth straight in manner similar to each of the previous nine: with a defense that absorbs punches, not points.

A throwback screen. Play-action screens to both the field and boundary. Wheel routes to runners slipping out of the backfield following play-action. A slip-screen across scrimmage. Two reverses, bootlegs left and right, myriad bubble screens (quick looks and throws to the sideline).

That's a lot of effort for three points.

Boston College came to play Saturday night, answering the call in a manner few thought the Eagles were capable, punching big brother and chief rival Notre Dame repeatedly. They won the turnover battle and they hit like the lost ghosts of Eagles past. And like upset-minded BYU nearly one month prior, they relied offensively on mis-direction and deception to attempt to dent the Irish defense, but unlike the Cougars, last night's hosts boasted the added weapon of a quarterback capable of threading the needle when in rhythm.

And still they trailed 14-3 at the break; 21-6 at the final gun.

No. 3 Notre Dame showed up in Chestnut Hill, controlled the clock with a couple of mistakes on offense, suffered no major defensive breakdowns, and won a game it was never in danger of losing against a team that never considered defeat.

Lowly 2-8 Boston College deserves credit for rising to the occasion, if not the level of the 10-0 Irish. After all, Brian Kelly's group is among the nation's trio of title contenders for a reason, one again on display in front of a prime time national audience -- defense, arguably the nation's best.

The Irish don't allow touchdowns -- just nine in 10 games -- and its unlikely anyone outside Salem, Oregon could prove otherwise between now and next Labor Day Weekend. The Ducks might get their chance to do just that, but if BCS history has taught us much its this: we have no idea how many more losses Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame might combine for over the next three weeks.

The only near certainty is that there'll be at least one among them, just as there was for thought unbeatable Alabama on Saturday afternoon thanks to new SEC foil "Johnny Football" and his upstart A&M Aggies.

If Notre Dame can beat Wake Forest and USC it will likely play for the national championship in January -- an impossible dream for any rational Irish fan that saw the 2012 season nearly derailed two months ago by in-state punching bag Purdue.

Winning the next two is the hard part. The rest, college football historians know well, generally takes care of itself.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Kelly's Irish committed just one turnover in four previous games outside of South Bend. Last night there were two, both fumbles, both careless and costly to an offense that should have put up north of 30 points but again managed what appeared to be less than its best.

"Our offense did enough to get by," said Kelly post-game.

They've found a way to be better than the opponent's offense each week, whether that mean scoring just two field goals and a touchdown to fend of Michigan, or three of both to upset Oklahoma.

Kelly, who had proven prior to his arrival in South Bend he was a Grade A program builder, added another element to his BCS resume, one that's taken the previously mediocre Irish to the doorstep of the BCS Title Game this fall.

He and his staff improved a spot they found deficient: game management.

"There's all these factors of managing a football game which we're really trying to do a good job of because we felt like in the past we didn't always manage the game as well as we could have based on the circumstances," said first-year offensive coordinator Chuck Martin in early October.

Upset losses to Tulsa (2010) and South Florida (2011) are examples of prior game's lost due partly to game circumstances. So too were close defeats vs. peers such as Michigan (2010, '11), Michigan State (2010), and Florida State (2011) -- all winnable games lost late, whether through lack of player concentration, heavily debated coaching decisions, or absence of the ephemeral and elusive clutch gene that the 2012 Irish apparently possess in spades.

There's a reason both Kelly and glass completely-full fans point to the team's 18-3 record since the Irish started 0-2 last season. Of the three defeats, only one could be counted as a game the Irish should have won or was mis-managed (FSU). And since that 0-2 start last fall dropped Kelly's South Bend record to a troubling 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less, his Irish have since rebounded to win eight of nine such contests.

Oddly, its those nine close calls that seem to trouble Irish fans with a new set of priorities, namely: Its not enough to win, the Irish must now win with flair and by a healthy margin, to boot.

Don't hold your breath.

The 2012 Irish are following a formula modern Notre Dame fans would have given a collective right arm for prior to the season: dominant defense, intelligent if unimaginative offensive play-calling, power, ball control, and on occasion, caution.

Kelly has delivered South Bend its best overall product since 1993. Two more wins will make it the best since 1988. The rest of the journey, the part out of Kelly's control, will likely take care of itself.

In the unlikely event 12-0 is not enough, 13-0 against the best week-to-week slate any 2012 contender faced will have to do.


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