Michigan lost, finally, falling in four overtimes to Penn State. Purdue did too, the Boilermakers only glimmer of hope this season came on a mid-September evening in Ross-Ade Stadium vs. a not-ready-to compete Irish squad. First-year head coach Darrell Hazell's troops are now 1-5, the lone victory coming vs. FCS foe Indiana State.
Undefeated Oklahoma fell from grace with a Red River Rivalry upset at the hands of previously left-for-dead Texas, 36-20. Also falling among Irish future foes were 1-6 Air Force -- the Falcons yielded 21 fourth quarter points in a 27-20 loss to San Diego State -- and 3-2 Navy, vanquished 35-7 at Duke.
Pittsburgh dropped an ugly 19-9 decision at Virginia Tech (now 6-1 with an opening loss to Alabama the only blemish) and in the shock of the weekend, previously fifth-ranked Stanford fell at Utah, 27-21 when the hosts came up with a final drive goal line stand that left the Cardinal -- and their hopes for a BCS Championship -- stranded at the Utes 6-yard line.
With Arizona State winning handily vs. Colorado, only the Sun Devils, USC (38-31 over Arizona), Michigan State (42-28 against Indiana), and Brigham Young (38-20 over Georgia Tech) won among 2013 Irish opponents.
But for Irish fans, their 2013 slate's collective free-fall is largely irrelevant. If Notre Dame finishes the second half at 6-0 they'll be selected for a BCS Bowl. Period.
If they don't, they won't be anywhere near the nation's top 20 in December, not with just three chances left to impress, relatively speaking, over the next six games.
Two Contests, Two Not-So-Much, and the CardinalStanford has, over the last two weeks, proved flawed, nearly losing to a solid Washington team and falling at Utah. The Utes had the Cardinal in an ideal "Trouble Spot," sandwiched between a revenge home game vs. Washington (the Huskies downed Stanford last fall) and what seemed to be a marquee contest vs. UCLA in Palo Alto this weekend.
Instead, Stanford needs a win to stay afloat in the Pac-12 race, especially with games at Oregon State and USC, plus a home date vs. supernova Oregon sandwiched between them over the next four weeks. The Cardinal could be tagged with three defeats by the time Kelly's crew hits the west coast.
It's the Trojans, of course, that matter most, both to the Irish and their fan base. No Notre Dame team has beaten USC in South Bend since Bob Davie was a dead-man-walking in 2001. The win came at the expense of first-year head coach Pete Carroll, a reality that makes nearly every word typed over the last two sentences seem impossible.
But USC isn't Notre Dame's only worrisome opponent before Thanksgiving Weekend on The Farm. Run-first Brigham Young is for real: not a national power, but a team that will come back to South Bend fully expecting to hammer the Irish on the ground just one season after falling 17-14 to a much better Irish defense.
The Senior Day scenario for Kelly's Irish vs. the Cougars complicates the proceedings a bit, though the fourth-year head coach is 3-0 on Senior Day at Notre Dame, ending a two-game Irish home finale skid with his inaugural season win over then-No. 15 Utah, 28-3. (Kelly has also defeated Boston College, 16-14, and last season Wake Forest, 38-0 in home finales.)
BYU is 4-2 with an opening loss at Virginia, 19-16, and a September 21 defeat vs. Utah, 20-13, a game that no longer qualifies as the mild upset it was at the time. BYU ripped then No. 15 Texas, 40-21 as its signature win. The Cougars produced an astonishing 550 rushing yards in a 679-yard performance that bloodied the Longhorns for the full 60 minutes.
Pittsburgh will put up a fight, as always, and that game gets tricky if Notre Dame enters with wins over USC and both Service Academies, previously.
Air Force and Navy? No chance. Neither Beau Morgan or Ricky Dobbs is walking through that door...
For now, it's USC or bust, and the Trojans appear to have new life since now that Lane Kiffin is no longer bumbling around its sidelines.
Notre Dame is 4-2 and in complete control of its own destiny. They're favored Saturday by just 2.5 points over the likewise 4-2 Trojans.
It might not be a "must-win," but it doubtless qualifies as a can't lose for Kelly and his staff.