It’s been 19 years. 19 long, sometimes very rough, years since the last time Notre Dame was ranked #1 in the polls, but Sunday afternoon when the AP and Coaches Polls were released, the Irish found themselves alone at the top with the rest of the college football world looking up at them.
After taking care of business on Senior Day with a 38-0 beating of Wake Forest – just Notre Dame’s second shutout in the last 10 years – Notre Dame was the beneficiary of upsets to both former #1 Kansas State and former #2 Oregon vaulting them into the top position for the first time since Lou Holtz led the Irish to a #1 ranking after beating Florida State in 1993′s epic showdown.
In the AP Poll, Notre Dame was the unanimous choice as the top ranked team in the country while in a bit of ridiculousness, three votes didn’t go the way of the only undefeated team in the country in the Coaches’ Poll. Alabama received two of the three with Georgia receiving the third. Apparently being undefeated isn’t as impressive to some having a loss to a top 10 or 15 team. Interesting, huh?
Regardless of those three stray votes, the Irish are firmly in postion of the top spot in all of the polls that matter – including the BCS. Since the BCS did not exist the last time Notre Dame was ranked #1 in the human polls, this is the first time Notre Dame has occupied the top spot in the BCS.
With one game remaining, Notre Dame will be playing for a berth in the championship game on Saturday when they travel to Los Angeles as the only undefeated team in the country eligible for the title game. Should the Irish defeat the Trojans, everyone else will just be playing for second position. Vying for that second spot right now are Alabama and Georgia. The two SEC foes are on a collision course in the SEC Championship game with the winner almost certainly securing a berth in the title game as well.
Notre Dame’s path to #1 in the polls has been extraordinary this year after the Irish started the season unranked. As Notre Dame has piled up win after win enroute to its first 11-0 record since 1988 though, they have slowly and steadily climbed the polls and ascended into a position that would have seemed impossible for most Notre Dame fans to imagine this time last year.
The Irish head into the holiday weekend with more to play for than they have in almost 20 years, but now also have a huge target on their back heading into the Colosseum giving Brian Kelly and staff a new teaching point to caution their players against. All Kelly needs to do is point to the last time the Irish were ranked #1 as a cautionary tale for his players though since after moving into the top spot 19 years ago the Irish only remained there for just one week before surrendering that position.
For Notre Dame fans, the holidays will be much happier this year if the Irish are able to hold onto this position longer this time around.