By Scott Frano ’13
Hannah Storm Journalism Intern
The Notre Dame football team has been told a lot of things this season: they’re irrelevant; they can’t compete while holding onto high academic standards; they’ll get run out of Norman by the Oklahoma Sooners; they’re overrated.
All of this has been said about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team this season. But as of November 18, it’s time to add something else, for the first time in 19 years: they are the #1 college football team in the country.
All season long, Coach Brian Kelly has emphasized the difficulty of winning games in college football. Alabama fans already found that out the hard way, and on Saturday night, Oregon and Kansas State fans were faced with that stark reality as they both fell in upsets.
With those three teams now left with one loss, Notre Dame is the last BCS-eligible undefeated team remaining at 11-0 (Ohio State is 11-0 but ineligible due to NCAA sanctions) and is ranked #1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, the AP poll, the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, the Harris Interactive Poll, and every computer poll used by the BCS.
This also marks a historic meeting of classroom and on-the-field achievement that gives new meaning to the term “student-athlete.” For the first time, a school ranks first in the BCS standings and in the current NCAA Graduate Success rate figures for football.
“I took the Notre Dame job wanting to have an opportunity to play for a national championship and have high graduation rates,” Kelly said earlier this week. “I think this year we are in a position to validate that, with the number-one rankings right now in football and graduation — that you can do both, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive in college football. I have not seen anything here in my time that will not allow us to continue to have the highest graduation rates and compete for national championships.”
After watching their team dismantle Wake Forest 38-0 on Senior Day, and saying goodbye to cherished players like Manti Te’o and Kapron Lewis-Moore, many students watched Baylor not just beat Kansas State but embarrass them, 52-24. That put the Irish in the de facto #2 spot.
When Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a field goal 2,214 miles away from South Bend in Eugene, Ore., it gave Stanford the chance to pull the upset in overtime by just scoring a field goal. It also set up a surreal situation: Notre Dame could be #1 with a Cardinal victory. When Jordan Williamson booted a 37-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Cardinal a 17-14 victory, it felt like the campus of Notre Dame erupted.
“Campus exploded,” said senior Andrew DeVries. “There were people everywhere screaming about it. A friend of mine said you could hear screams coming from Notre Dame all the way over at Saint Mary’s.”
Many students quickly rushed to Stonehenge to celebrate the victory as a student body.
“It was electric,” said junior Samuel Evola. “Not that our game wasn’t great, but watching Kansas State and Oregon lose and running to Stonehenge was one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced at Notre Dame.”
For freshmen like Pablo Dumas, the experience has been surreal.
“It’s an honor just being here,” Dumas said. “It’s our first year and we get the privilege to experience this.”
Atop Grace Hall, a high-rise building that was formerly a residence hall and now has administrative offices, sits a “#1” sign that is lit whenever a Notre Dame team in any sport earns that ranking. It was put there in 1973, after the Irish won the national title in football. On Sunday, the sign was lit to signify Notre Dame’s #1 football ranking in every poll and computer.
“There is really nothing better than walking back from the library at night and seeing that sign lit up,” said Evola. “It’s amazing.”
An already strong relationship among Notre Dame students and their team has grown even stronger this year. They feel as if they are a part of the group with the golden helmets, and the team, particularly through Te’o, has made it clear they feel the same way. It’s been an incredible year for everyone in the Notre Dame family.
“When the team wins, all the students, alumni, and fans alike feel like we were part of the victory, because they are deeply a part of us all,” senior Ellison Griep said. “Family supports each other through thick and through thin.”
And if there is one thing to take away from this past weekend, through all the commotion, excitement, and shouting, it is this: We are ND, and we are #1.