After winning half of their games by nine points or fewer, including two hair-raising escapes in overtime, it's clear these Irish have something else going for them as well.
"Not saying it was lucky, but luck doesn't hurt," said Terry Brennan, who played at Notre Dame in the late 1940s and coached the team from 1954-58. "The point is, they got the break and they took advantage of it. That's the key."
The Irish have six weeks to prepare for the BCS title game on Jan. 7, but coach Brian Kelly's restoration of the Notre Dame mystique could linger much longer.
The Golden Dome atop Notre Dame's administration building has regained its luster at a school where coaches Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis all failed to restore the program to its most recent glory under Lou Holtz in the late 1980s. All told, Notre Dame lost at least three games every season between 1993 and this fall — not bad, but not good enough to contend for national titles.
Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, a Notre Dame alum, said when he took the job in 2008 he found no reason Fighting Irish football could not be great again.
"I became convinced there weren't any insurmountable hurdles, institutional hurdles, something in our approach or our system that made it so we could never be this successful again," he said in a phone interview Sunday.
Just three years after taking over a 6-6 team with ancient expectations annually dwarfed by the modern realities of competing at a Catholic school in frigid northern Indiana with tough academic standards, Kelly has put the Irish back on top.
"One of the things I really wanted in a coach was somebody who ... would be a CEO coach," said Swarbrick, who hired Kelly to replace Weis. "I think what you're seeing in this third year is the maturation of that staff into a really cohesive unit."