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November 11, 2012

Crossing The Lines

Irish Illustrated Editors Column

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. - The job done, Louis Nix sprinted toward the locker room. There was nothing more to see here, no reason to linger around Alumni Stadium on Saturday night after Notre Dame dominated but didn't dismantle Boston College.

The rest of the Irish followed the nose guard's lead, skipping the usual postgame fan fest to expedite takeoff for South Bend. By the time the Eagles started into their own alma mater, the Irish were long gone. No helmets raised. A smattering of smiles. A team that hasn't been here before acted like it has been regularly.

"We just wanted to finish the game," said Bennett Jackson. "It's a business trip to us. We wanted to finish and get back home."

For Notre Dame, this weekend's work was simply getting the heck out of the way. The Irish didn't score any of those clichéd style points, not that pounding Boston College is any way to tally them. But Notre Dame didn't suffer its first loss either, something Alabama and Louisville can't say after falling to Texas A&M and Syracuse.

Notre Dame isn't perfect. But its record is.

"It's hard to win," said Brian Kelly. "Our guys really played hard tonight. Played hard for four quarters and came up with a nice win."

It just wasn't a win anybody wanted to spend time addressing. For Notre Dame, this weekend will be remembered more for what happened 1,200 miles away in Tuscaloosa. For today at least, the Irish story is as much about Nick Saban and Johnny Manziel as Everett Golson and Manti Te'o.

The next time Kelly makes that sales pitch about how winning college football games is hard, maybe people will listen. Because if big, bad Alabama can crumble under the weight of a red-shirt freshman quarterback, maybe no team is safe.

That's a lesson anyone following Notre Dame should already know considering this was Boston College. Regardless, the Aggies offered an unforgettable reminder.

"We noticed it," said Tyler Eifert. "You can't really ignore it as much as you say you really just want to focus on yourself. We noticed that (Alabama) lost. Obviously we still have two more games that we have. We notice when people lose."

Alabama's shock loss doesn't clear a path to the BCS National Championship, it just removes the biggest roadblock.

Kansas State and Oregon figure to remain on top of Notre Dame heading into Sunday night's reveal of the latest BCS standings. But it's easier to catch two teams rather than three.

"With other teams losing, no one can really take it away from us but ourselves," Eifert said. "We kind of control our own destiny."

Not exactly, but that's exactly how the Irish should be thinking.

When Notre Dame heads to the Los Angeles Coliseum in two weeks it will walk onto a stage bigger than anything Kansas State or Oregon has left. Kansas State gets Baylor and Texas to close the season with a bye week in between. Oregon gets Stanford and Oregon State followed by the fledgling Pac-12 title game. The Ducks' path is the hardest, but they shouldn't get more buzz than the Irish did for beating the Cardinal. The Beavers don't carry much cache either.

Think the noise around Notre Dame is loud now? It will bust the Coliseum speakers when an undefeated Irish team meets a Trojans squad in turmoil on national television.

That's when Notre Dame can score some real style points, against a rival who patented the term.

Until then, enjoy the buildup to USC, from Te'o's curtain call in Notre Dame Stadium next weekend against Wake Forest to Golson's continued development. He might not be Manziel or Oregon's Marcus Mariota, but Notre Dame's red-shirt freshman looks older by the week.

Last week he led one of the biggest comebacks in Notre Dame Stadium history. This week he showed a power running the option that could kick Kelly's offense into overdrive.

Notre Dame scored three touchdowns in three red zone trips against Boston College. The Irish went 8-of-21 at turning red zone trips into touchdowns the past four games.

"I'm disappointed with a  couple turnovers, but I'm really pleased with the quarterback play," Kelly said. "Everett Golson played the way he needs to play, especially in the red zone."

That's about all anyone should ask.

Notre Dame survived and advanced on the same day Alabama did not. The Irish aren't perfect. They're not a classical national championship contender. But they're still undefeated and still in the title race. That's a good place to be.

Remember that whatever happens from here, the legacy of this season was never going to be forged on Saturday night against Boston College. Style points don't get scored against teams about to fire their head coach.

For Notre Dame there was only a job to do. And that's exactly what the Irish did.

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