Take heed Irish fans: it might not get much better than this.
Brian Kelly's third Notre Dame football team has been ranked No. 1 for 47 days, and crammed within that five-week span were seven major post-season awards for the program's best player, All-America mention for four Irish players, a pair of coach of the year honors for its leading man, and countless television shows, moments, radio spots, banquet speeches, and the like all celebrating your 12-0 Fighting Irish.
Add to that the addition of a top-tier high school running back prospect set to join its ranks in 2013. and the likelihood of another pair of All-Americans jumping on board with the nation's best recruiting class this weekend and the future appears nearly as bright as the present for South Bend's storied squad.
Soak it in, because one week from today, the mood among Irish alumni, subway alums, and lifelong fans offers no middle ground: the fan base will either be walking on air or lamenting for months what could have been.
Kelly and the 12-0 Irish will touch down in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. at approximately 4:00 p.m. (ET) today. The team will be greeted by a water cannon salute as they disembark and hosted thereafter as one of two programs of college football royalty through next Monday evening.
Its unlikely bowl week temptation won't overcome these Irish.
"I've always felt like in bowl games, you kind of let your guys go down on the first night or two and you kind of let them get out there and have a little fun and reward them for the bowl game," said Kelly. "Maybe I had a 2 a.m. curfew of something like that. We’re 11 o’clock (this trip). This is not a bowl game, you know what I mean? You’re playing for the national championship."
Notre Dame's current six-week infomercial for its unique mission in an otherwise muddled college football landscape (not enough can be written regarding Notre Dame's designation as the No. 1 program in the NCAA Graduation Success Rate rankings coinciding with its championship game appearance) will come to fruition in Sun Life Stadium. Fittingly, the defending national champions and the world's second-most storied football program, Alabama, stand in the way.
With so much to celebrate and so much still at stake, I'd like to take this moment to remind all subscribers and Irish fans of the essential truth regarding Notre Dame's present reality:
No matter what happens Monday night, it certainly beats the Sun Bowl…
Ready to Announce
Three of Notre Dame's four main remaining high school prospects plan to announce their college of choice this weekend during various All-Star games.
At Saturday's U.S. Army All-America game, four star safety prospect Max Redfield will formally announce his decision between the Irish and his previously planned destination, Southern California. Joining him with an in-game announcement is four-star defensive end Alquandin Muhammad. Once considered a Notre Dame lock, Muhammad will choose among the Irish, home-state Rutgers, recent entry Miami, and the defending champion Crimson Tide.
At Friday's Under Armour All-America game, four-star Florida running back Tarean Folston will pick between Notre Dame and Oregon, the apparent leaders ahead of home-state draw Florida State.
Other Irish prospects include former USC commit Eddie Vanderdoes (DT) and current USC pledges Torrodney Prevot (OLB) and Sebastian LaRue (WR). Each will make an official visit to Notre Dame's campus on January 25.
Notre Dame's current class sits at 22 pledges and the 2013 roster technically would be capped at 85 scholarship players should the Irish sign two more. That number, however, does not include likely transfers and/or medical scholarship alleviation due to career-ending injuries, something that felled two Irish student-athletes last August. (And a player has transferred out of Notre Dame for 30 consecutive off-seasons.)
While Irisheyes.com has thus long-believed the 2013 class would cap at 25, Kelly and Notre Dame could welcome more pledges late should information on transfers/medical situations become available prior to February 6 National Signing Day.
Six current pledges, Steve Elmer (OL), James Onwualu (WR), Corey Robinson (WR), Alex Anzalone (LB), Malik Zaire (QB), and Mike Heuerman (TE) will enroll at the University in January. The scholarship spot of each could thus be counted as part of the 2012 class, one that included just 16 players.
Long Road Ahead
The unfortunate downside to any meaningless football all-star game -- other than hours of televised self-aggrandizement, that is -- is the potential for injury.
Notre Dame pledge and four-star wide receiver Torii Hunter broke his femur during a January 1 Under Armour practice. According to a report by ESPN.com's Damon Sayles, Hunter's father, Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, noted the injury will likely keep his son out six to eight months, though Hunter, Jr., is expected to make a full recovery.