Notre Dame has reached the top of the college football mountain, climbing all the way to No. 1 in the BCS, AP and USA Today polls. However, with just one game left, it's now when the real pressure mounts for the Fighting Irish.
In the movie Die Hard, terrorist leader Hans Gruber states, "When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer."
Notre Dame is a lot like Alexander entering its final game of the year against a USC team that just got humiliated against UCLA and will play without star quarterback Matt Barkley, who injured his shoulder in that game.
There really is nothing left for Notre Dame to prove at this moment. However, at the same time, the Irish have to win this one game or they'll lose everything they have built over the first 11 weeks.
The Fighting Irish can't climb any higher than they are right now, nor does anyone expect them to be faced with much of a challenge against USC.
While the team will say all the right things in public, these Irish players have to be filled with an incredible sense of self-worth and hubris. They need just one more victory to earn a trip to the BCS National Championship Game, a spot that no one would have predicted before the season.
Beware, however, the team that has nowhere left to go. Hubris can do many things to many people, but more often than not, it is going to get them in trouble. Since there are a lot of personalities running around the Notre Dame locker room, we don't know what being No. 1 will do to them.
That unknown can bury a team, even at its highest moment. Notre Dame is everywhere right now. The football team is featured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated (h/t Bryan Armen Graham) with the headline "The Notre Dame Miracle."
PIC: Notre Dame football (and Touchdown Jesus) is the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. twitpic.com/bewgvb— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) November 20, 2012
Kara Spak of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a story about how nuts the campus is right now due to the success of the football team.
Students on campus — from freshman [sic] who weren’t born the last time the team was undefeated to seniors who weren’t born the last time the school won a national championship — described the atmosphere as “insane.” Professors are ending class emails with “Go Irish.” Fans by the thousands poured onto campus over the weekend to experience the heightened energy.
That intense pressure can easily be too much for anyone to bear. Certainly, with so much more at stake than just a win over USC, Notre Dame can't afford to get too high on itself.
USC is not the test this Saturday night. If it were, the Fighting Irish would have no problems. These Trojans, who started the year ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25, have lost three of their last four games and have given up 139 points in those three losses.
The Fighting Irish fought for weeks to prove to the voters that they deserved to be the No. 1 team in the country. Now they have reached their goal, thanks to losses by Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State.
How will the Irish respond to being put in the spot they felt they belonged all along? Will they do what Alabama and Kansas State couldn't and hold on to their crown? Like Alexander, will they be left wondering what's left after hitting their peak with one week to play?
We won't have the definitive answer until Saturday night, but based on recent history, it would be foolish to dismiss the pressure that the Fighting Irish feel entering this game. It is more dangerous than the USC team that will be on the opposite side of the field.