Eyeing national respect, Notre Dame gets a key road win at Oklahoma

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Earlier this week, Berry Tramel of the Daily Oklahoman wrote that Notre Dame’s famous “PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY” sign may have originated from former Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson in the late 1940’s. The slogan may (or may not) have been born in Norman, Oklahoma, but Notre Dame will take it, metaphorically, back to South Bend, Indiana, as its own.

When you go on the road and defeat a top-10 team 30-13, you deserve to be called champions.

Notre Dame (No. 5) answered the biggest question facing the team all year: how would the Irish score, especially without George Atkinson III, against Oklahoma (No. 8)? Well, like most things on offense, it starts with the ground game. The Irish ran the ball effectively for 215 yards. And quarterback Everett Golson, who has struggled mightily at times over the past few weeks, had arguably the best game (and undoubtedly the best throw downfield of play-action) of his young career.

Considering how stiff the competition was compared to other games for Notre Dame this season, this is arguably the best and most balanced the Irish offense has looked so far in 2012, and it came together in the biggest game. The final touchdown for Notre Dame was simply window dressing.

When was the last time you could say that about this offense? It hasn’t alwaysbeen pretty for Notre Dame this year, but they’ve won games their way.

Notre Dame’s defense, for which this team is more highly-regarded, played as well as it has all season. The Sooners had six offensive possessions in the second half. One resulted in a score, two in turnovers and four did not extend beyond 30 yards. Though the Irish allowed the first rushing touchdown of the year thanks to Blake Bell, they only allowed 50 yards on the ground before sacks.

We spoke earlier about Alabama (which is rolling over Mississippi State), Oregon (which ran over Colorado) and Kansas State being  the three most dominating teams to date this season. After tonight, it’s tough not to add Notre Dame to that list or to think it wouldn’t have a chance against any of them. Win big games and you’ll be considered big-time. That’s a perception Notre Dame has fought uphill against for the past two decades. Until this team shows they shouldn’t be taken seriously, though, they’ve earned the right to be.

The Irish were supposed to have a ridiculously difficult schedule this year, but Michigan State, Michigan and Stanford haven’t quite panned out to be as fierce as they were projected before the season. Looking ahead, Notre Dame shouldn’t have any trouble with Pitt, Boston College or Wake Forest before ending the year at USC. But if Notre Dame can keep winning — the BCS computers like the Irish right now more than Alabama and Oregon — it will very much be in the discussion for a BCS championship appearance.

Love Notre Dame or hate Notre Dame, college football is better off when the Irish are in the national discussion.