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Irish Blogger Gathering: Senior Day Edition

Nov 15, 2012, 9:32 AM EDT

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So this is it. The final home game of the 2012 season. The Irish take on Wake Forest on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 pm ET on NBC, looking to close out an undefeated home campaign for the first time since 1998.

For this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering, I asked NBC Sports’ Keith Arnold about Notre Dame’s national championship hopes, the senior class and the Demon Deacons.

In turn, I answered a few over on Subway Domer’s blog. Funny enough, he asked me almost the same questions I posed to Keith.

Don’t forget to check out Inside the Irish and Her Loyal Sons for the rest of this week’s IBG.

So without further delay, here are my questions and Keith’s answers…

If Oregon goes 13-0, I think we can all agree the Ducks deserve a spot in Miami. However, If Notre Dame and Kansas State both finish 12-0, all signs suggest the Irish would be left out. Sure, I suppose I’m biased, but why is there no argument for Notre Dame? Nothing against the Wildcats. They’ve had an outstanding season. But if you look at the numbers, I think you can make a compelling case why a 12-0 ND team would deserve that second spot just as much as a 12-0 KSU team. Would the Irish be in a different position if they had beaten Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl last year?

That’s an interesting question, and you’ve got to wonder if the Seminoles ugly 18-14 bowl win helped structure the offseason narrative. There really wasn’t that much that separated Notre Dame and FSU, yet the Seminoles were a trendy national title pick and ND was on the periphery of the top 25, if only because their schedule was considered so difficult. I wrote this earlier in the week: Let’s just see Notre Dame get to 12-0 before we decide anything. If the Irish can beat USC, I fully expect the narrative to change and the Irish to receive a groundswell of support to get into the Top 2. And let’s see Kansas State get through Baylor and Texas first as well.

If three major BCS teams go undefeated, somebody is going to feel like they got shafted. Think about Auburn — from the SEC! — getting left out a few years back. That said, there are plenty of easy apples-to-apples arguments that can be made for Notre Dame jumping Kansas State in the rankings. But I think they need to be made after the regular season is over, as there’ll be a week of championship games when Brian Kelly will have every ability to use his political skills. Until then, I think it’s probably wasted oxygen.

Saturday will be the last home game for the 2009 recruiting class (and some 2008-ers). Obviously, Manti Te’o is not only one of the greatest players to ever wear the gold helmet, but also one of the best people to ever step foot on campus. But what about the rest of the group? Talk a little bit about their legacy.

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Mike Golic Jr. (57) will be one of 30 student-athletes honored on Senior Day.

It’s obviously an important class and one that did what many expected the 2008 class to do. It’s hard to overstate Te’o’s importance in the class, but he’s really the only elite defensive recruit Charlie Weis ended up signing, and he certainly did everything that was expected of him and more. Finding an under-the-radar local guy like Tyler Eifert, who could also turn out to be a first round pick, that’s pretty solid, too. That’s four first rounders in two seasons for Notre Dame, after struggling to get guys drafted at all.

There are disappointments in every recruiting class and this one is no exception. Some two-star guys didn’t do much, some four star guys didn’t do much. Some guys overachieved, some you wonder what might have been, like transfers Shaq Evans and Alex Bullard. But this class had a bunch of rock solid character guys, and a core group that contributed to making this 2012 team special. (They’ll also hopefully form a fifth-year class that should enter 2013 really highly ranked.)

This group really carried the torch from one coaching staff to another, and got a lot of the player development benefits that come with Brian Kelly. But their ability to buy in to a new team identity, and weather some tough times along the way will be a lasting legacy.

Despite the fact that the Fighting Irish did not dominate Pitt or BC, two opponents they were expected to cruise past, Notre Dame is a 24-point favorite this weekend, and a lot of fans are already looking ahead to USC. Should they be concerned with Wake Forest?

If Notre Dame is a true national title contender, there’s no reason to worry about Wake Forest. This team has been overmatched by every single competent football team they’ve faced and they’re a mess on the offensive line. While the game against Boston College was never in doubt, it was frustrating to see the Irish play things so conservatively down the stretch, and while style points haven’t been this team’s thing, dominating in victory isn’t a bad thing.

With Wake playing Notre Dame tough last year, Brian Kelly won’t struggle to get his team to focus on the task at hand, especially with the added emphasis of winning on Senior Day. But I don’t expect anything but a really vanilla game plan for the Demon Deacons, and while the staff would never admit it, I fully expect the preparation for USC to be already underway.

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