By JJ Stankevitz
The last 20 years have produced three legitimate championship-contending Notre Dame teams. The first two had those hopes dashed with losses to Boston College, with BC besting a pair of undefeated Irish teams in 1993 and 2002.
This year, though, may be a different story. The Irish have played markedly better away from South Bend than at Notre Dame Stadium, with an average margin of victory on the road and at neutral sites of 28 compared to 4.6 at home. Nobody around the team seems to know why, but that's certainly a point in Notre Dame's favor heading into Saturday's game at Boston College.
Notre Dame's offense, too, looks like it might finally be starting to click. Everett Golson struggled through the first three quarters against Pittsburgh, but engineered a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback in what turned out to be a miraculous win for the Irish last weekend. DaVaris Daniels -- son of former NFL defensive end Phillip Daniels -- may finally be taking a step forward and Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Aktinson III comprise a talented trio of running backs.
Defensively, Manti Te'o has garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy hype as a linebacker, something that's pretty well unheard of. He won't win the award, but he'll likely join Ndamukong Suh as the only exclusively defensive players to earn a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist. Te'o is the emotional and physical leader of a suffocating defense, without which Notre Dame wouldn't be close to the 9-0 record they're currently sporting.
Stephon Tuitt is closing in on breaking Justin Tuck's single-season sack record at Notre Dame, and if he's leading the charge to pressure Chase Rettig, BC will have a tough time generating offense. Pittsburgh had success against the Irish last weekend largely on the ground and through a mix of screen passes, but BC doesn't have a running back the caliber of Ray Graham, so that Notre Dame's coming off a down week may not stand as a major reason for optimism.
But stranger things have happened in this series, and while the BC teams of 1993 and 2002 were better than this year's squad, that history is certainly in the back of the collective mind of Notre Dame fans. The 1993 game stands out, though, as Notre Dame was coming off a massive win over Charlie Ward's No. 1 Florida State squad. They were one win away from having a shot at a title in their bowl game, and lost 41-39 to BC.
"There was no consoling," former Irish safety Jeff Burris recalled Friday. "It was the complete opposite we have experienced the week before, obviously, when we were on the top of the world. And now you feel like you just let the world down. I honestly can't tell you I remember a word then-coach Lou Holtz said because I was so heartbroken."