- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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After the big night comes the hangover, the time to relish a program-defining victory and bask in the ease of three relative cupcakes.
Except Notre Dame's hardest work may just be beginning.
Getting up for night games in East Lansing, Mich., and Norman, Okla.? Easier than bringing the same punch to Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest — the trio with a combined 10-14 record that the Irish must pulverize in making their BCS title-game case.
Notre Dame can likely sleepwalk to an 11-0 mark at this point before its regular-season finale at USC. But with the No. 3 team in the BCS standings holding off No. 4 by 0.0011 in overall average -- and with Nos. 1 and 2 holding realistic shots of running the table -- complete performances like the one the Irish displayed Saturday night become all the more necessary.
Because with them come style points.
There is no shame in winning 20-17, 13-6, 20-13 or 17-14. Brian Kelly will not change his approach, but even he acknowledged Sunday that doing more than simply taking care of business is kind of important.
"I think in an ideal world, yeah, all our games, if they were blowouts, that's the way you want them to be designed," Kelly said. "But I don't think that there's any actual conversation in the way we practice or prepare that would get that to be something that we even talk about.
"So the reality of it is it's clear that you want to win your games and you want to win them in convincing fashion, but there's nothing that we will do practically that will emphasize that in any way, and it kind of becomes a moot point for us to even discuss it."
The discussion right now, nationally, is where the Irish stack up among the other unbeatens. No. 4 Oregon is not far behind, and its remaining opponents -- No. 17 USC, Cal, No. 14 Stanford, No. 11 Oregon State and a potential Pac-12 title game -- will give the Ducks the chance to bridge that narrow gap.
Defending national champion and current No. 1 Alabama travels to No. 5 LSU and hosts No. 16 Texas A&M before a pair of cupcakes (yes, that includes Auburn) gives way to a likely stiff opponent in the SEC title game.
And No. 2 Kansas State hosts No. 24 Oklahoma State and travels to TCU and Baylor before hosting No. 23 Texas.
"If we start listening to 'national championship' and 'BCS,' we'll lose a football game," Kelly said after Saturday's win. "They're a pretty smart group. They know if they stick with what we've done, and stick with the process of just preparing for Pittsburgh, they'll be fine. If they start thinking about all those other things and listening, we'll lose."
They put up 30 points against the nation's No. 15 defense in as hostile an environment as they will face all season. Their rookie quarterback delivered the best performance of his career.
Stick with what they did, and there may be a whole lot less worrying about those other things.
After the big night comes the hangover, the time to relish a program-defining victory and bask in the ease of three relative cupcakes.Except Notre Dame's hardest work may just be beginning.