By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) There was no more disgusting subject in the sports world a year ago than college football.
Cheating scandals, eligibility scandals and scholarship issues are always standard fare in college football and you get used to them.
However, when last year’s Jerry Sandusky story broke and the Penn State cover-up that went with it, it was enough to make even the most die-hard college football fans take a detour to the vomitorium.
Even if you could get past that disgust, there was something monotonous about college football. If you were not totally in love with the Southeastern Conference, you were bored by the national championship results on an annual basis.
If it wasn’t Alabama, it was Louisiana State. If it wasn’t Louisiana State, it was Florida. It was one SEC school or another winning one national championship after another.
If you liked the Big Ten, your teams were laughed at and disposed of early. Every once in a while Oklahoma in the Big 12 or USC in the Pac 12 would make a run at glory, but college football was following the same script year after year.
It might do the same again this year, but there is an old (new) interloper that may have something to say about it.
For the first time in 24 years, Notre Dame is worthy of National Championship consideration. Back in the day, the Fighting Irish were the standard bearers in college football.
The old-timers had tales of George Gipp and Knute Rockne. There was the legendary 1966 team coached by Ara Parseghian that played Michigan State to a 10-10 tie in the Game of the Century.
Tim Brown won the Heisman Trophy in 1987. Lou Holtz coached Tony Rice, Mark Green and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail to the 1988 national championship.
There have been some decent teams since, but there have also been some embarrassing ones. They have been coached by Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie “Mr. Warmth” Weis and they have been ordinary.
Brian Kelly has a real team now, one that plays a choking defense and knows how to take advantage of offensive opportunities.
If you watched the Irish in the first part of the season, you saw them open eyes with consecutive wins over Michigan State, Michigan and Miami.
But last week’s 30-13 at Oklahoma has thrown Notre Dame into the national championship picture. They still have a tough game with USC at the end of the regular season, but the chances are excellent that they will handle Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest before taking on the Trojans.
Linebacker Manti Te’o may or may not be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, but he is clearly a mid-first round draft pick next April and he has a chance to make it to the No. 5 or No. 6 spot by the time the draft comes around.
Te’o had another stellar game against Oklahoma with 11 tackles, a sack and a game-clinching interception. The Sooners had just 15 rushing yards, and Te’o simply refused to yield.
Offensively, Everett Golson is growing into his role as quarterback of this solid team. He did not have stellar numbers against Oklahoma, but he completed 13-of-25 passes for 177 yards and he also ran for a touchdown. He also held onto the football and made smart decisions throughout the game.
Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels had just two catches for Notre Dame, but both came on scoring drives. The sophomore has a chance to be a difference maker because of his athletic ability.
Notre Dame still has an uphill fight to get to the national championship game. In addition to the USC hurdle, Kansas State and Oregon are also undefeated. If they all remain unblemished, Kansas State has an edge because it will play two top-25 opponents in its next four games. Oregon could play four top 25 teams in its final five games.
But Notre Dame could make the national championship game against powerful Alabama with a break or two.
Even though the SEC would still be present, it’s a game that would be a lot more compelling than the Alabama-LSU rematch college football fans were forced to endure last January.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.