The postgame roars from Notre Dame’s locker room echoed right through the Coliseum’s thick cement walls and metal beams Saturday night, moving around the 89-year-old arena like a long-absent force of nature.
After decades away, the Fighting Irish are back on top of college football — unmatched in the rankings, unblemished in the standings, and unequivocally ready for a chance to end a 24-year national championship drought.
Manti Te’o, the star Irish linebacker from Hawaii who led this improbable revival season, took a moment to listen to those echoes.
“This is where you want to be when you go to Notre Dame,” he said.
The Irish are No. 1 again — a Golden Dome atop their sport.
Notre Dame (12-0) beat Southern California 22-13 to complete its first unbeaten regular season since 1988. That’s also the last championship year for the school that produced a legion of the sport’s most memorable figures: Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen, Paul Hornung, Joe Montana — heck, even Rudy Ruettiger.
A no-nonsense win over Notre Dame’s intersectional rivals in Los Angeles capped a year of historic dominance for a defense led by Te’o, its inspirational Heisman contender. That defense allowed just nine touchdowns all season long, capped by four downs of unyielding play while backed up to its goal line by the Trojans in the final minutes.
“You just put the ball down in front of us, and if there’s time on the clock, we’re never going to give up,” defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said.
The Irish have six weeks to prepare for the BCS title game on Jan. 7, but coach Brian Kelly’s restoration of the Notre Dame mystique could linger much longer.
The Golden Dome atop Notre Dame’s administration building has regained its luster at a school where coaches Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis all failed to restore the program to its most recent glory under Lou Holtz in the late 1980s. All told, Notre Dame lost at least three games every season between 1993 and this fall — not bad, but not good enough to contend for national titles.
Just three years after taking over a 6-6 team with ancient expectations annually dwarfed by the modern realities of competing at a Catholic school in frigid northern Indiana with tough academic standards, Kelly has put the Irish back on top.