By Drew Markol, Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It sure seems to me that the echoes have been woken up.
Love the Fightin' Irish of Notre Dame or hate them, they are back and, boy, do they look good.
And the thing is, again love 'em or hate 'em, when Notre Dame is good, it's good for college football.
Why? Simply, Notre Dame is one of the only schools with a national following.
Put an Irish game in Seattle and fans with flock to it.
Put an Irish game in Boston and, of course, the subway alumni will flock to it.
Even put the Irish in Ireland and the folks will turn out.
Only Army and Navy, especially when they play each other, can bring out the crowd like Notre Dame can. But the difference is, everybody likes those teams (for another example, count the empty seats when Southern Cal came East last month to play Syracuse; the fans stayed away from droves).
Of course, Army fans don't like Navy; and, in turn, Navy fans don't like Army; but the college football fan in general roots for both because of what those academies (and Air Force) stand for.
Notre Dame provides an enemy for a lot of folks and that's the perfect combination. You have love and hate for the Irish, it's a perfect mix.
It also means, when the Irish are on television, people watch. They are not a regional broadcast.
Yes, yes, the dislikers (haters is too strong of a term, I hope) complain that Notre Dame has its own TV network showing all of its home games.
True enough, but you know why? Because, duh, they get the ratings that make it worthwhile for NBC to show them. Money, as always, talks. And when they're not playing at home, whatever network has the rights to their games shows it to the whole country.
And today, this season we mean, after years of not being so, Notre Dame is a legitimate contender for the national title. That makes them all the more intriguing.
After starting the season unranked - yet another case for not having preseason rankings because things change so much and the "experts" who do the rankings are far from "experts" - the Irish have slowly worked their way up.
They are No. 7 in the country this week at 5-0. The six teams ranked ahead of them are also unbeaten. That means Notre Dame is going to need some help to play for the national title, but that's getting ahead of ourselves.
What the Irish need to do is keep winning their games against what is a brutal schedule.
They still have to go to Oklahoma later this month and still have to go to Southern Cal in late November. Neither of those will be easy in the least.
Notre Dame will likely be the underdog in both.
If they win those two, and the rest of their slate, they will be in a big-time bowl come 2013.
Even if they end up with one loss, the Irish will be in one of the biggies.
If they do that, especially if they go undefeated, their legion of fans will mushroom.
If they don't do that, and they lose to both the Sooners and Trojans (and maybe somebody else in between), their legion of dislikers will smile and say, "I told you so."
Either way, people will pay attention and, in the end, that's what college football needs, folks noticing them.
As for the Irish program itself, nothing beats winning. Recruits want to go to places where the team is winning and is on television. South Bend provides both.
The fact they've gotten good (really good on defense - no touchdowns allowed in their last three games) is a credit to their coaching staff. Now, the fancy recruits are going to be arriving like they used to. The dislikers aren't going to like that.
Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several Philadelphia- area newspapers for over 25 years.
10/09 10:51:39 ET