Ever since the days when Lou Holtz ran Notre Dame's football program in the late 1980s and early '90s, the Fighting Irish have been eager to get themselves back in the conversation of the nation's elite.
Former head coach Charlie Weis saw some success in the late 2000s with Brady Quinn at quarterback, but could never consistently put a winning team together, losing at least three games in each of his five seasons, including an abysmal 3-9 year in 2007.
Success of that sort, or lackthereof, doesn't cut it for a university with 11 national titles, good for the fourth-most all-time. So the Irish hired Brian Kelly in 2010, and this decade under him has been a bit of a rocky one.
Notre Dame has been ranked at some point in nine of Kelly's 10 seasons as head coach, including the previous nine. As we know all too well in college football, though, many teams receive votes in the AP poll that should not. Such has been the case for Notre Dame in five of the past eight years, ending the season unranked, proving how overrated it was at one point in the season.
A recurring joke of questioning the Irish's legitimacy seems to make its way around the college football landscape every year due to how overrated some of Kelly's teams have been, and rightfully so. Notre Dame fans continuously hold onto their team's storied history, even though the Irish haven't won a national title in over three decades. But this year, they might have some sound reasoning behind that.
Ian Book is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country and is a seasoned leader of a team that made it to the national semifinals last season, falling to Clemson, 30-3. And while making the college football playoffs is a feat of its own, getting beat in dominant fashion like the Irish did brought that same joke back up again, questioning Notre Dame's legitimacy and calling it overrated as usual. It was the Irish's biggest chance to put itself back in the conversation regarding the country's elite football programs since 2013, when it lost in similar fashion to Alabama in the BCS national championship, 42-14.
Notre Dame has decisively gotten manhandled in its two biggest games since the Holtz era ended, and Saturday's contest with No. 3 Georgia is another example of the same.
The Bulldogs are loaded at each and every position, led by a seasoned junior quarterback in Jake Fromm that has been excruciatingly-close to bringing Georgia its first national championship since 1980. Kirby Smart put his team into the conversation Notre Dame wants to get into by dominating Southeastern Conference play and hanging tight with elite Alabama teams the past couple years.
Taking on this Georgia team, on the road in Athens, is as tall a task as any, but it's a golden opportunity for Notre Dame to disprove all the doubters and put itself firmly in the national title conversation. One could argue this is an even bigger game for the Irish than last year's CFP semifinal matchup, considering a win on the road in a hostile environment against an SEC and national powerhouse could very well be more difficult than beating a top four team at a neutral site.
Book certainly has the leadership and experience to make Saturday's contest a close one, but the biggest question lies on the defensive side of the ball. Notre Dame's offense has proved it's one of the best in the country, putting up 91 points in its first two games. But giving up a pair of touchdowns to both a poor, rebuilding Louisville team and 14 points to a far inferior New Mexico squad brings up a bit of concern.
This game will be very telling of the kind of team the 2019 Irish unit is. A win isn't necessarily crucial, as just proving they can hang in there for 60 minutes with a national title contender in Georgia will prove Notre Dame is for real this year.
People will realize the Irish aren't just some overrated, over-hyped team that looks good early against weaker opponents and falters toward the end of the season. If they play a close, hard-fought game with the Bulldogs, the nation will gain respect for a team that's been eager to receive some for quite some time.
That being said, there's no telling what a win in Athens will do for this program. Maybe, finally, Kelly has figured out how to get Notre Dame back into true prominence — something that's rarely been done the past 30 years.