A year ago, Notre Dame was only a few days away from taking on Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl -- a far cry from where the Irish are today, breaking for Christmas as they prepare for the BCS Championship Jan. 7. Notre Dame finished 2011 with eight wins, unranked in all postseason polls.
If Notre Dame beats Alabama to win the BCS Championship, they'll have won five more games than they did last year. That's a major improvement, but not the biggest jump of previous BCS champions:
2002 Ohio State: 7 wins
While Ohio State didn't have the bump of a conference championship, Jim Tressel's Buckeyes took advantage of the NCAA allowing teams to schedule 12 regular season games in addition to playing in the now-defunct Pigskin Classic, meaning Ohio State had 13 regular season games on its schedule. Maurice Clarett's emergence helped push Ohio State from seven to 14 wins, including an upset over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to claim a national title in Tressel's second year at the helm.
2000 Oklahoma: 6 wins
Oklahoma hadn't finished in the AP top 25 since 1993, but Bob Stoops led the Sooners to a championship in just his second year in Norman. Whereas most of Stoops' teams after 2000 were successful behind a powerful offense, this team won thanks to a stingy defense that only allowed an average of 278.9 yards per game. It's fitting, then, that OU beat Florida State 13-2 in the Orange Bowl to claim its first championship since 1985.
2010 Auburn: 6 wins
A common thread: The three largest win increases of BCS champions came in each coach's second year. Following an 8-5 start to his Auburn career, Gene Chizik -- and, more importantly, Cam Newton -- led the Tigers to a perfect 14-0 record, complete with nail-biting wins over Alabama in the Iron Bowl and Oregon in the BCS Championship. But unlike Ohio State, Auburn didn't survive after the departure of its transcendent championship talent, as Chizik was fired after a 3-9 2012 season.
2003 LSU: 5 wins
Here's the team Notre Dame would equal in the BCS era. Nick Saban's Tigers split a national championship with USC (the AP No. 1; LSU was the BCS No. 1). 2003 was Saban's fourth year in Baton Rouge, and was keyed by freshman running back Justin Vincent and quarterback Matt Mauck stepping in to a full-time starting role. And, of course, defensively this LSU team was outstanding, allowing only 252 yards per game.
2012 Notre Dame: 5 wins?
Most of these other teams had a breakout performer or two on the national stage, helping push a quick turnaround. Most of Notre Dame's returning players were known entities, and while Everett Golson was good enough, his first year isn't in the same vicinity as Clarett or Newton. But Notre Dame's pulled off this improvement on the backs of its defense, with an offense that generally won't put the Irish in a position to lose. To this point, that formula has been good enough for a 12-0 record. A 13-0 record would represent a massive turnaround, even if it's not the biggest in the BCS era.