Reality Check – ND Closer Than Many Say

While we walked out of Sun Life Stadium late Monday night, my fiancee suggested that I stay away from Twitter, ESPN and the ND blogosphere until the weekend passed and the sporting world moved on from Alabama’s dominance and started refocusing on the NFL playoffs. Of course I should have listened, but I didn’t.

There has been an extremely broad array of reactions from the unrealistic “the refs screwed us” knee jerk, to the “I still love thee Notre Dame” goodwill following the worst beating the Irish have taken since 2007. The one reaction I have seen so much of, though, is that Notre Dame is still no where near a championship caliber program. That Alabama exposed Notre Dame’s true weakness and the Irish simply have too many deficiencies that need to be fixed. That Alabama showed us the bar that Notre Dame falls well short of – where Notre Dame will be lucky to be five years from now. Well, I am calling bullshit.

First, let’s take a step back and realize that Notre Dame just played in the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. You know, that game that 118 of the 120 FBS team didn’t qualify for? The one that Notre Dame entered as one of only two teams to not lose a game during the 2012 season?

It was readily apparent that Nick Saban was able to put a more talented group of 22 starters on the field on Monday night. I think most Irish fans would have agreed going into the game that, when you look at the players on an individual basis, Alabama had the edge. As we all know, though, having more talent doesn’t guarantee you anything, doesn’t necessarily make you a better team and certainly does not mean you are going to win every game. You won’t find many people arguing that Texas A&M has more talent than Alabama, that Georgia Tech has more talent than USC, or that Baylor has more talent than Kansas State.

It is incredibly difficult to win 12 regular season games even if you are “better” than every team you face. Hell, the national champ didn’t even do it this year. But Notre Dame did.

At the end of the day, yes, closing the talent gap with the best college football dynasty of our time would make it more likely Notre Dame is going to win a national championship in the near future. But let’s not pretend the Irish are far from it, and that all of a sudden Brian Kelly isn’t a championship caliber coach even though he was when he woke up on Monday. Alabama played its best game of the season and Notre Dame played one of its worst at the most critical time. If the Irish defense had tackled as well against the Tide as they had done in the 12 previous games and the Irish lost by 10 points instead of 28 how much would fans’ tunes have changed? Instead we’d be talking about how if a few breaks could have gone ND’s way that beautiful crystal trophy would be en route to South Bend.

It was a blowout, a drubbing, a demolition – it was whatever horrible adjective you want to use. But Notre Dame was close, and to say otherwise is an insult to a team that accomplished so much this year and rejuvenated this program. One game doesn’t define a program. Notre Dame was 60 minutes away. Notre Dame went 12-1 against one of the most difficult schedules in the country with an incredibly talented group of players. Notre Dame went 12-1 with a first year starter at QB. Notre Dame went 12-1 despite playing 11 teams that ended the season bowl eligible (including Alabama and Miami).

Brian Kelly will have Notre Dame back playing for a championship soon. We can hope that next time the Irish peak at the right moment like Alabama did on Monday. But this team and this program are back at the top of the college football world and as of now there is no indication that is going to change.

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  • DJ

    But this team and this program are back at the top of the college football world

    No, Alabama is.

    We’re much better off than three years ago, and even a year ago, but after that disgraceful, incompetent effort, we’re quite a ways away. I think we’ll make more progress next year; we’ll see if it’s enough.

    Or if you want to put it another way, are we in “the conversation” for next year? Well, there’s Alabama, LSU, A&M, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State, Ohio State, Oregon, maybe Stanford, someone from the Big 12…and, yes, Notre Dame.

    • NDtex

      A better phrasing is back in college football’s elite, but really that is just playing with semantics.

    • john

      ND is better than they were 3 years ago. Here is something I want everyone to think about…. you win a NC in the off season and have a great run during the regular season… Kelly indicated that they finally played a NC level team and now know what is needed…. REALLY? On 1/10/12, Nick S. and his coaches met with their team to set expectations and direction for next years team. Kelly is out of country and will may be be back next week. hmmmmm…

  • jmichael

    please address:
    1.a need for a defensive secondary coach to exclude the Holtz dictum “don’t let them get behind you” even if it means standing 6 yards behind the goal line.This is an instinct and speed position.
    2.a need for a special team coach who requires a player to block or rush the kicker.
    3.a pair of line coachs to teach smashmouth…Bayou knows what this means in the SEC.They can still be gentlemen off the field.

    • NDtex

      1) Secondary is young and banged up. We knew it was a weakness. Health and experience alone will make that unit loads better.

      2) Definitely needs some work, but hilariously enough, the punt that Neal fumbled actually had a shot at a decent return. The second one we tried to return was an all time dumb decision. So clearly, blocking can happen. Again, youth.

      3) Line play was probably a highlight, especially on defense. I know the results sucked on Monday, but the improvement overall has been dramatic. There’s still some work to be done, but we can get there.

      • john

        ND is better than they were 3 years ago. Here is something I want everyone to think about…. you win a NC in the off season and have a great run during the regular season… Kelly indicated that they finally played a NC level team and now know what is needed…. REALLY? On 1/10/12, Nick S. and his coaches met with their team to set expectations and direction for next years team. Kelly is out of country and will may be be back next week. hmmmmm…

  • Lisa

    I think something that Swarbrick needs to address is the addition of at least one or two SEC teams to our schedule. If we had played an LSU or Alabama team during the regular season we many not have made the NCG … but we also would not have been embarassed either. Just a thought!

    • Jeff Merritt

      I think you are absolutely right. We need to schedule someone from the SEC that we match up well with. That is a very important next step.

      • john

        I think Florida (which was way over hyped, too) and ND would be a great yearly game… both programs are on the up swing and both have high expectations…..

    • https://twitter.com/#!/GrantlandX Grantland-X

      Jack has already been working to get An SEC team on the schedule, notably Georgia. SEC teams haven’t been extremely interest in the matchup.

    • lairish

      LSU lost 21 to zero when the played in the big dance and looked just as bad. Did you see how Standford and USC beat Notre Dame last year. Bad game and some bad calls could have been the probem.

  • IrishGuy23

    Great perspective here in your post Twibby.

    Thinking the other day, during the 2010 season we were bemoaning losses to Navy(by double digits) and Tulsa. Since then we’ve hung 50 on Navy twice.

    Last year the question was if we could compete with Stanford and USC from a physicality and athletic stand point.(That 2010 USC game was a rain soaked mess with backup QB’s). This past season we won a slug fest with Stanford and held USC’s offensive weapons in check.

    Now the question is if we can compete with the best team in college football and a current dynasty in Alabama. Yeah, that next step is a huge one, but seeing where we have come from in only two years….I like our direction. Monday night still stings, but trust the process.

  • Bob Lawrence

    NOw Kelly is interviewing for a pro job. What’s with the guy???? He states ND is his dream job and now he’s ready to jump ship. If he does, it will likely mean some incoming recruits will also jump ship–great Kelly–what a hypocrit!

  • canuck 75

    Sometimes it just goes badly. Zeke took the wrong angle 3-4 times that cost us big. I am one of the biggest optimists, so i guess my comments have to be weighted accordingly, but i can’t help but think that one more stop at the end of the first half, and then scoring to start the second ( and we were moving nicely) and its 21-7.
    I think we will be very motivated going forward. And as I said previously (and a couple of writers have said since, Golson actually played very well in the face of the best D in the country. He will be so much better next year. BTW, I watched McCarron against LSU and Georgia and he was much worse than Monday. good for him to play his best, but one int or hard sack could have changed his dynamic.I think Diaco made a tactical error in not seeing that Mccarron was limping a bit, and thus safety blitzing once or twice.
    But we are closer than that game indicates.

    • Jeff Merritt

      The game reminded me a bit of the Pitt game. We were too hopped up, not playing disciplined on defense or in the way we played all season, we were overrunning plays, taking bad angles, not finishing tackles. This all just says we were not really ready for such a big stage. The other thing that I think people don’t realize is getting to this game was the result of great kids but also great coaching. This team overachieved and that is a credit to the staff.

    • Big Red

      Motta shouldn’t have had to make all those tackles is the guys in front of him had done their jobs. It was Weis era levels of whiffs and arm tackles. Totally disheartening to watch.

      On the plus side, it’s 122 out of 124 FBS teams (thank you, UMass, USA, UTSA, and TxSt.)

      • john

        Nick S. indicated that his team beat his expectations this year. He thought that there were a couple SEC teams that could beat his team this year on any given weekend.

    • john

      I think ND is going in the right direction. Kelly indicated that ND needed to get stronger… that happens in the off season… Here is something to chew on… on 1/10/12, Nick S. and his team met with his team to set direction and expectations for next years team in the off season……. Kelly in out of country on holiday and may be back next week. ….