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.