Tag Archives: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football

Notre Dame: Season's Greetings

Season's Greetings as the new college football season is upon us. Celebrate accordingly.
Season’s Greetings as the new college football season is upon us. Celebrate accordingly.

Officially the 2014 college football season began last night but let’s face it…tomorrow is the day that really begins the season with the Fighting Irish kicking off their 2014 season against Rice. It’s hard to put into words how excited I am for the season to finally begin. It has been a long off-season for me personally and I am super excited to see my favorite team once again dawn the blue and gold.
The 2014 campaign promises to be a difficult one for the Irish. Not only does Notre Dame have one of the more difficult schedules in the country, but throw in the recent academic problems with three starters and this season will most certainly test the Irish resolve. Questions abound for Notre Dame and it seems like each week more questions are added to the list.
Even though Notre Dame rolls into the 2014 season opener with a ton of questions, I cannot help but be optimistic for this year. I guess it’s just my optimistic nature. I hear the detractors clamoring that this year the Irish will disappoint, but rest assured they have no clue what they’re talking about. Notre Dame is on the road to prominence and the first stop in 2014 brings the Owls to South Bend.

We Must Protect This House

That is the slogan for Under Armour, the new apparel supplier to Notre Dame and it should be the slogan for the Irish this year. I remember years ago when Kansas City Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer remarked to have a successful year, a team has to take care of business at home and sneak out a few games on the road. Even though the NFL is vastly different than the college game, I think that principle is so true for the Irish this year. Notre Dame must win their home games and reestablish Notre Dame stadium as one of the more difficult places to play.
It seems like Notre Dame stadium has lost it’s mystique the past few years. I have seen teams that had no business winning come into Notre Dame’s house and come out with a win. Completely unacceptable. I remember when awhile back when Syracuse beat Notre Dame on Senior day and that was only the third win Syracuse had all season. Tulsa, UConn, South Florida are just some of the other schools that came to South Bend, some for the first time, and stunned the Irish.
Good teams take care of business at home, plain and simple. This year Notre Dame takes on Rice, Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Northwestern and Louisville at Notre Dame stadium. The other home game is the Shamrock Series game against Purdue in Indianapolis. Stanford will be the hardest game the Irish face at home but I don’t see any reason why the Fighting Irish can’t go 6-1 at home, including the Shamrock Series. North Carolina and Louisville will present a challenge but these are games Notre Dame should win. I am not too worried about Michigan, but we will talk more about them next week.

The Road Less Traveled

This is where Notre Dame will face a lot of opposition and their endurance tested. In 2014, Notre Dame travels to Syracuse, Florida State, Navy, Arizona State and USC. Wow, that is difficult road schedule and has to be one of the strongest the Fighting Irish has faced the past few years. Florida State is the preseason number one, while Arizona State and USC are both ranked in the preseason top 25. The Naval Academy recently has played Notre Dame extremely tough, which leaves the Irish with a brutal road schedule.

Pot of Gold Predictions

The following are my picks for this season:
vs. Rice: W
vs. Michigan: W
vs. Purdue: W
@. Syracuse: W
vs. Stanford: W
vs. North Carolina: W
@. Florida State: L
@. Navy: W
@. Arizona State: L
vs. Northwestern: W
vs. Louisville: W
@. USC: L
Final Record: 9-3
Closing Thoughts/Season’s Greetings
I think nine wins this year would be a great year for the Fighting Irish. It will be interesting to see which bowl game matchup Notre Dame draws. Ten wins this season would a huge step in the right direction for Brian Kelly’s team and would pay exponential dividends in recruiting. The off-season is officially over and now all our questions are about to be answered. Get your pizza and drinks ready, find that sweet spot in your recliner and sit back and enjoy some football.
I always refer to the first Saturday of the college football as my personal Christmas. I like take to social media and wish everyone a merry Christmas so in the spirit of the season, I will extend that courtesy to you, the readers. Have a great Christmas morning and I hope your team brings you the best present of all: a win (unless you are Rice).
(Photo credit: AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Notre Dame and the Conference Dilemma

ND GloryNotre Dame is in the midst of a scandal right now.  Academic scandals aren’t anything new in college football.  Scandals and Notre Dame however, are quite new.  How this will all play out in the near and not so near future is unknown.  One thing that I have learned is that you cannot predict how the NCAA will treat school infractions.  Some schools look like they are staring down the barrel of a gun and wind up getting slaps on the wrists while others receive major punishments for what appear to be nominal infractions.  NCAA sanctions and uniformity do not go hand in hand. Notre Dame is a school that instills passions in college football fans.  Simply put, you either love them or hate them.
Overall, this is good for a college football team; the worst thing any team can invoke is apathy.  How passionate are most fans about Wyoming?  Regardless of the negative feelings, Notre Dame is the team that represents college football more than any other.  If, some day in the future, there is no more college football and all that is known of it is just a few sentences in a history book, you can be guaranteed that one of those sentences will mention Notre Dame.  I don’t write this as a Notre Dame homer.  I went to Alabama.  Most Alabama fans get particularly annoyed with the Notre Dame accolades.
We can make argument after argument why Alabama is historically the better team yet Notre Dame gets Rudy and the best Alabama can muster is a small, fictional blurb in Forest Gump.  C’est la vie. One of the reasons Notre Dame is Notre Dame is that the school has always held itself out as being above the football factory mentality.  These aren’t just words either, Notre Dame has foregone extra money and extra playing time for its players by rejecting bowl bids when it felt its team wasn’t worthy of a bowl game.  Notre Dame fires coaches before they even coach a game because of lies on a résumé.  However, Notre Dame doesn’t live in a bubble.  Many of their decisions regarding their football team are based generating money for the team and the school . . . including their unwillingness to join a conference.
However, those profits are proving to be shortsighted in terms of getting Notre Dame back to a point of football relevancy.  It is not a coincidence that Notre Dame has fallen off of the map of college football power players some twenty to twenty five years ago and has yet to really return.  Notre Dame saw a glimmer of hope in 2012 but the Irish’s loss to Alabama was a very good measuring stick for just how far removed Notre Dame was from modern college football elite. Notre Dame sits at a crossroad.  Giving up autonomy and money to join a conference would almost guarantee that Notre Dame will eventually get back on top of the mountain but more than the loss of revenue, Notre Dame threatens to give up its identity.  As we are learning though, Notre Dame’s identity is changing even if they keep on the same path.  Notre Dame of 2014 isn’t the same Notre Dame of 1989.  The Notre Dame of 2039 could be the Notre Dame that instills no real passion or hatred.  If Notre Dame thinks that isn’t possible, they only need to look across to their ancient arch-rival Army.  Army was Notre Dame before Notre Dame was Notre Dame.  College football is littered with once great giants who have all but disappeared from the ranks of the relevant.
The major difference between college football when Notre Dame was relevant and college football today is television.  Look at conference realignment 1990s versus 21st Century realignment.  In the early 1990s, the SEC expanded from ten teams to twelve teams.  The SEC originally pursued Florida State and Miami but after being rejected by both schools, the SEC added Arkansas and South Carolina.  These were easy additions that made sense based on geography and fan base.  Conference realignment in the 21st Century is based on television markets.  When the SEC expanded again, Florida State, Clemson, and one time SEC member, Georgia Tech were off the table.  All three teams being a part of the SEC made sense as they all have their arch-rivals in the SEC.  What made sense on a fan level, doomed them on a financial level.  Not one of three aforementioned teams could provide much in the way of expanding the television market.
Commissioner Mike Slive understood that in order to negotiate a better contract with ESPN he had to one, obtain a product that was not already a part of the existing contract, thereby forcing ESPN to renegotiate, and two, improve the product so that ESPN would be willing to write a much bigger check. Texas and Missouri have a whole lot of new television sets.  The SEC is not alone in this process.  The Pac 10/12 tried to go after those same Texas television sets via an attempt to add Texas.  The BigTen just added Maryland and Rutgers.  All of this is for expanding television markets, which creates higher revenue, which translates into more success, which then translates into higher revenue, etc. etc.  The long and short of this is that the college football middle class is shrinking and is quickly becoming a world of have and have nots.  Who is to blame for all of this money above all attitude in college football?  The answer is Notre Dame. In the early 1990s, as Notre Dame was near the pinnacle of its success, Notre Dame negotiated out a legendary contract with NBC in which NBC would televise every game with Notre Dame.  This should have solidified Notre Dame as a powerhouse for decades.
Imagine being a coach of Notre Dame, walking into a recruit’s house and saying, you will be on National TV every single time you play.  It didn’t actually work out that way.  Notre Dame was slipping into mediocrity and it was on display nationally.  Notre Dame had inadvertently filmed its own demise.  The biggest problem Notre Dame has that other schools can avoid, is that Notre Dame has to go it alone.  Instead of comparing Notre Dame to another school, it’s more accurate to compare it to another conference. Because Notre Dame is an independent, it is essentially a conference unto itself.  This is great when Notre Dame is great but when Notre Dame is bad, it is the equivalent of the entire conference collapsing.  Compare Notre Dame with the SEC for the last couple of decades and it becomes easily seen.  In the early 1990s, when Notre Dame was on top, the top teams of the SEC were Florida and to a lesser extent Alabama. Alabama begins its descent in the mid to late 1990s and is replaced by Tennessee.  When Florida has some bumpy years, LSU emerges. Tennessee disappears, Florida reappears, Alabama reappears, Florida disappears, and lately, Auburn appears.  This doesn’t even factor the plethora of SEC teams with lesser successes. Tennessee, Kentucky, Vandy, Mississippi State, all make far more money now than they did twenty years ago and even three years ago.  Vanderbilt in particular was a team that hadn’t played in bowl games in decades, hadn’t even been ranked in decades but managed to take the money that it was given, couple it would very good coaching hires, and return to relevance for the first time since the 1940s.
In case you are wondering, Vanderbilt’s academic requirements for enrollment of student athletes is more stringent than Notre Dame’s.  During this same time, college football’s most elite program has managed to continue to lose ground. On some level, Notre Dame doesn’t want a conference to swallow its brand.  The truth is that Notre Dame entering a conference would be protecting its brand.  More than likely those in South Bend who could make that decision realize that entering a conference doesn’t mean losing Notre Dame.  If you are looking for the real reason Notre Dame fails to join a conference, all you have to do is follow the money.  Notre Dame is still a very attractive brand and Notre Dame makes a lot of money on that brand.  If Notre Dame were to enter a conference and place its revenue share in the conference pot, the short term would result in Notre Dame having less money.  Conferences have learned from the Texas/Big 12 debacle that allowing a team to keep a separate revenue share is essentially allowing a cancer within the conference.
Right now, the ACC and Notre Dame have worked out a deal in which Notre Dame has agreed to play ACC teams.  This isn’t joining a conference so much as it is a joint venture of the ACC and Notre Dame with both hoping to fill their respective coffers.  This was a much more attractive deal to the ACC before the impending Notre Dame scandal.  The outcome of this scandal could certainly sour any future joint ventures for the Irish. As mentioned before, scandals are nothing new. Alabama was devastated by a scandal in the early 2000s. Penn State, a one time independent team, is trying to make its way through the forest of NCAA sanctions.  USC is hoping that they are past their darkest point of the scandal that negated their national championship.  I could argue that all three of these teams could stand alone as independents.  USC and Alabama were Rose Bowl rivals before Rockne stepped foot on Notre Dame’s campus.  All three of these teams have managed to make it through because when they were down, the conference checks kept coming in. Alabama is at the top again thanks to the successes, of Tennessee, LSU, and Florida.
I would hate to think that politics would play into any decisions by an infractions committee but if Notre Dame fans want to look for conspiracy theories, a harsh decision from the committee on infractions could almost force Notre Dame to join a conference.  Even if Notre Dame only gets a slap on the wrist, they are only one major scandal away from devastation.  Notre Dame, joining a conference could very quickly put the Irish on the road to relevancy.  A conference adds division championships, conference championships, a larger recruiting base, television contracts based on the success of the conference and not the success of the team, in short, immediate dividends that Notre Dame could reap before the next president takes the oath of office.  If it keeps going the other way, Notre Dame will drift even further down the road to apathy and will do so in the name of short term profits.
An entire generation of kids has been born and graduated college since the last time Notre Dame was actually relevant.  Notre Dame’s greatest success in the 21st Century comes from an obsessed media that covers Notre Dame based on their own and their audience’s nostalgia but nostalgia is a finite fuel and needs present successes to keep producing.  Notre Dame joining a conference is good for Notre Dame but it is also good for all of college football, for those that love Notre Dame and those that despise Notre Dame.  It’s an investment that virtually guarantees that Notre Dame will be relevant beyond our lifetimes and not just relegated to a blurb in a history book.

Notre Dame: Week In Review

A new week brings yet more academic problems to the Golden Dome.
A new week brings yet more academic problems to the Golden Dome.

As of the publication of this article, we are officially just over a week away from the start of the 2014 college football season. I like to affectionately call the first Saturday of the season “Christmas”, mainly because for me, that’s what it feels like. Just like a kid on Christmas morning, I can’t wait to see over the course of the fall, how many presents (wins) will be under the tree for the season. Before we take a look at the schedule and I make my always ultra optimistic predictions, there are a few stories I would like to comment on.

Shamrock Series Uniforms

In a move that I kind of forgot about, Notre Dame unveiled their new uniforms this past week. After almost 20 years, the contract with Adidas ended this past June and Under Armor became the official apparel provider for Notre Dame athletics. If you have seen the pictures, there really is not much of a difference between the new uniforms and previous iterations. The only uproar during this announcement was the revealing of the Shamrock Series uniforms for this year when the Irish take on Purdue in Indianapolis.
If you listen closely, you can hear the collective groans coming from the angry faithful about the Shamrock Series uniforms. The Shamrock Series started five years ago when Notre Dame decided to take one home game on the “road” for recruiting purposes. In addition, new uniforms debuted each year that looked dramatically different than the previous year. Sure, some years leave some to be desired, but the purpose for the Shamrock Series uniform design is to help attract recruits. I wouldn’t think uniforms would play a role in recruiting, but apparently they do. Programs are updating their logos and uniforms to a more modern look. Oregon is a great example of this.
I love the traditional uniforms Notre Dame wears but one game a season with alternate uniforms really don’t make that much of a difference to me. If it helps bring in talent then so be it. I wish some of the old college football curmudgeons would stop complaining about the uniforms used in one game and just try to keep the endgame in mind: attracting talent.

More Academic Problems

One of the drawbacks with a weekly column is the when breaking news happens, it takes a week to get to it. Just after last week’s column was published, news broke of more suspensions due to academic ineligibility. Somewhat ironic considering last week we talked about Everett Golson and his journey back to South Bend. Unfortunately, some members of the team didn’t get the memo about academic honesty.
Four players were named in an ongoing investigation by the university. DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore are not allowed to play or practice during the investigation, effectively leaving the Irish without three of their starters less than a few weeks from the home opener against Rice. Not exactly what head coach Brian Kelly had in mind going into this season. Expectations are always high at Notre Dame and this season was no different.
It’s hard to tell what the ramifications of these players’ absence from the team. All I can say is that the Irish has a touch schedule this year and these player’s decisions don’t help the team at all. I have seen many opinions over Twitter and Facebook and even though the investigation is ongoing, I can’t imagine a good ending for this situation. However, that does not mean one does not exist. Notre Dame prides itself on academics, it’s at the heart of the university. When one situation of academic dishonesty arises, the university takes notice. Does this constitute as a trend?
Where does this leave the team now? Well, this certainly gives a few players a big opportunity to step up in a huge way and they will have to. The Irish still have some senior leadership in the wide receiver corps with Amir Carlisle and now Corey Robinson really becomes an option. Cole Luke, Isaac Rochell and Andrew Trumbetti are just a few of the players needed to step in with that “next man in line” mentality.

Closing thoughts

Well, it certainly has been an interesting week in Notre Dame fandom. I hope the recent investigation serves as an example to the rest of the program that academic honesty is vital to the identity of Notre Dame. Even though the investigation is far from over, I hope that current and future players learn from these mistakes. After all, they only have to look to the current team leader, Everett Golson, to see how difficult the long road back really is.

Golson leading the Irish in 2014

The hopes and dreams of the Irish faithful rest in the hands of Everett Golson in 2014.
The hopes and dreams of the Irish faithful rest in the hands of Everett Golson in 2014.

This past Wednesday, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly officially named Everett Golson as the starting quarterback for the 2014 season. The announcement from Brian Kelly brought to a close a tumultuous year for the embattled Notre Dame quarterback while simultaneously beginning a new chapter in his career as well.
The Past
Let’s take a quick look back to that 2012 season that ended with a loss at the hands of Alabama for the National Championship. That was a magical season for Notre Dame and Everett Golson. The Fighting Irish reeled off 12 straight wins, some in dramatic fashion, against a difficult schedule. Despite the loss, one couldn’t help but feel incredibly optimistic about the performance at quarterback by Golson. Busted plays became 20 yard gains in the blink of an eye. Sometimes, Golson’s accuracy left a lot to be desired at times, but overall Irish fans were excited for the future. Sadly, that optimism and positivity took a sharp nosedive when Notre Dame suspended Golson for the Fall 2013 semester.
The Expatriate
“Poor academic judgment” is how Golson stated the reason for his academic suspension. Loosely translated that means he cheated on a test. In a position that requires the upmost character, team leader and quarterback, Golson’s lapse of character cost him and the team dearly. Disappointed and embarrassed, Golson banished himself to San Diego, California to train with quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr.
Imagine having the success Golson had in 2012, only to see it evaporate in the blink of an eye in less than six months. Staying in San Diego training, Golson had little contact with Notre Dame. Most of his news on the team came from cable TV. Golson admitted later it killed him to watch Notre Dame on TV and not be able to play. Day in and day out, he practiced, waiting for this time to return to South Bend.
The Present
Even though this announcement was no real surprise to anyone, it will be interesting to see how Everett responds in his first start since that National Championship game in early 2013. A lot has happened since then, not just to Golson himself but to the Fighting Irish as well. The team dynamics have changed and people who were leaders on that team in 2012 are now gone. Golson now finds himself in the position as the leader of this team.
The battle did not come easy for Golson either. Sophomore Malik Zaire put up a spirited effort, but not enough to unseat Golson for the starting job. In fact, Zaire outperformed Golson in the Blue-Gold game and looked to have more of a command of the offense than Golson did in his time in the game (NBC Sports). Although his initial showing was favorable, Zaire could not compete with Golson down the stretch. With Brian Kelly moving away from rotating quarterbacks in his offense, Golson is pretty much “the man.”
On a side note, I am personally very happy to see the whole rotating quarterback for a series “thing” gone. I understand coach Kelly is an offensive guy and obviously knows more than I do, but it just seems like when he put guys in like Andrew Hendrix in for a series of plays, the quarterbacks flow was off and it just never really worked. I can appreciate what coach Kelly was trying to do but it just seemed like the defense knew what was coming. Anyway, I digress.
This is Golson’s team and he knows it. During his press conference, he remarked, “I take that responsibility that this is my team. I’m responsible for the actions and performance of my team (Irish Illustrated).”
Final Thoughts
I really like Everett Golson. The guy has talent, no doubt. The thing with talent is, it’s hard to suppress. The only thing that can really negate talent is character. How many people have you seen over the course of your life who have made dumb decisions and ruin great opportunities for themselves? It happens all the time.
Great leaders are not just born, they are forged through difficult circumstances. Golson made a dumb mistake that had negative consequences for both him and the university. Good news is that I think he has learned from his mistake and is using that experience to further himself both on the field and off. That’s really all we can ask of people isn’t it…to learn from their mistakes?

Notre Dame Fightin Expectations

2014 expectations
There are always big expectations in South Bend every fall

Expectations are kind of like opinions and you know what they say opinions are like don’t you? Well, let’s not go there. Each week brings us closer and closer to the start of the 2014 season and I am already at fever pitch. But before we get that pizza ready for the big home opener against Rice, let’s take a look at some expectations I have for the Fighting Irish this season.
Record
Last year Notre Dame finished 9-4 with a bowl game win over Rutgers. This year I expect the Fighting Irish to improve upon that record. A rundown of their schedule (we will discuss the schedule in depth next week) and I see five games that stand out: vs Michigan, vs Stanford, at Florida State, at Arizona State and at USC. The Naval Academy usually gives the Irish a tough game and I suspect Louisville and North Carolina might be closer than people think. I just hope Notre Dame doesn’t underestimate Rice, Northwestern, or any other team for that matter. I can remember quite a few times in recent memory where that has happened and the result was embarrassing for the Irish. October looks to be a particularly difficult month with Stanford at home and Florida State on the road in the span of a few weeks. The road to a New Year’s bowl looks difficult for the Fighting Irish for sure, but for now, I will hold my predictions until next week (that’s what we call a teaser people).
Offense
I remember seeing a shirt a few years back that read “the two most important positions in the Catholic Church are number one, the Pope and number two, the quarterback of Notre Dame… and not necessarily in that order.” It all starts with Everett Golson and how he goes, so will the Irish. Golson will benefit from an excellent Irish running game and an offensive line that will get better each week. Golson will undoubtedly start the season slow and make ill-advised throws that will lead to interceptions. The upside to Golson is his natural talent with his legs and the ability to turn a busted play into positive gain. By the time October rolls around, I think he will hit his stride, which is a good thing because the schedule toughens significantly.
Notre Dame has a trio of backs, each with their own style. Sophomore Tarean Folston busted out last year and definitely showed his speed, giving Notre Dame that home run threat, whereas Senior Cam McDaniel grinds out those tough yards when you need them. Throw in sophomore Greg Bryant and the Notre Dame backfield is definitely an asset. Let’s just hope Coach Kelly remembers that fact because it seems like sometimes he forgets about the backs in the red zone. I know his offense is pass-happy, but sometimes it’s best to give it to your backs and let the “big uglies” get you a score…THAT is the Notre Dame offense I like to see. The backs will have monster year provided the offensive line progresses through the year (which I expect them to). As for the receivers, I really think Chris Brown will have a breakout year. Brown looks like he had a great spring camp so let’s see if that helps translate to a great 2014. Brown has the speed to make plays and I expect him to be that wideout playmaker by the end of the year.
Defense
I remember seeing someone on Twitter in the off-season remark that if Notre Dame wants to be a great program, they have to learn to deal with talent declaring early for the NFL. One thing I really respect about Alabama is one someone leaves early for the NFL, there is always another player ready to take his place and that player makes an impact. Notre Dame is really learning that lesson this season with the departure of Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix from the defensive line.
Sheldon Day has inherited the leader position on that defensive line for the Irish. I like what I saw last year from Sheldon Day and I fully expect him to not only be a leader on that defense and a major contributor. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has installed a new 4-3 defense with an emphasis on the linebackers and secondary. VanGorder’s defense is up-tempo, blitz crazy and puts a lot of responsibility on the secondary, which I like. I feel one of the areas Note Dame has been lacking is the secondary. With VanGorder’s new scheme, I got to believe Notre Dame will recruit some great talent and speed at corner and safety.
I have always had high expectations of the Notre Dame defense because it has always been the strength of the team. Notre Dame ranked 31 in total defense and 27 in scoring defense last year and I believe with the arrival of VanGorder as defensive coordinator, I think those numbers will improve. VanGorder has energized this defense and this year, along with the running game, I think the defense will be the heart and soul of this team.
Special Teams
This is more of a wish instead of an expectation, but I would LOVE to see the Irish vastly improve on special teams, primarily in the areas of punt return and coverages. Notre Dame ranks near the bottom in these categories. Last year, it seemed like every time Notre Dame punted, the coverage team allowed a big return that turned the tide of the game or gave the opposition an upper hand in field position. When Notre Dame received a punt, the Irish rarely had the time to return it and if they did, there were opponents immediately on top of him. I have high expectations for the Notre Dame special teams. All good teams that win national championships or contend for them each year always have a solid special teams unit. It’s just that important. If Notre Dame wants to contend for national championships, special teams have to become a priority with Coach Kelly.
Seems like every time I talk about special teams for the Irish I am complaining but truth be told, there are some bright spots, namely Kyle Brindza. Brindza did everything last year, including field goals, extra points and punting and this year will be no different. Brindza is definitely an asset for the Irish and I think he could win the Lou Groza award this year for best kicker in college football.
Closing thoughts
Notre Dame always has high expectations and that will never change. It is one of the reasons why I love Fighting Irish football. It boils down to how “high” is your “high” for your expectations. I do not expect Notre Dame to contend for the national championship this year, the Irish simply do not have all the pieces in place. All I ask is for each year Notre Dame to progress from year to year to the point where double digit wins are the norm in South Bend and talks of national championships become legitimate again.

A Big Ten Fan's Guide to the Upcoming Weeks


Although it is only early August, the college football season is approximately three weeks away.  To use a football term, three weeks is a “’tweener” being both a short and long time depending on what is being planned.  For writing a paper, three weeks is an eternity.  For planning a family dinner, three weeks could be gone in a blur.  In terms of getting out of prior engagements, three weeks is a pretty good amount of early notice.
If you see a matchup you like on the horizon, don’t wait until the week before to try to get out of a pesky engagement like a wedding, birthday party, or dinner.  Call your shot, change your plans now, and avoid the gut-wrenching feeling of knowing that you will be missing a great matchup because of (fill in the blank).  Rapidly hitting refresh on your phone and seeing the battery dwindle with each minute as your team is in a close game with two minutes to go is a horrible feeling and no way to support your team.
With that said, here are some early Big Ten matchups that you might want to skip social engagements for or try to get those engagements moved to a place that would be showing the game (then you can be social AND get to see the game).  While not a comprehensive list by any means, it should at least spur you to take a look at the upcoming schedule and make sure that there are no remaining Saturday scheduling conflicts for the rest of the college football season.

August 30 –

Wisconsin vs LSU

A prime time matchup between one of the Big Ten’s best against one of the SEC’s best.  It’s the late night game on ESPN and one of the top early season games in general.  Games where the teams have no tape from the current season on one another are always intriguing to me as personnel and playbooks change drastically over the offseason.  New starters are being thrust into the spotlight and asked to perform.  The stage in this game only adds to the pressure.

September 6 –

Michigan State vs. Oregon

A top defense against a top offense.  Definitely a game with the potential to turn into a slugfest or a shootout.  If Michigan State turns it into a grind it out type of game, they could have the advantage, but if Oregon turns it into a shootout, the Spartans will have a lot of trouble keeping up.  Either way, it should be fun

Michigan vs Notre Dame

This game marks the end of a traditional rivalry.  The ending of this storied matchup should be enough to get you to watch.  Everett Goldson returns for Notre Dame and goes against the Devin-to-Devin (Gardner to Funchess) connection that should be very productive.

September 13 –

Iowa State vs Iowa

In state rivalry games are always unpredictable and fun.

September 20 –

Miami(FL) vs Nebraska

This matchup of two traditional powers that are currently retooling can shine some light on who will be the next big stars.  Great talent on both sides that will hopefully lead to a great game.
I hope that I am not the only person who plans his schedule around matchups that I want to see live.  Of course, if you are in driving distance of any of these games, trying to get to them in person is clearly the best choice, but barring this option, clearing out a window to watch these games seems like the best course of action.

Now or Never for Notre Dame: Part 2

How will the 2014 edition of the Fighting Irish look like this season?
How will the 2014 edition of the Fighting Irish look like this season?

In case you didn’t notice, today is August 1st, which means college football starts THIS month! In less than 30 days, Notre Dame will take the field against Rice in the season opener. Last week, we took a look at some real questions going into this season for the Irish and this week we finish with a few more.
What kind of an impact will Brian VanGorder have on the Irish D?
First of all, I have to say, this guy has the look of a defensive coordinator, doesn’t He? When I saw the press conference I immediately thought, this guy screams intensity. From what I have read, that’s pretty much the truth. VanGorder brings experience from the highest levels of competition to the Irish. VanGorder has built an impressive resume in the NFL, coaching for the Jaguars, Falcons and recently the New York Jets. He also has a background in the college game as he was the first defensive coordinator for Mark Richt at Georgia. Hey, that’s all great but what does that really mean for the Irish defense for this year?
The key word for the defense under Brian VanGorder is “aggressive.” Aggressive at the point of attack and aggressive at corner. That’s the good news. The bad news is Notre Dame lost a lot of talent and leadership on defense. However, that gives opportunity to some of these younger players to step up and contribute. VanGorder is experimenting with moving players around, utilizing multiple schemes and emphasizing speed in Notre Dame’s substitution packages. Like I said, the key word is aggressive and VanGorder wants the defense to be that at all times.
I like his pedigree. I think VanGorder has the track record of taking defenses to the next level, as he did at Georgia. It will be interesting to see how the Irish defense does over the course of the year and especially against Florida State and USC. New scheme, new responsibilities and new roles make this defense an intriguing watch this season for sure.
Who will step up on defense?
The Notre Dame defense has lost an exceptional level of leadership and talent to the NFL. I enjoyed watching Notre Dame defenders being drafted in the NFL in May, but I found myself asking, “Who will step up to replace these guys?” Not only does Notre Dame have a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder, but key players declared for the NFL early.
It did not surprise me to see Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt leave, they had too much talent. I believe Prince Shembo will be hard to replace though, however the beat goes on as they say and if Notre Dame wants to be an elite team, replacing key players has to become the norm. Teams like Alabama and LSU regularly replace players that leave early so that means Coach Kelly and VanGorder have to have talent in place to step up when needed. Like I mentioned above, opportunity can be powerful and if Notre Dame wants to keep moving up the polls and eventually into the playoffs, the defense has to keep improving from week to week.
I am confident Notre Dame’s defense can improve each week. Even though the Irish lost some great players, it’s not like the shelf is devoid of talent. Linebacker Jaylon Smith was very impressive last year and demonstrated he had a nose for the ball and the quarterback, as well as defensive tackle Sheldon Day. I think it’s anyone’s guess as to how the defense will look later this month against Rice then against Michigan. I expect some rough patches here and there but overall I expect improvement from this group.
Does Everett Golson have what it takes to lead the Irish offense this year?
A lot has happened to Everett since that national championship game in 2012. If his year was the stock market, it went from bull to bear market, when a lapse of character caused him to be suspended for a semester, missing the 2013 campaign. In his exile, Golson spent his days with quarterback coach George Whitfield to improve his skills. In all honestly, I am not sure what to expect from Golson this year. I hope he improves week to week which is pretty much all we can ask for. I hope his academic suspension taught him a thing or two about character and that he learned that lesson. I am glad he made good use of that time off by practicing and working on his game. However, to quote Han Solo from Star Wars “Look, good against remotes is one thing, good against the living…that’s something else.”
Can Brian Kelly and the coaching staff take this team to the next level?
This is probably one of the most important questions going into this year, at least for me. I like to look beyond all the statistics to those qualities not easily measured in numbers. This question really speaks to the heart of the coaching staff and their overall ability. Good teams recruit good players but great programs grow their players by coaching up them up by maximizing their talent and getting more out of their players than thought possible.
This is a trait that was missing during the Weis years and frankly hasn’t been seen in a long time in South Bend until the arrival of Head Coach Brian Kelly. For years, I felt Notre Dame has frequently performed under than what I felt like they could do and that’s not just wishful thinking either. Notre Dame has real talent on both sides of the ball and I don’t think too many people will argue that. My question is can Brian Kelly and his staff grow these talented players both inside the game and outside the game to the point where they play outside of themselves?
This year marks Brian Kelly’s fifth season at Note Dame. I feel like he has had success in developing players but I think this year will really test the merits of both him and the coaching staff. Notre Dame faces numerous challenges this season. From a tough schedule to replacing key players, Head Coach Brian Kelly and his staff will definitely have their hands full this year.
Final Thoughts
I do not think these questions lead to doom and gloom for the Irish this year. Sure, there are a lot of questions going into this season, but I have confidence in this team and believe they can do great things this year. That being said, I am slightly biased. One thing is for sure, it will not be long until we find out for real what this team is made of and for that, I cannot wait. It’s August people and football is almost here. Get ready for an exciting year and as always: Go Irish!
 
 
 

Now or Never for Notre Dame: Part I

It's Now or Never for the Irish
It’s Now or Never for the Irish

 
If Notre Dame’s upcoming football season would be categorized by Elvis songs, I feel like “It’s Now or Never” fits the bill. By that token, let’s hope it doesn’t turn into “Don’t Be Cruel” or “All Shook Up” by the end of the year. Yes friends, the return of college football is almost upon us. In fact, you can almost taste, hear and smell it. Great games, BBQ, and crazy plays will entertain us each Saturday this fall (Yeah I had to throw food in there too). It won’t be long before those golden helmets will shine in that spectacular Irish sun while the best fight song in college football rings swimmingly throughout Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame’s 2014 campaign is nearly underway and I for one cannot wait to see what this team will do this year. Another year dawns and with it, the questions come a flowing. Seems like each year Irish fans have a list of burning questions regarding the Fighting Irish and for my first article, I thought I would share some of mine with my fellow Domers:
Who will emerge as the “go-to” wide receiver?
Notre Dame will miss one of the better wide receivers they had in TJ Jones. I loved watching TJ play every week. It seems like he  caught everything that was thrown to (or near) him. Not only will his touchdown catches be missed, but also his leadership on the field. Assuming Quarterback Everett Golson has the time to get the receivers the ball, which one of these young receivers step up? DaVaris Daniels inherits the role of leader while Chris Brown and Corey Robinson can provide a deep threat. Tight End Ben Koyack will undoubtedly become Golson’s favorite target. That tight end spot is the safety valve Golson will need in a third down situation. I liked what I saw from Corey Robinson last year and Chris Brown definitely could be an outside threat, which the Irish desperately need.
How will the offensive line look this year?
The offensive line was always one of those traditional strengths Notre Dame has always possessed. Last year’s line played great behind great senior leadership. However, Zach Martin and Chris Watt graduated and now the line could be a question mark for the Irish. Can the offensive line protect Golson and give him the time he needs? Obviously the depth chart at running back looks loaded so there is no question there, only will the Irish be able to create lanes for those backs? Nick Martin looks to be the only senior this year (save Christian Lombard being a grad assistant) but I wouldn’t write off this offensive line group yet. They may just become that dominate group we are accustomed to seeing. Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin have the chops and the way the schedule lines up, it certainly won’t take long for them to be tested.
Will the  Special teams really be “Special?”
I have to say, if there was one thing that really irked me last year, it was the return game for the Irish. Listen to this: the Irish rank 80 in punt returns and 21 in kickoff returns. Is it just me or does it seem like the punt return should be ranked a lot lower? To say the Irish punt return game is dismal is being generous to say the least. I saw more hands going up to fair catch than I see at church on Sundays. Thank goodness the kickoff return game was a strength last year. The fact of the matter is for whatever reason, punt return and primarily coverage has been poor under head coach Brian Kelly. According to NCAA stats, Notre Dame ranked 120 in kickoff return defense and 84 in punt return defense. There are 123 teams in FBS, just for a frame of reference. For the life of me, I am just not sure why or how. I would like to see BK really elevate the importance of overall special teams during practice. Seems like each year the mantra is the importance of special teams but the bottom line is not only is the return game non existent but the coverage is almost as bad, if not worse.
What kind of character will this team have?
Character is a trait that is hard to measure in people. Not sure if it’s because I am an eternal optimist, but I always feel Notre Dame could do so much more than I see on Saturday afternoons. Just like in life, during the game, breaks and calls will always go against you but it’s how you respond to those challenges that define your character. I remember the home opener in 2011 where Notre Dame played South Florida and for whatever reason, the Irish running backs could not hang on to the football to save their lives and one of those fumbles was returned for a touchdown. You didn’t have to be in the stadium to see how deflated the fans and players were after that. I got that feeling of “oh boy, here we go again” and it seemed like all the players and coaches felt that way too. You could see it. Notre Dame lost that game and it ultimately set the tone for the rest of the season.
Who will step up and lead this team? Can Golson put his humiliating lapse in character behind him and lead the Irish? Who will step up and lead the defense? I am curious to see who steps up when the Irish find themselves down late in the game needing a score or a stop on a big third down. I don’t know if you can coach character or not…maybe to some degree you can, I’m not sure. Bottom line is this: you can have all the talent in the world but it won’t make a difference if those guys can’t come together, rise above themselves and play their guts out for each other.
Final Thoughts
By now I know what you might be thinking (besides this guy has no clue), where are the other questions? I only see four? This is my attempt to leave you hanging for a week with anticipation, where we will look at some more burning questions about the upcoming football season for the Irish. I am pumped for this year and I hope all you Domers are as well. I really think this year can be a great year for the Blue and Gold. Sure, there are lots of unknowns, but what team doesn’t have a lot of questions? I look forward to hearing from everyone about your thoughts for this year and about this column.
See you next week and remember…Go Irish!!!
(All statistics used in this column are used from NCAA.com)
(Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

BCS In Review: The Bush Push And I

bushpush
Every sports fan has a small, exclusive aisle of “those games” in the mental library; comprised of the short-listed contests we hold near and dear to our heart regardless of outcome.
Some bring memories of joy and happiness, while others we dare not speak of (unless beer and pub-talk have given us no other choice) invoke feelings of anger and frustration that force sounds out of our mouths only Lou Holtz could effortlessly imitate.
By now you should know when I refer to “those games” I’m speaking of the ‘I remember the exact time, date, and location of where I watched” games. From there we can expound even further by detailing sounds of other spectators, the smell of the bar, and even where the grass stains on a player’s pants were located. And, if you’re an arrogant, annoying, and biased Chicago fan like me– you spare no expense in telling your friends no less than twelve times about how much you loved, hated, and in some cases both hated AND loved anything related to your teams, and “those games”.
Here, I’m going to talk about one of my games, if not THE game for me; and what it would mean for my life as a sports fan forever.
The date was October 15, 2005. I was 14 and working as a busser at Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery in a southern suburb of Chicago called, wait for it… the Village of Flossmoor.
It was a busy night, especially in the bar, so lucky for me I got to spend most of my time bussing pub tables and refreshing water glasses with TV’s all around me. It was a packed house because all of Cook County it seemed was out to watch the annual Notre Dame-USC rivalry game.
The match-up was pegged by ESPN as the “Game of the Century”. USC would come into the game as defending national champions riding a 27 game win streak. Notre Dame, conversely, despite a national ranking of 9th having won four straight road games, was on a three game home losing streak and had lost three straight contests to USC by at least 31 points. The pre-game pep rally in Notre Dame Stadium featured speeches by Joe Montana, Tim Brown, and Master of Ceremonies—Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.
Needless to say, one of the clearest things I remember of that night is the noise. Everyone was waiting in angst to see The Irish take back the Jeweled Shillelagh.
Touchdown Jesus was watching.
The other is that everyone was so busy they didn’t notice the spectating schedule I had set for myself which was; for every ten minutes I worked– I watched for one, uninterrupted. It seemed as though all the employees were doing the same thing on a slightly different schedule, as for the customers their fixated eyes were taking care of their generally impatient nature.
However, despite my efforts to miss nothing, at times I would have to turn my back only to hear a loud unified “OHHH”, “AWE”, “WHAT?!” or some variation of exclamation (I was at work after all). And, just to give this oral history an accurate justice, go ahead and add a four letter word of your choice before and/or after any of those examples.
And so as I remember it:
A back and forth first quarter gave Irish fans hope this would actually be a rivalry game rather than a rout, the Trojans led 14-7.
In the second Brady Quinn capped off a 72 yard drive with a touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija to tie the game at 14. The place blew up.
Forcing USC to punt on their next possession, Irish safety Tom Zbikowsi took that punt 59 yards to the house to put Notre Dame ahead 21-14. “Bartender, get us another round! The Irish are here to stay and so are we.”
Matt Leinart seemed to have had enough and was trying his damnedest to reverse momentum, leading USC 69 yards down the field on the following possession. That drive was capped off by a pick in the end-zone. Drive over. Game over? An overly optimistic Irish fan would certainly say so, and plenty were. As for me, I had been wiping the same table for about 6 minutes. Score, 21-14 Irish at half.
The Irish still had the momentum to start the second half, intercepting Leinart for a second time. The place was electric. Employees and patrons alike were all smiles and cheers. Highfives and Rudy references for everybody! However, the Trojan-D stepped up and forced a punt. This is when Bush finally decided to show up, with a 20-yard return and a subsequent 45-yard touchdown run. But, neither team would score for the rest of the quarter. Here comes the fourth, tie game.
The fourth quarter came just as advertised with all the hoopla and hype that came before the game. There were fumbles, missed field goals, another Reggie touchdown run, and after a clutch 5-yard touchdown run by Brady Quinn the Irish were leading 31-28 with just over two minutes remaining. All we had to do now was hold on and stop the herculean tandem of Leinart and Bush, simple task right? I’m sure the boys in green and gold could feel the pressure of one million tensed up white knuckles. Everyone could tell they wanted this one BAD.
Montana, was watching.
Tim Brown, was watching.
For the love of all things Irish, RUDY WAS WATCHING! Seated under Touchdown Jesus, who was also, you know…
You wanted to be silent but it was too late. What starts loud in Chicago, ends loud in Chicago. It is our nature. We are never quiet, and rarely humble.
What came next was one of those rare moments in sports that defines you, never leaves you, and forces one (despite their nature) to be silenced.
Matt Leinart fumbled the ball out of bounds with seven seconds remaining. The clock continued to run down to zero and the students rushed the field. The referees righted the wrong hurried the students back to their seats and gave Leinart the ball with the correct seven seconds remaining. We thought we had it, and it was at this moment I got that tickle, standing in front of a TV in the bar with seven seconds left on the clock with nothing in my hands and no intention of moving, I knew something was about to happen.
Everyone knows what happened next, so I’ll go ahead and spare you the regurgitation (myself the pain) and just type the call as it was heard when all of ND Nation fell silent.
“USC will get one more play. Leinart gonna try to sneak it ahead. Did he get it?…..TOUCHDOWN SC!”
Actually, I don’t mind anymore. Here it is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62P8_Ik7NlE
I walked away from my 10:1 schedule spot immediately after the push, with no words. I turned around to a collective mosaic of faces in palms and calm before chaos. The rare silence was awkward and infuriating. This was supposed to be a night of celebration. And so brief as it was, there was silence before the bashing.
Despite the outcome, this was the moment I became a true Notre Dame fan. Sure, I had always been a “fan”. But my investment was never really my own, so to speak. I was a fan by geographical osmosis.
I had three logical choices. There was Northwestern, University of Illinois, or Notre Dame. I grew up with family and friends loving the Irish, reliving the glory days of the “horsemen” and growing up during Lou Holtz’s successful reign. But, I was young and knew nothing more. I lived through years of mediocrity in the late nineties and 2000’s rooting and cheering with little excitement or expectation. So when I was coming into my own as a man and growing in literally every way humanly possible it was only fitting that I witnessed this game as a newly minted high school freshman.
At the time I didn’t quite know what was happening to me but still somehow appreciated the mysterious enormity of the moment. High school if nothing else is a very curious and adventurous time of self-discovery. And at that moment, disappointed as I was, I fell in love with the way the Irish battled and thrust themselves back into the national spotlight right before my eyes.
In Charlie Weis’ first season Notre Dame would remain at #9 despite the loss to USC, and win the rest of their games. They earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl where they would eventually lose to a damn good Ohio State team, a disappointing end to a promising year.
But, what if Notre Dame won that game? What if, they stopped the Bush Push, it was ruled illegal, or if they just made a 34 yard missed field goal that would have put it out of reach? Now, considering USC entered the season heavy favorites to repeat as national champions, the hype surrounding that game, and assuming they still swept their remaining schedule; is it reasonable to assume Notre Dame would have been chosen to play Texas for the National Championship?
And, if that happened (even though Weis experienced all of his success with Tyrone Willingham’s recruits) would Charlie have been given the benefit of the doubt when it came to firing time? If they went to the Rose Bowl that year, win or lose, would he have been able to get some 5-star recruits that otherwise passed on him, allowing him build a program of his own?
Okay, probably not.
After all, having been given all the opportunity in the world Big Chuck has time and again proven himself to be a pretty average head coach at best. But, I think the big boys at Notre Dame may have given a little more thought before throwing him $19 million to just go away and die.
In sports don’t we all love a good “what-if”?
And of course all of those wins, Reggie’s Heisman, the National Championship from the previous year; everything would be vacated.
That push kept my team from an opportunity to play for the crystal ball. That push from the kid that (according to NCAA rules) shouldn’t have been playing, cost my team a win against the team we have circled on the schedule every year. And, for years crushed us.
That push silenced Chicagoland.
But, that push made me a fan.
Am I bitter? Hell no. Poetic justice was served and now we have a nice little win streak of our own going against the University of Spoiled Children as my Dad likes to call them.
History is cyclical and therefore success comes in waves. Brian Kelly has a nice thing going and I expect Notre Dame to make me proud for years to come. Sanctions brought the Trojans back down to Earth to mingle with the mortals and the Jeweled Shillelagh back to us. But, I can’t help but feel that success is just as tainted as Pete Carroll’s Trojans. I want to see Notre Dame beat USC at full strength with no strings attached. I want a real rivalry between powerhouse teams that beat the hell out of each other.
I want battered, bruised and broken with pride win or lose. We are arguably the two most successful and storied college football programs in the land. And the Bush Push game was the only time I really got to see it as it should be. It was the day I was convinced I would be a fan for the long haul.
Despite all the failures and controversy that will be forever linked to the BCS era, I am still thankful it brought me that game.
My game.

Who Still Hates Notre Dame?

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“I hate them more than any team in all of sports.”
So, we’re going to start with the answer and work our way back to the question; it’s sort of like Jeopardy in that way. There’s a few ways to ask the question, but they all boil down to, “What do you think of this team?”
There are a few usual suspects you could use to fill in the blank. The Yankees, Red Wings, and a certain NFL team in Western Pennsylvania come to mind, but if you ask the first ten people you see, who it is that they detest, Notre Dame is going to be said.
I know some die-hard fans, those who love their own so much that they barely acknowledge any other teams exist, and those people live to hate Notre Dame. Three paragraphs in, and I’ve used that word twice. I don’t like throwing the concept of hatred around like it’s something casual, but there’s nothing like the irrational levels of discontent you’ll see from College Football fans that have no dog in the fight when it comes to the Irish.
To be honest, I don’t really have a dog in the fight either. I was a victim of their overexposure as a kid; everyone was. I liked them, but they were easy to watch in a time that a lot of College Football was not easy to watch, just speaking from an accessibility standpoint. They were also easy to watch because Lou Holtz had them winning football games, and it was a change from the monotony of Big Ten football.

There was the Catholic thing too, except I never really thought of it as a “thing”. We were mostly Catholic throughout the neighborhood, and Notre Dame’s affiliation was more what I’d call convenient, rather than some sort of tie that binds. I’ve been told that using the Catholic thing is weak, and have never really had the energy to argue that it wasn’t. If anything, the big draw for people my age is simple, those Fighting Irish teams were good and it was compelling football. In Northeast Ohio 30 years ago, it was just a nice alternative to whatever Earle Bruce had going on in Columbus.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Buckeyes, one might make a valid argument for how Urban’s program should be tangled into this context, but it was just an alternative. It’s an alternative that I needed, given what sports had to offer the children of the Cleveland-area in the early 80s. I was grateful to have the superstations, to give me the Mets, Cubs, and Braves, as a supplement to the limited coverage I had with the abysmal Indians. With the Mets, WOR actually gave me a glimpse at a World Champion; with the Cubs and Braves–not so much. Notre Dame was the same way, almost as if they’d been magically beamed to my living room week to say, “You want to see quality football? Well, here you go.”
They were constantly front-page news, and deservedly so. Off the top of my head, I recall a meeting with Miami and a Jimmy Johnson team sporting one of those ridiculous winning streaks in South Bend; it was a game Notre Dame won when the Canes went for 2 and the win, back when you had to make that choice. That was the beginning of the new guard, ghosts of Gerry Faust had been exorcised. I ask Midwest people a few years older than I am how they feel about Notre Dame, and if they aren’t among the sworn enemies of any school with an option between blue and green jerseys, they basically remind me how irrelevant Notre Dame was with that High School clown from Cincinnati running the show during their formative years.

And that’s funny, because relevance plays such a big factor in this conversation. They stayed relevant so long that I don’t remember exactly when things became unglued in South Bend. There was no question, the Irish were at the peak of their popularity for that wild 1993 season, the one with a November matchup with Florida State drawing hype in August. I can remember, it was a game that lived up to the hype, one where Notre Dame needed to beat Charlie Ward and a defense stacked with NFL talent, and it got that win. After winning a game that meant everything in the world, they tripped in a game that few gave a second thought, in their very next game.
It was some time after Boston College and Tom Coughlin had shocked them in front of Touchdown Jesus and anyone else watching, probably not too long after Beano Cook had promised Ron Paulus two Heisman trophies, that winning bowl games, Lou Holtz, and any Heisman conversation quickly became a past tense thing in their pocket of Indiana. I’m not even sure they have any regional ground to claim, though there’s never been any denying the reach of their fan base, whether it’s Southern California, Palo Alto, or even Phoenix. Maybe that brings the denomination card back into play; they wouldn’t be the first nation to have a people without land.
No sooner than completing that thought in my own head did I realize how disasterous the idea of “Domer Nation” might be, but the fans are out there. I’ve seen them fill up Sun Devil Stadium and I’ve seen them pack Jerry Jones’ monstrosity in Dallas. By the way, you could replace Notre Dame with Dallas Cowboys throughout this piece and remain fairly accurate, acknowledging that the praise due these one-time dynasties expired after 1996, but the fans that have never been to South Bend or Northern Texas still root for these teams as if they’re faithful alumni of either organization.
Do you call it a bandwagon? Can you really call these fans front-runners? Tony Romo has exactly one post-season victory, and that’s all Cowboys fans have had since Aikman last won a Super Bowl, but forget the Cowboys. The Irish, who co-authored their own clause into the Bowl Championship Series bylaws, haven’t exactly fared well in this new age of College Football. They drew Dennis Erickson and Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl; that didn’t go well. A few coaching changes later, Charlie Weis had them back there; that was a game that made Ohio State look really good.
A year later, new venue, same result, with LSU sticking it to them in the Sugar Bowl. I suppose you could say Weis had them back at the grown folks table, but not for every holiday. Brady Quinn seemed to be the driving force behind their return to prominence, but he took his talents to Cleveland and Weis couldn’t do it with the highly touted Jimmy Claussen, but he couldn’t do it with Quinn a second time around in Kansas City either.

To get things back on track and bring us to the present, I’ll say Brian Kelly has done a hell of a job. I don’t care what anyone says about how lopsided some of those BCS Championship games were, most of the opponents belonged in that place that ultimately equaled a good ole fashioned whoopin’, the 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish among that group. Bizzare things have to happen to get teams to those title games; I mean, Auburn’s last two regular season games in 2013 have to balance out the chances Notre Dame had against Pittsburgh and Stanford in 2012, right?
That was a cameo appearance if there ever was one. Notre Dame just wasn’t the same animal without the defenisive players they lost, compounded with the unexpected loss of Everett Goldson, but those fans who are disinterested with any season that won’t end with a national title are gone. Every fan base has those “fans”. They’re disliked, both in and out of their own ranks, and they’re the outliers that aren’t relevant to this discussion about relevance.
Is Notre Dame relevant? Of course they are, they always are, and for the simple fact that there’s dialouge to be had about them. Is their sweetheart deal with NBC and all of their opponents’ broadcast partners a little too sweet for your liking? I happen to think so, and I’m not as fatigued with Notre Dame on an overall basis as the next guy. Do you have to accept that they are? Absolutely not.

Of course, everyone would concede that in a vacuum, they don’t belong in the football conversation very often, but we don’t block out The Gipper, Rudy, or those Golden Domes very well, so Notre Dame maintains its own chapter in the annual story of College Football. They probably don’t “deserve” it, but they’re going to get it every year.
This year will be no different.