At 1:30 AM Sunday morning, that was the last word out of a colleague’s mouth as I pulled my car out of the the media parking area on campus. “Devastating” because an objective journalist who has covered Fighting Irish football for many years knows how long it has been since the last national title in 1988 and knows the mountains that ND has tried to move over the years in an effort to get back to that promised land.
For 59 minutes and 59 seconds Saturday, Notre Dame had the look of a top notch contender for 2023 glory. The mountain was all but climbed, and then Notre Dame lost in gut wrenching fashion. A critical coaching issue that left just 10 men on the field for the biggest two plays in oh, 20 or so years, is an obvious culprit. That is the devastating reality, and there is no way to sugar coat it. Postgame Ryan Day got to puff out his chest and be jubilant. Marcus Freeman had to gut his way through a media appearance and then go back to his office and soul search.
In the five previous games contested against Ohio State in the modern era, ND could not get closer than 11 points, and Alabama 2012, Clemson 2018, Alabama 2021. When the final tallies came in on all those match-ups, let’s face it, Notre Dame wasn’t one of College Football’s cool kids. But last Saturday night things were different, Notre Dame passed the “eye test”. Notre Dame belonged, right up to the painful last seconds and a devastating loss.
But, there is a lot of football left to be played in 2023, and a quick redemption is possible. Because, if the Irish navigate challenges on the road against Duke and Louisville the next two weeks, on October 14, 2023, another circled date, and an opportunity to get back in the conversation, will present itself. Win the next two and then beat USC, and you, Notre Dame fan, will have a whole new, joyful mindset.
1- Beat Duke, 2- Beat Louisville and 3- Beat USC. A tall task, but avoid major mistakes, and this Irish team is certainly capable of successfully navigating it.
Imagine for a few moments how it might feel when you awake on Sunday, October 15 morning after three straight wins, including one against sure to be highly ranked USC.
Compare that to how Sunday morning felt this past week.
Notre Dame has a lot left to play for in 2023. An 11-1 Notre Dame team whose only loss was by an eyelash to a highly ranked football team will either be in, or deep in the conversation to play in the College Football Playoff.
As Irish safety Thomas Harper pointed out Saturday night postgame, “we still can accomplish everything that we set out to accomplish this season.” Of course the margin of error to do that shrunk to near nothing Saturday night, but those possible accomplishments still include a national championship.
Conventional wisdom in college football has said for a long time that if you are going to lose one, lose it in September and lose it close, to a pretty good football team.
Check, check and check.
Last Saturday the Irish proved they are a really good football team, maybe the best In South Bend in 20 or so years. In a losing effort ND went head to head with Ohio State and for much of the evening, outplayed them, before the devastating finish.
The three game road back to another shot at making Sunday mornings in 2023 great again and gaining acceptance into that tiny club that makes up the college football elite, starts this week against the 4-0, Duke Blue Devils.