A means to an end

Notre Dame scuffled to a 16-14 Senior Day victory yesterday in South Bend. What should the on-field product and end result mean to Irish fans?

For fans and media – both impartial and decidedly partial – there are two viewpoints regarding Notre Dame's 16-14 victory over 3-8 Boston College on Saturday:

  1. That's not good enough! Notre Dame struggled to defeat a team that lost by 27 to Central Florida, by 31 to Florida State; vs. a team that lost to Duke – DUKE! – and against a team that has defeated just two FBS schools this season, one of them Maryland, for crying out loud.

    Or…

  2. Relief: Notre Dame won a nail-biter in November vs. a rival that has generally given the program all it can handle and then some. BC has beaten the Irish four of the last five times the teams met in November; two of those wins served as program-crushing defeats for Notre Dame; another ruined a Senior Day; yet another helped usher a head coach out the door.

    This camp of fans is likely to back from Saturday's singular victory and not that Notre Dame made its way to an acceptable 8-3 record after a 0-2 start. It made its way to 8-3 with the season's litmus test just seven days away.

Head coach Brian Kelly and his players, of course, embrace the latter mindset.

"Pretty happy locker room, great win for us," he began post-game. "The kids persevered and played hard for four quarters. We ask ‘em to play hard for four quarters and they did tonight.

"Just a satisfying win as a football coach to see your team battle," he continued. "We've overcome a lot of things…"

Few college football fans, members of the media, or casual observers consider the mantra "A win's a win," of any particular value, especially in a sport with a post-season based on style points. Nor should they: none of the above toil for that victory – for any of the 12 wins available on 12 fall Saturdays.

Moving then from semi-partial writer to completely partial life-long fan, I'm admittedly less-than-impressed with an 8-3 mark that includes losses to three of the five best teams the Irish faced – and it says something about the strange way the 2011 schedule played out that South Florida actually falls into the "best" category.

But at 0-2 in mid-September, Notre Dame fans, players, and coaches shared one spoken goal: win nine straight going into the Stanford contest.

Unrealistic? Probably, they won eight. The loss, of course, was disheartening: a widely witnessed step back vs. hated USC after baby steps forward.

Now 8-3, Notre Dame is set up for another game the *entire football nation will witness: at 10-1 and Top 10 (likely #6) Stanford, a matchup that includes Heisman implications and a Senior Day swan song for future No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Luck.

<*It's official: the ABC broadcast will go to 100 percent of the time slot's viewing audience.)

Through the fire; into the flame

Notre Dame won three tough games in which they seemingly played down to its competition: at Pittsburgh, at Wake Forest, and yesterday vs. Boston College. The latter contains no built-in excuse other than relevant and recent history of the series (but let's not pretend the word "rival" equates to "offensive competence") while the former pair was road games vs. teams with a pulse that happened to beat a bit more rapidly when the Irish came calling.

Pittsburgh killed South Florida; Wake Forest beat Florida State – they're both capable, if not wholly-impressive football teams that Notre Dame subdued over 60 minutes.

Notre Dame has long found ways to lose such games. In fact, they found a way to do just that last year vs. Tulsa. The Irish are not a great football team in Year 2 of the Kelly era as many had hoped. But that was evident after (during?) the USC loss. It's not news.

"News" would be if Notre Dame marched into Stanford and took down a Cardinal team that has lost twice in its last 24 games – both to national power Oregon.

News would be if Notre Dame gets punched in the mouth (they will, repeatedly) and punches back for four quarters. It will be news if Notre Dame plays up to another team's level as so many lesser foes have vs. the Irish this season.

And consider the Irish had lost eight of nine November games prior to Kelly's arrival, it will be news if Notre Dame finishes back-to-back Novembers with a 7-0 record that includes three upsets (Utah, USC, Stanford) – the latter a true program-changer.

In other words, there's a third way of viewing yesterday's snooze-fest victory over a poor Boston College team:

It was a means to an end.

Stanford week, and the season's true test is upon us.


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