We Hardly Knew Ya...

Notre Dame's Next Man In philosophy will receive its stiffest test with the troublesome, but not unexpected defection of freshman All-America defensive end Aaron Lynch.

When news first broke nine days ago that Aaron Lynch's "excused" absence from Notre Dame's final practice before Easter Break could signal the end of the freshman All-America's brief time at the University, I considered the impact of his absence on two fronts:

  1. Where it definitely matters: On the field. – Lynch was rated among Irisheyes.com's 10-11 best players in his true freshman season last fall. He was a clear candidate to rank among the program's five best players at season's end 2012; potentially its best football player in 2013, and if he were to consider graduation over the NFL (an apparently laughable musing on my part), its top dog in 2014 as well.

  2. Where it might matter, but doesn't have to: Perception. – One year ago today, the Notre Dame football program appeared upward bound. The momentum of a four-game winning streak to end the season coupled with a finishing flourish on its 2011 recruiting class, Lynch included, had fans of the program and the media that followed it closely thinking big. BCS big.

    12 months later, the team is again mired in a quarterback competition, has lost its last two games, scored just five touchdowns in its last six halves of football, suffered a pair of 4-star de-commitments from its 2012 class in the cycle's final month, then lost a 5-star playmaker somewhere around the time the team's head coach noted "no surprises can be a good thing" on National Signing Day.

    To top off an off-season of discontent, the team lost its top-rated defensive freshman to a murky transfer and today, one of its best overall players jumped ship.

Aside from the welcomed second (and third) thoughts of top-ranked quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel, and a unique trip to the Emerald Isle for yours truly for Labor Day weekend, there's not much off-season reason for celebration as South Bend's summer approaches.

Stopping the Downward Spiral

I don't believe half the things I hear at a press conference or interview session. But occasionally, a moment of honesty sneaks in and a coach/player/representative says something that hits home.

"I am not really good at talking anybody into staying on our football team. I'll point out some things that are important. But I don't know that my role is to talk somebody out of quitting, but maybe (rather) pointing out ‘Have you considered this?'"

Those were the words of head coach Brian Kelly regarding the first transfer of his Irish tenure, wide receiver Shaquelle Evans. Evans isn't/wasn't half the talent of Aaron Lynch, and they likely transferred for disparate reasons. But for fans that criticized the previous regime for catering to its stars and for pursuing NFL dreams over the old college try, why then would you want to make continued exceptions for Lynch or anyone else?

Aaron Lynch isn't the first football player not to like it at Notre Dame and bail on his commitment, though he is among the most talented. But I have breaking news for Irish fans: Notre Dame wasn't going to win the BCS Title next year with Aaron Lynch in the starting lineup.

It's true they might lose (an additional) game next year because he's not on the left side of the defensive line, but that's for fans to debate. The football team and staff have moved on. Lynch didn't care enough about his teammates to stay and fight with them. Manti Te'o did. Tyler Eifert did. And as Kelly referenced in today's press conference, others (Lynch's classmate Ishaq Williams included) have decided to fight through adversity and stay as well.

Without wishing Lynch ill-will, those are the players to root for if you're a Notre Dame fan, which leads me to the following:

At present, there are four groups of Irish fans. (I'm lifelong friends and/or a fellow alumnus of a subset of each.)

  1. Hopeful, but Intellectually Honest: "This hurts. Notre Dame has a lot of good players, but not many great players, and he was potentially a great player for the next 2-3 years."

  2. Beaten Down by the Decade: "Lynch left? Oh no, how are we ever going to lose five games again now?"

  3. Unrealistic: "The team is great. It's always great. Losses are the fault of someone else, either the refs, or these opponents that don't have to go to class. Lynch obviously isn't a good guy and he's made a 40-year mistake."

  4. Militant: "Get the rats off the ship…"

My view is closest to that of fan base #1…with #4 a close runner-up.

Winning just got harder, but it was never going to be easy.

If Aaron Lynch didn't want to be at Notre Dame and couldn't stop dreaming of greener pastures (or maybe crystal blue waters is a better analogy), eventually, the program and a coaching staff apparently at its wits end with the tempestuous pass-rusher, will be better off without him.

Or more accurate: it's Brian Kelly's job to make it so.

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