Downward Spiral

Notre Dame's 2014 failures mask what should be a title-contending season in 2015.

It wasn't the sloppiest or most frustrating 60 minutes of the season, that happened two weeks ago in the desert.

It wasn't the most heart-breaking defeat, Tallahassee in mid-October owns that category without a runner-up in sight.

And it wasn't the loss among 2014's ever increasing lot that has drawn, or will draw the most ire from Irish fans, as mighty, mighty Northwestern claims that crown and might not relinquish it -- it is to be hoped -- for the foreseeable future.

No, this loss by Notre Dame seems, well, empty, by comparison.

As Thomas Paine offered, "These are the times that try men's souls."

There's little left to say or write, (other than "Please, anywhere but Shreveport") and nothing left to celebrate.

What can be written about a team that played, relatively speaking, pretty well defensively Saturday but still yielded 31 points? What can be said about an offense that "wasn't that sloppy" but was nonetheless saddled with an interception and two fumbles. Hey, they recovered 'em both!

Head coach Brian Kelly doesn't have much left to say, beginning both of his last two post-game postmortems with the oft-uttered Weis-ian phrase, "Alright, fire away." (Not the best word choice for a coach, I might add.)

Kelly, like fans of his team, likely wants the regular season to end as quickly as humanly possible. The veteran head coach can then get a few pertinent bodies back for bowl preparations, which, for the fourth time in his five-year tenure in South Bend, will include a healthy focus on next year rather than the utterly meaningless post-season task at hand.

But the familiar refrain, 'Wait til next year' has but one more season of shelf life for the current regime. With nearly every player back of consequence for Kelly and his staff in 2015, youth and inexperience will no longer be an excuse, however valid it is at present.

But the present feels…empty?

Notre Dame's consecutive losses have dropped them from officially out of contention, to further out of contention, to not being able to see contention with binoculars.

The conclusion of Saturday's loss to Louisville was greeted with a roar from the partisan Cardinals crowd that had plastered red throughout the House that Rockne Built. Notre Dame students showed up to salute their classmates but South Bend's faithful was anything but, giving away tickets they couldn't sell in the wake of the wind and rain and habitual defeats.

That's the word we're looking for. Not "empty." Habitual.

Much better. And yet, much worse.

The Irish have turned into habitual offenders. That is, they lose too much. Nine of their last 25 matchups since ending the 2012 regular season atop the college football world. (No. 10 in 26 appears to be tap next Saturday, I might add.)

And to think 'winning ugly' used to be the fan base's chief complaint…

"We've created a winning culture here at home and didn't take care of business with that," said Irish senior captain Cam McDaniel of his squad's shocker at the hands of Northwestern. That culture is officially on hiatus, albeit likely to return in 2015 when Kelly's fully loaded Irish roster will boast two handfuls of proven seniors, a healthy collection of contributing juniors, and double-digit battle-tested sophomores.

There aren't five collegiate rosters better equipped to make a run in 2015 than the group Kelly has collected in South Bend. But there aren't two that have regressed more over the last month.

What began as an unexpected thrill-ride has devolved into a train wreck.

One from which everyone, from Kelly to you and I, cannot wait to look away.


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