ONE DOWN, SIX TO GO
Notre Dame prevailed against the always game Midshipmen Saturday afternoon, favorable in that the Irish can’t afford to lose, at least not if they’re to reach their oft-stated goal of a college football playoff berth.
It’s an all-or-nothing destination openly discussed within the program since August, one inconveniently made public and pertinent last week in the wake of Notre Dame’s 24-22 loss in Death Valley.
That Game No. 5 loss means head coach Brian Kelly’s squad is tasked with finishing the season winning seven consecutive contests following defeat, something no Notre Dame team has done since Bob Davie’s 2-2 unit in 2000 did the same, but that collection of talent had no hope of being called to the sport’s main stage.
Lou Holtz’s Thunder and Lightning-led squad of 1992 did, and those Irish finished 10-1-1 after a 3-1-1 start, dropping from pre-season No. 3 to No. 13 on October 6. Had a playoff system been in place, #5 Notre Dame would have been banging on a locked door hoping to join the foursome’s party.
(Instead, the Irish later hammered undefeated #4 Texas A&M, 28-3 in the Cotton Bowl. It was a muddled post-season world we inhabited as college football fans in those days.)
THE (WEEKLY) TASK AT HAND
For the current crop of Irishmen, it’s Win and (it is to be hoped) Get In. Lose? Well, the college football landscape has a wide variety of holiday consolation prizes these days.
Not an ideal existence, but it’s living.
And it’s a lifestyle the squad has apparently embraced.
“Our guys understand that the margin (for error) is very small right now,” said quarterback DeShone Kizer. “As long as we continue to prepare the way we prepared this week, and play as if it’s one or done – we’re in sort of like March Madness mode, I think we’ll be okay going forward.”
Kizer’s reference to the sporting world’s widely accepted “greatest tournament of all” is fitting, because the actual greatest tournament – every college football season – remains ongoing. And Notre Dame is among three handfuls of teams still alive.
That number will shrink closer to a Baker’s Dozen after next weekend with at least five elimination games to be played among 10 contending teams outside of South Bend.
October Uproar? November Nonsense? And yes, December Decisions. It’s all on tap, and Notre Dame fans should have a front row seat to the end.
Two more October outings are on the docket with a welcomed week’s respite between USC’s biennial journey to South Bend next Saturday and a trip to Philadelphia on Halloween.
Notre Dame commences its road warrior status against undefeated Temple during the latter, hitting the Steel City thereafter before briefly touching down on campus for some Senior Day fun against Wake Forest, the perceived “break” on the slate.
A venture out east to face rival Boston College is followed seven days later with a trip to The Farm in Palo Alto – flipping coasts over Thanksgiving’s short practice week is some ill-advised scheduling, my friends – and what Irish fans now must hope remains a one, or at most two-loss Stanford team on the opposing sideline.
(The 4-1 Cardinal host one-loss UCLA on Thursday. Stanford also has Oregon and arch-rival California to handle at home in November prior to Notre Dame’s arrival.)
Stanford’s continued success is paramount, because while Notre Dame’s schedule remains a grind, but it’s not one heavily populated by fellow contenders.
But today, mind not what is out of your control Irish fans, because continue to Win and the Irish are (likely) In, which is why Kizer when answering seven of the nine questions posed to him post-game included a reference to the future rather than only the conquered foe of the moment.
“It’s unreal the focus this team has,” said Kizer. “We’re different. We understand that this team has all the capabilities of being very good and that we can be the best team in the country each week.”
They’ll at least have to be the best team on the field for six more Saturdays.
“They weren’t talking about last week, they weren’t talking about USC, they were focused on playing this (Navy) team,” said Kelly. “And that’s really all you can ask for as a coach. I thought their focus was outstanding. And it paid off.”
Lather, rinse, repeat.