Are We There Yet?

For a growing number of Irish fans, a potential “Play-in” game at Stanford and thus the end of the 2015 season can’t come soon enough. Too bad, they’re at risk of missing a good show along the way.

In case you missed it, Notre Dame won a football game against a ranked team on the road Saturday night – a first at the program since the 2012 season.

And whether you thereafter basked in the glow of victory or wallowed in the wake of near defeat, it’s readily apparent that the grind of the college football season – one normally reserved for its combatants – has manifested as well within the Irish fan base.

Indeed, there appears a growing number of folks who measure their in-game and post-game enjoyment primarily through poll positioning, percentages, and the ongoing playoff quest.

But for both the playoff-pushers and self-contained Saturday-centric observers alike (I admit to waffling between the clans, myself), here’s your need-to-know season review to date – with a little help from eight wise men.

TEXAS: “If you can’t eat it, drink it, cash it, or sleep with it, don’t worry about it.” – Keith Jackson

“It” in this case, refers to the ample plaudits and pats on the back the Irish received after dismantling Texas to open the season. Much was made of the performance – too much, of course, considering it was Week One – but for both sects of the fan base, the 38-3 victory over a fellow blue blood was the source of great pride. Back in my day (you know, early September), it didn’t matter that Texas stunk, because the home team was fun to watch.

Pulse of the Fans/Media: Eyes wide open to the improved, intriguing Irish…

VIRGINIA: “He may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class it is, it doesn’t take long to call roll.” – Bum Phillips

“He” refers to the indomitable Will Fuller, the quick-as-a-hiccup junior who laid waste to the Wahoo’s upset bid with a pair of deep strike touchdowns, the latter famously with just 12 seconds remaining.

Fuller saved Notre Dame’s season with his 39-yard “SLUGGO” route from backup quarterback DeShone Kizer. The play would portend the pair’s similar heroics nearly two months later.

Pulse of the Fans/Media: No Malik Zaire, no way…

GEORGIA TECH: “I just wrap my arms around the whole backfield and peel ‘em off one by one until I find the ball carrier. Him I keep.” – Big Daddy Lipscomb

Notre Dame’s great unknown – its rush defense – shined against the purportedly unstoppable Yellow Jackets triple-option attack, taking no prisoners in a dominant performance at scrimmage. And though they’ve floundered since, the Rambling Wreck unwittingly helped boost the national profile of Kelly’s Irish heading into the final week of the season’s opening act.

Pulse of the Fans/Media: What time does the Orange Bowl kickoff, anyway?

MASSACHUSETTS: “We are just the mules. We do all the work so those four fellows can gallop into fame.” – Adam Walsh, Rockne-era lineman in front of the Four Horseman.

The overmatched Minutemen had no answer for Notre Dame’s punch up front and the perimeter speed showcased as a result, as four different Irishmen sped for scores from at least 50 yards out. Notre Dame’s running game was viewed as a revelation, and Clemson was about to find out what power football is all about.

Pulse of the Fans/Media: Big on Big on tap in Death Valley. Who’s ready to join the elite? Who can we bury for at least a week!?

CLEMSON: “Before you can win a game, you have to not lose it.” – Chuck Knoll

Or as noted on our Irish Illustrated podcast two days later, “You can’t win a game in the first quarter but you sure can lose it.”

Notre Dame’s slow start could not be overcome by its frantic finish and head coach Brian Kelly, his players, and the Irish fan base were thus left with the impression that this loss – one in which the Irish never led – should be best described as the one that got away.

Pulse of the Fans/Media: Let’s do this again on New Year’s Eve…

NAVY: “When you lose the must game, the next one becomes the must game.” – Red Holzman

Indeed, Notre Dame didn’t let Clemson “beat them twice” as Kelly mused during his squad’s preparations for the always-game Midshipmen. The Irish got back on track with a sound victory over a quality Navy team that will doubtless aid the Irish strength of schedule case at season’s end.

Pulse of the Fans/Media: Wait and See, because here comes SC…

USC: “It’s a game in which you can feel a clean hatred for your opponent.” – Ronald Reagan

Notre Dame exacted a measure of revenge over its 2014 tormentors from Troy, kicking the Trojans when they were down with a comeback win in prime time. USC thereafter got back on track, to date magnifying the Irish victory in the public eye.

Pulse of the Fans/Media: Can they go 11-1? Can they run the table? Do you think they’ll go 11-1? What if they go 11-1, will they get in? Can we skip ahead to Stanford?

TEMPLE: “Nobody ever said, “Work Ball!’ They say, “Play Ball!’ To me that means having fun.” – Willie Stargell

Saturday night’s Irish victory – again, over a ranked team on the road – seemed to be met more with angst than Sunday morning smiles.  Such is life for the sport’s chosen few in the modern era, those dozen or so program’s saddled with a Playoffs-or-Bust mentality.

Even for the Irish players, relief seems to have replaced the requisite joy that should accompany a thrilling win. For the 2015 Fighting Irish, the journey appears secondary to the destination, which is unfortunate – unless of course, they get there.

Pulse of the Fans/Media: Who cares? Try to enjoy the ride.


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