Here’s a 2015 August Camp hypothetical to mull over:
“Attention Notre Dame fans, you’re going to play Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl following the season, and as for the playoffs, well, you fell one play short.”
After mulling the disappointment of the latter, a universal response from the Irish fan base doubtless would have been: “Great!”
But oh by the way, during the game Jarron Jones won’t be able to move to his left or right, Sheldon Day will be throwing up prior and hobbled by what was thought to be a broken foot, Daniel Cage will be severely limited, Jerry Tillery and Max Redfield recently suspended, a less-than-100 percent C.J. Prosise won’t give it the old college try, KeiVarae Russell, Shaun Crawford, Drue Tranquill, Devin Butler (wow that’s a lot of DBs) and Tarean Folston won’t play due to injuries, and wait…there’s one more thing…oh yeah, Jaylon Smith will be lost for the game during the first quarter!
Amended Fan Response: “Um, no thanks…”
In light of those injuries, maybe a 44-28 loss to the 12-1 defending national champions should be excused for the time being.
“The one thing you never thought was, ‘Will they stop fighting?’ and they didn’t,” said Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick post-game. “It was so cool to watch – actually I missed it all, I was with Jaylon in here (the locker room). But it was so cool to listen to and know it was coming.”
They indeed kept coming, though victory never seemed plausible after yet another 14-0 first quarter deficit. Which reminds me, under head coach Brian Kelly Notre Dame is the Lonesome George of fast starts, but I digress.
Not many Irish fans went to bed pleased to open the new year, and regardless of your take – whether it be half-full, pride swelling from within after watching a team battle for 780 continuous game minutes, or half-empty, considering the season’s top win occurred vs. the Naval Academy – it seems somehow appropriate.
THE ACCEPTED END
Ultimately the 2015 Irish were good and at times very good, but fell well short of great. They performed admirably in the wake of a ludicrous string of injuries but lost at least three times for the 21st time in the last 22 seasons – the life span of the team’s eldest players.
Relative to the program’s recent terms, the 2015 Irish were the best of the also-rans. The Best of the Also-Rans – not appearing anytime soon on a T-shirt near you.
They recorded one upset among their 10 victories – a home win against eventual 3-9 Georgia Tech. Conversely, in both of their regular season losses, Kelly’s Irish were arguably the better team, losing by two at Clemson due in part to hasty sideline logic, and on a field goal at Stanford due in large part to a defense that repeatedly failed to hold up its end of the bargain.
Clemson, as you must now realize, is elite. Stanford, like Notre Dame at close-to-full strength, is too. Only Friday at the Fiesta Bowl was Notre Dame clearly not the better team, and if season-long performers Day, Tillery, Cage, Russell and I suppose Redfield were in the fold, Kelly’s Irish would have and could have arguably beaten the Buckeyes as well as everyone in college football on January 1 save for that Evil Empire in Tuscaloosa.
(Derrick Henry, meet…ah, no reason to go there.)
So choose your 2015 Season epitaph Irish fans (and while we’re discussing it, why not choose here), and whether your glass be half-full, half-empty, drained or overflowing, remember this crucial truth that represents all sports teams that aren’t ultimately crowned a champion:
The Journey is the thing.
It’s hard to argue Notre Dame’s in 2015 wasn’t successful, enjoyable, and a battle to the end.