The Notre Dame Fighting Irish had a fantastic football season in 2012 and I'm glad it's over so I can sit back and enjoy it in full. I'm doing just that. You'd think that after getting blown out in their last game of the season I'd be dejected, but I feel as if I've discovered the leprechaun’s gold.
The team won 12 times. The Irish beat three teams that had a legitimate chance at the beginning of the season to be where Notre Dame was last night.
Notre Dame saved three other teams (Oregon, KSU, and Florida) the embarrassment of losing to Alabama, one of the best dynasties in college history. Alabama would have put up even more points against those teams, not just because Notre Dame had the second best defense (only behind Alabama) in college football, but because the Irish didn't have any expectation of winning.
Nick Saban has never lost a big game with a month to prepare his team—he's 4 for 4 in National Title games. There was no expectation for Notre Dame to do anything other than what they did Monday. If Alabama had been playing Oregon, and for five weeks had heard that Oregon was going to win (or KSU or Florida for that matter) Alabama would have played even harder than they did. 42-14 would have been respectable in comparison.
Monday night's National Title game had one of the biggest point spreads in history at 10, but it was far from the biggest title blowout. Far better teams, with far higher expectations, have been blown out by bigger margins and on even brighter stages.
Nebraska beat Florida 62-24 in 1996.
Florida beat Florida State 52-20 in 1997.
Nebraska beat Tennessee 42-17 in 1998.
Florida State only scored 2 points in 2001.
Miami beat Nebraska 37-14 in 2002.
USC beat Oklahoma 55-19 in 2005.
Florida beat Ohio State 41-14 in 2007 (OSU was #1 at the time).
Alabama beat Texas 37-21 in 2010 and LSU 21-0 in 2012.
If Notre Dame was the sacrificial lamb, it was because they were first to the slaughter. They had a great season this year. They won in blowout fashion against rivals like Navy and Miami and against a very good Oklahoma team. They ground out wins against Stanford, Michigan, and USC. They sneaked past non-contenders like BYU, Pitt and Purdue. This season was more memorable than the '05 and '06 seasons, each culminating with losses in BCS bowls. This year Notre Dame won the close games.
This time around in the BCS Notre Dame lost to Alabama and Nick Saban, the best coach in college football since the days of Bryant, Hayes, and Leahy.
Early in the second quarter there was a moment when I thought I'd turn the TV off, but it didn't take long to realize that I would stick it out no matter what. This is Notre Dame football. It's an honor to watch any Fighting Irish team play on any stage, against any opponent, win or lose. I appreciated every second of the game after that point.
I couldn't enjoy the first quarter, and it had nothing to do with how many points Alabama scored or how poorly Notre Dame played defense. As usual, I had a problem with the poor officiating. Thankfully it didn't come close to deciding the outcome of the game, but it took me almost until the half and a few beers to forget about it.
The refs botched a debatable catch along the sidelines which would have been a first down to keep Notre Dame's first drive alive, and then threw a penalty on what was obviously an Alabama fumble. Just because a player calls a fair catch doesn't mean he doesn't have to catch the ball. The refs, God bless their generous souls, even tried to give a fumble to Alabama that was obviously down by contact, though they did review and overturn that call.
All of this killed Notre Dame's offense early in the game, and I'm certain the refs played into the first half blowout (the second half was a much more competitive 14-14 without them), but I have no delusions that Notre Dame would have won—they wouldn't have, not against Alabama. Yet the game could have been more intriguing. Just for pride I'd have liked to see the score 28-21. It's hard to score when you can't keep the ball, and it's hard to stop a team when they have the ball more than they should.
….and many of the college football fans awaiting me on the internet after the game would have been depressing if they weren't so comical. I saw more Irish fans talking about how good Alabama was than I saw Alabama fans talking up their own team, let alone everyone else. Most were flaming Notre Dame for choking or for being overrated (well yeah, duh), and it seemed that watching one of the most dominate football teams in history was lost on them.
I know how angry fans can get (I have to put up with Jets fans after all...just kidding...sort of), but that opened my eyes to how shallow people can be even after a big game that goes in their favor. That it wasn't Irish fans being poor sports after a big loss was fascinating. It's clear a lot of people hate Notre Dame, it's human nature to root against a winner. But it was uncomfortable that despite losing, despite not earning the spotlight, it was still given to us—not by the media, but by the people who complain that the media gives Notre Dame too much attention. Thank you, you're sweet, but we didn't deserve the attention. Alabama did.
How ironic, but fortunately it wasn't the darker side of fanaticism.
It's too bad there are so many college fans that don't understand humility, but at least they're not out sexually assaulting other fans or rioting.
Or doing this...
It's just football, stop trying to vent your primal rage and enjoy the games for what they are, entertainment. Bitter fans can suck the enjoyment out of sports as much as careless officiating can. Thankfully this time that didn't happen, though it's worth noting.
As for Notre Dame, there's a lot to look forward to in years to come. Brian Kelly is no Nick Saban but he's a great coach in his own right, a prolific recruiter and a phenomenal motivator. He was as cool as a pickle when he spoke just after the end of the half, but whatever he said to the team in the locker room fired them up enough to give it their all the rest of the way, giving a competitive showing against a team who clearly wanted to shut us out. It wasn't the Irish players growing frustrated and losing their composure, it was the Alabama players and head coach doing so. That made me smile.
Golson had a decent game for being a freshman in the biggest game of his life. He didn't throw a pick until the last possession and only then because of a circus catch.
I was already a Louis Nix fan, but seeing #9 come back into the game after suffering a leg injury, watching him limp around but continue to make plays—I have a new favorite player. That alone was worth watching the entire game for.
The experience these kids got playing Alabama is going to be put to good use in the coming years. It makes me wonder how Te'o would have performed if he had had that experience going into this game. Or others on the team. That makes a big difference, and it's hard to imagine that they weren't out of their element.
There is gold at the end of the rainbow.
The Irish have a lot of talent coming to school next year. A lot of gifted freshman to replace the few players leaving for the NFL.
Kelly has the top recruiting class in the nation. He knows what to do with talent.
And all I can think is....
Is it September yet?