Just before Notre Dame Clemson faced the 2018 playoff semifinal, coach Brian Kelly complained that the Fighting Irish had been unfairly judged for something that happened six years ago.
We are always compared with what happened in 2012, whether fair or unfair, Kelly said at the time, referring to Notre Dame’s 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS national championship game after the 2012 season. There a new type of parameter has to be defined.
The Fighting Irish lost 30-3 to the Tigers at their first participation in the CFP.
After that game, Kelly told anyone who would listen that the Irish had narrowed the gap in the heavyweight division of the sport by more than a point, which will be reflected in the results.
I feel like it’s different from the [Alabama] game? Oh, yeah. Of course, Kelly said afterwards. I left with the idea that there was so much work to do in the game, so much development, so much recruitment.
2 Connected[Clemson was] the best team tonight…. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s a completely different feeling. I feel like this football team is about to win [a championship], and when I left the game [Alabama], it was like that again: We have a lot of work to do. … We can come back here and win. So it’s a different feeling, very different for me.
It’s been eight years since the Crimson Tide de No. 1 Irish downed – yes, Notre Dame went unbeaten and defeated Alabama, scored the first 35 points and gained 529 yards on foul to win their third BCS title in four seasons.
Ireland’s No. 1 Tide and No 4 will meet in the semi-finals of the CFP at the Rose Bowl presented by Capital One in the new year (4 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App). And while both programs and their head coaches have evolved since that memorable night for the Fighting Irish in South Florida, some things have remained the same.
Nobody gives Notre Dame much of a chance.
Alabama opened as a favorite with 20.5 points, the most in a CFP semifinal or national championship. FPI ESPN gives the Tide an 81% chance to win the race.
Does Notre Dame have more to prove than other CFP teams given her recent post-season history?
No, I mean we knock on the door every year and play against big teams and big opponents, Kelly said this week. And there are elite football teams. I don’t know why this story keeps coming while we’re still playing.
Fault! The file name is not specified. QuarterbackIan Book and the Irish finally broke up in the big game – Notre Dame has been 0-6 in the BCS of New Year’s Six Bowl games since 1998. Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP
Led by Kelly, the Fighting Irish have had their most successful period in more than three decades, since Lou Holtz led them to the national championship in 1988 and nine consecutive January games from 1987 to 1995.
After taking a 4-8 half-time lead in 2016, the Fighting Irish have won 41 regular season games over the past four seasons, the most victories in four years in the history of the school. They are one of only five teams participating in the CFP in different seasons; Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma are the other teams. Notre Dame has posted a 33-4 record since the beginning of the 2018 season. She’s been doing it since the 30th. September 2017 won 24 straight games in Notre Dame Stadium – the longest home win streak in the modern program.
Playing in conference this season due to scheduling issues related to the coronavirus pandemic in her 114-year history, Notre Dame improved her score to 10-0 in the regular season by participating in the CCA. The Irish defeated Clemson (then No. 1) 47-40 in two overtime hours (although Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence was eliminated by COVID-19) and qualified for the CCA-championship game, where they lost a rematch against the Tigers 34-10.
The Fighting Irish have done enough to reach the PCP and will play the Rose Bowl for the first time since the Four Horsemen defeated Stanford 27-10 on New Year’s Day 1925 to win the school’s first national championship.
And yet, despite all this success, Friday’s Rose Bowl looks like Lucy and Charlie Brown to almost everyone living outside the shadow of the Golden Dome.
I understand we have this story, but it can be a bit disappointing, said Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Athletic Director.
This perception, right or wrong, has followed the Irish because of their performance on the biggest podium of the sport in the last two decades. This will be Notre Dame’s seventh participation in a BCS or New Year’s Six Bowl game since 1998. So far, the Irish have won 0-6 without a match being decided by less than two touchdowns.
Look, the history of these teams in these games clearly plays a role, said former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. It’s hard to deal with.
Swarbrick said Notre Dame’s independence – it will be her only season playing in the CCA – is the main reason that she has been the subject of more criticism than other teams who have broken into the post-season.
Whatever we do in the regular season, it will always give people a reason to vote: Well, we should have been in the playoffs instead, Swarbrick said. We can’t be there, whether it’s within the CBS or the CFP, without someone else’s conference champion. This independent dynamic will always give us a clear goal in the low season.
However, it is not the case that Notre Dame is the only team that suffered a loss in the semi-finals of the CFP. The defending champion, the state of Florida, lost to Oregon with 39 points in the semifinals of the CFP in January 2015. In the other semifinals of the CFP, Alabama Michigan beat State 38, Washington 17 and even Clemson 18. Oklahoma is 0-4 in the CFP and loses 18 points on average.
Even Alabama and Clemson, two of the most dominant teams in the PCP era, members defeated. The Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide by 28 points in the 2019 PCP National Championship; last season Clemson lost to LSU by 17 points in the title game.
Of the 12 semi-finals of the CFP played, only three teams won with less than 10 points and eight with 17 or more points. The average victory margin in these races was 21.3 points.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Brian Kelly started working on a change of Notre Dame program immediately after the loss of the BCS National Championship 2012 to Alabama. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
In recent years I’m pretty sure Alabama was blown away by Clemson, said Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame’s attacking lineman. I’m sure other teams were blown away in qualifying as well. I don’t really care. It’s another year. It’s a different team.
Unfortunately Notre Dame cannot show how far they have come in the past eight years against this Alabama team that has an average of 49.7 points and 544 yards per game. Quarterback Mack Jones and receiver DeVonte Smith are finalists for the Heisman Trophy. The Associated Press named six Alabama players to the All-American team and the Irish selected two players – defender Aaron Banks and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoa.
Notre Dame could be a much better team and still not as good as Alabama.
The Irish insist that what happened eight years ago has nothing to do with what happens in the New Year.
It’s been a long time ago, said offensive coordinator Tommy Reese, who was the Irish reserve quarterback in 2012. And there I was. I remember that. And it obviously wasn’t a fun night. I think the program has come a long way under a coach. I think the way we’ve hired, the way we’ve evolved through our program has grown.
And then I think that we have been in this situation several times now, and there is a belief within the program that we are consistently one of the top five teams in the country, and we behave in that way, and we have that belief.
After losing 28 points to Alabama in 2012, Kelly has rebuilt his program to improve recruitment, strength and conditioning, nutrition and field staff.
Look, if you don’t get better every year in every area of your life, you’re gonna get thrown out, Kelly. So you have to look at what you’re doing from the inside. Even after we were undefeated that year , we lost the national championship and were not considered a good football team. We had to face things that could help us grow. And we did it every year.
So we’re the other football team? We’re a different program. We should. You need to be able to change and keep up with current trends and things that happen every day. We all do, don’t we? It doesn’t matter what industry we’re in.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Notre Dame was unbeaten and was number 1 in 2012, until it was eliminated by Alabama in the race for the BCS National Championship. Streeter Lekka/Getty Images
Kelly, 59 years old, has also been softer and more supple on the sidelines. He has delegated more responsibility to his coaches, including Reece, who played quarterback for the Irish from 2010 to 2013 and some of the time was sidelined by Kelly. Kelly promoted Reece, 28, to player when Chip Long was released after three seasons in January 2020.
I can’t tell you how impressed I am, Swarbrick. Forget the coaching community. Every person, every leader, every businessman who is really willing to rethink the way he runs a business and accept big changes and the way he personally responds to them, I think that has the most impact. I was so intrigued by this project that seeing the results helped me a lot. I don’t think there are many people who can do that, who can really fundamentally change the way they have worked for a quarter of a century.
When defense coordinator Mike Elko left for Texas A&M after the 2017 season, Kelly promoted Clark Lea’s linebacker coach. Of the FBS teams, the Irish are 14th for the score (18.6 points), 15th for the score (110.6 yards) and 20th for the score (335.1 yards). This performance has contributed to Lea becoming head coach of Vanderbilt, her alma mater.
Recruitment is an area that has evolved significantly over the past eight years. The Irish put more emphasis on offensive and defensive lines and the depth of construction. It was one of the revelations of Alabama’s defeat in 2012. Of the 22 players who go on the Tide in this game, 16 have played in at least one NFL game. The Irish had almost 15 players (another potential NFL player, offensive tackler Christian Lombard, had to retire from football in 2014 due to a back injury).
The difference was that Alabama had players like future NFL fullback T.J. Gilligan playing in reserve. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, linebacker Reggie Ragland, defensive lineman Landon Collins and offensive lineman Ryan Kelly.
The difference was the depth, Swarbrick said. Our starting defenders were [Stephon] Tuitt, [Louis] Nix and [Capron] Lewis-Moore. But we didn’t have the next three and three that Alabama would bet.
Notre Dame has distinguished herself in recruiting and training offensive line workers. In 2018, quarterback Quenton Nelson and tackler Mike McGlinchey were both in the top 10 of the NFL draft. Eichenberg is the sixth best tackle available for next year’s design according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Banks is the fifth best goaltender.
I think Notre Dame understands that they produce some of the best offensive linebackers in the NFL, Quinn said. There’s no reason why they can’t recruit at the highest level for these guys, and they did. If you’re running back to school, why don’t you come to Notre Dame and play behind that offensive line?
Alabama had selected nine players in the first three rounds of the NFL draft in April, including four players taken in the first round. The Irish had three players in the first three rounds – none in the first round. Kiper predicts that four Alabama players will be selected in the first round of the NFL 2021 draft, with Najee Harris as No. 1 guard and another potential first-round pick. He has a Notre Dame player, Owusu-Koramoa, who is in the top 32.
It seems that every step Our Lady takes is a step forward, Alabama makes a new leap.
No, we didn’t win the national championship, that’s true, Kelly. I’m not changing the record. But we’re here every year, working like everyone else. And only one team can celebrate the end of the year. And we keep fucking coming back here. And that’s our job. And it is our job to fight for a national championship every year, and we will continue to do so.