Bye week breather: Brighter days ahead

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At this point, it doesn’t matter that the ACC has reversed course, deciding that the pass interference penalty was on C.J. Prosise after all. And that they’ve acknowledged that the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty they missed for P.J. Williams removing his helmet should’ve set up Notre Dame with a 1st-and-goal at the 9-yard line.

We’re moving on. (I promise.)

After seven games, Notre Dame sits at 6-1. While the polls are essentially meaningless, the AP has the Irish ranked 7th, behind one-loss Auburn, Alabama and Oregon. The Coaches have Notre Dame rated eighth, with a Michigan State team that lost to the Ducks by 19 points joining the previous trio of one-loss teams in front of the Irish as well.

If there’s a takeaway from last weekend other than pain, it’s that Notre Dame can play with the elite of college football. That the defense filled with first-year contributors and question marks can hold their own in the trenches and scheme their way into confusing even college football’s most prolific units has to have Irish fans very excited about the future.

Offensively, the Irish did their job as well. In a game plan that both controlled possession and pushed the pace, Notre Dame would’ve eclipsed 30-points if not for the offensive pass interference flag on C.J.-William Prosise-Fuller.

After sputtering against elite defenses for much of the Kelly era, Notre Dame showcased a running game that moved the chains, two sophomore receivers who showed game-breaking ability, and a quarterback who played impressive football in very hostile territory.

What does it all mean? Not much, if the Irish can’t handle their business down the stretch, which includes battles with Arizona State, Louisville and USC, and challenges from Northwestern and Navy.

But while most talked about Notre Dame’s dubious 1-16 record against Top 5 teams since 1998, there’s no mistaking this unit for a Davie, Willingham or Weis team. And while some still look back at the BCS title game in 2012 or Weis’ flop against LSU in the Sugar Bowl as proof that the Irish are still pretenders, it’s pretty clear this is a horse of a different color.

The Irish’s dream of a second undefeated regular season in three years under Brian Kelly is over. But any look forward can only be met with optimism. We’ll take advantage of this bye week by looking at the first seven games while also gazing forward to 2015.

Between the evolution of this football team and the roster Kelly builds for 2015 and beyond, it’s clear that while Saturday’s loss still stings, there are much brighter days ahead.