Even outside the playoff, winning bowl is critical for Irish

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The last few years Notre Dame has used their month of bowl preparations to get a jumpstart on spring practice. Whether that was force-feeding reps to then freshman Max Redfield to prepare for the Pinstripe Bowl or getting a closer look at redshirt linemen like Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars, Brian Kelly valued the December month of practice in a way not dissimilar from spring football.

Not this year.

While there was certainly disappointment in the air yesterday when the four playoff teams were set and Notre Dame came in at No. 8, it disappeared quickly when the Irish saw they were playing Ohio State. In years past, Kelly talked about combatting disinterest from outgoing seniors. This year that seems far from the problem—with the veterans on this roster knowing how important it is to their legacy to win a premier bowl game in their final chance to play together.

“I think first and foremost, this team wants to win, and so winning will be the most important thing,” Kelly said. “I think that we’d like to say that experimenting with positions and getting young guys work is really left to the spring. This is about preparing this football team for one last game.”

If the Irish were looking for a consolation prize for having a great season ruined in Palo Alto, they were given that opportunity. Now they need to rise to the challenge of facing Urban Meyer’s latest dynasty in the making, facing off with a Buckeyes team that won the national championship last year and is a ridiculous 49-4 in the four seasons since Meyer took over the Ohio State program.

That means another three weeks of preparing for a dominant running football team, with the Buckeyes averaging over 240 yards a game behind All-American Ezekiel Elliott and a very good offensive line. On the other side of the football, it means preparing for Joey Bosa, the Buckeyes havoc-wreaking defensive end who’ll likely be among the top five picks in the NFL Draft.

Between the three former Notre Dame assistants on staff with the Buckeyes, the countless recruiting battles—past, present and future—and a claim for superiority among the Midwest’s bluechip powers (sorry Spartans), a bowl game that doesn’t lead to a championship sure feels like a grand stage nonetheless.

“Heck yeah. Winning this is important. It’s important,” Kelly said, when asked about the impact this game will have on his program. “Not being there in a while and not playing well in 2012 on a national stage, you know, it’s very important for us to play well and win the game.”