For all the misplaced angst over No. 15 Notre Dame’s berth in the Camping World Bowl, a destination outside anyone’s control in a season when college football was unprecedentedly deep at the top, none of the frustration seems to think back to the Irish loss at Georgia in mid-September.
The way the season panned out across the country, it is entirely reasonable Notre Dame would be heading to the Peach Bowl on Dec. 28 as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff opposite No. 1 LSU if the Irish had made one more play in Athens.
It is obviously an exercise in the hypothetical, but it goes to show just how close the margin of error is between the Playoff and a date near Disney World.
If Notre Dame had won between the hedges, it would have finished the season no worse than 11-1 with wins over a top-10 Georgia, No. 22 USC, No. 23 Navy and No. 24 Virginia. The only other one-loss team in consideration for that final playoff spot, Oklahoma boasts a pair of wins against No. 7 Baylor as well as a victory against No. 25 Oklahoma State.
The debate between the two teams would have been worthwhile and lengthy, but presuming the Irish at least showed up at Michigan in this hypothetical — with more at stake, a feasible possibility — they likely would have gotten the No. 4 seed in place of the Sooners.
More than a lamentable “What if …?”, this illustrates the fine line between success and angst in a sport with a small sample size of 12-13 weekends in the fall.
The instinct all year has been to lament #NotreDame's faceplant at Michigan as 2019's "What if?", but November has made me wonder … "What if Braden Lenzy hadn't suffered a concussion the week of the Georgia game?"https://t.co/75mOrr4wkg
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) December 2, 2019
Losing by six points on the road in the environment that was the primetime chaos at Sanford Stadium was seen as a step in the right direction for Notre Dame, broadly speaking. Afterward, the lack of a running game stood out, exacerbated by a concussion sidelining Braden Lenzy. Nonetheless, the Irish had the ball with a genuine chance to win in the final minute.
“We were one possession away, one play away from winning the game,” senior receiver Chase Claypool said afterward.
Little did Claypool, or anyone, know they were one possession away, one play away from reaching the Playoff.
It’s a hypothetical, but it is not an outlandish one, in retrospect.
Instead, Notre Dame has to answer the typical motivation questions tied to a bowl game outside the New Year’s Six, let alone outside the Playoff.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly responded to those wonderings Sunday by pointing out the dynamics afloat since his team fell apart in the rain in Ann Arbor. Since that debacle, Notre Dame has been clearly out of the national title picture and the basic argument wonders what else there is to play for.
Despite that irrational view, the Irish have rattled off five increasingly-dominant wins.
“It’s just like the last five games we’ve played,” Kelly said. “It’s about a standard of play. It’s about an opportunity where a lot of these guys will be playing for their last game with this team. They want to play well. They want to play for each other. They want to continue to play at a high level.”
Even that is making too much of a perception perpetuated from only the outside.
“It’s really not about a lot of those different narratives other than these are 18-to 21-year-olds that are really focused on preparing and wanting to play well, enjoying being with their teammates for the last time this year, and not to make it much more complicated than that.”
A Counting Down the Irish revisionist oversight
In Friday’s review of the preseason “Counting Down the Irish”, one name was not given proper credit, a mistake pointed out by jojo3057.
Senior defensive end Jamir Jones finished the season with 24 tackles, including 6.5 for loss with 4.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries, all in a season in which he was expected to play no more than four games. Jones’ contributions in 2019 should certainly have put him among the most vital players in hindsight.
Any Monday troubles on this site?
A new version of WordPress took over hosting duties of “Inside the Irish” on Monday, rendering many functions unavailable for a portion of midday Monday during the transition. Apologies for any inconvenience, though what exactly what was available and unavailable is somewhat a gray area.
If anything seems yet amiss, please do the favor of passing the feedback along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For that matter, rather than spend any of the next 17 days idly creating arguments why Notre Dame should lose to Iowa State, feel free to send in some mailbag questions to fill the time.
INSIDE THE IRISH READING
— Notre Dame’s decade compares favorably to rivals’
— Counting Down the Irish in review: Disappointments? Surprises?
— No. 15 Notre Dame, Iowa State to meet in Camping World Bowl
— With perspective, Camping World Bowl a worthy destination for No. 15 Notre Dame
🎅 SANTA! We know him!
Our favorite event of the year – when we get to take local kids shopping for presents for them and their family.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) December 8, 2019