Leftovers & Links: The redeeming value in Notre Dame’s Rose Bowl loss; on transfers and All-Americans

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One - Alabama v Notre Dame
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Rhapsodizing about the rare lasting wonders of college football is not necessarily appropriate immediately after a blowout loss. The thoughts following Notre Dame’s 31-14 Playoff semifinal loss to Alabama were better spent focused on where and how the Irish fell short in the Rose Bowl.

But even in the defeat, perhaps especially in the defeat, the redeeming quality of this hypocritical, exploitative sport showed itself.

The usual Notre Dame season broadly lasts from the start of August to the end of November with a weekend or two off in August and at least one off weekend during the season. In 2020, that would have been a 17-week stretch broken up by those reprieves.

But of course, this was not a usual season. Instead, the Irish buckled down under pandemic protocols in June and did not relent until January 2. Once the football aspects of the stretch intensified, the season extended from mid-August to the new year, a 20-week stretch with no mental break and rare outside contact amid the added stresses of the pandemic. All so these 18-to 23-year-olds could play football without proper pay or representation.

At the very end of it, though, Notre Dame senior right tackle Robert Hainsey explained why he put up with it all.

“All the seniors, like Ian (Book) and Tommy (Kraemer) and Liam (Eichenberg), (Aaron) Banks, all the guys I’ve left with, it’s been a great couple of years,” Hainsey said.

That isn’t the rare lasting wonder of college football. Nearly every college senior will say his or her closest classmates defined their last couple of years.

“But the guys to my right and left,” Hainsey continued, pausing in his postgame Zoom availability to nod toward a sophomore running back and a freshman tight end, “Kyren (Williams) and Mike (Mayer), sophomore, freshman coming in, those are the guys — you guys made this season an absolute blast to play.”

Hainsey then stopped talking to the media, turning his head from one side to the other, rather than facing the webcam some feet ahead of him.

“Kyren, your tenacity and the way you play, it was some of the most fun I’ve had playing football. Mike, seeing you step in as a young guy, I did the same thing, it was a blast, and seeing you excel and do that stuff is what made this season so much fun.

“So thank you guys for being there and doing that.”

There is a lot wrong with college football, but there is still redeeming value in the relationships it creates.

Coming out of that semifinal and the 49-28 Ohio State victory against Clemson following it, the topic du jour — and appropriately so — was that 10 of 14 Playoff semifinals have been won by at least three possessions. Heading into tonight’s national championship game, take comfort in knowing only three of the six Playoff championships have been blowouts. The other three were 3-, 4- and 5-point games.

Among the lot wrong with college football is the overreaction, hand-wringing and judgment from many fans whenever a player announces an intention to transfer away from a program. They are quick to insist either the player failed or the program did, the transfer clearly a sign of a problem.

Sometimes it is simply best for both parties. If a player does not see a path to playing time as he enters his junior or senior season, and he prioritizes said playing time, then it is in his best interest to go find it elsewhere, and it is in the program’s best interest to not have resentment within the locker room.

The outgoing transfers from Notre Dame this winter are largely such situations, and the influx is a natural effect of the last 10 months. Typically, players can sort out their standing in the depth chart in spring practices. If they want to make one last surge, they can test the waters in the preseason.

There was no 2020 spring practice, and preseason practices were disjointed at best. On top of that, any move from one campus to another in August would have included quarantine logistics at the cost of a player’s fitness.

Thus, there were fewer transfers in the spring and summer than would normally be the case, not just from South Bend, but from everywhere. The Irish saw players like linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath and defensive end Kofi Wardlow announce intentions to transfer during the season, having found their depth-chart standing to be lower than they hoped and not wanting to endure the aforementioned 20 weeks of pandemic protocols if not playing.

Understandable in every regard.

Players like defensive end Ovie Oghoufo, safety Houston Griffith and cornerback Isaiah Rutherford may have known they were falling behind classmates or players younger than them in April if there had been spring practices. That may have prompted their transfers then as learning such over the last few months did now.

It is less an influx in transfers and more a shift in timing due to the pandemic.

The expected one-time transfer waiver has also served as an allure to many of the 12 Irish players in the transfer portal, graduate or otherwise. If the NCAA changes course on that expectation this offseason, it will be doing a disservice to such players, which is to say, do not put anything past the NCAA.

These two factors, along with the universal 2020 eligibility waiver granting a blanket extra year, will combine to leave many players across the country without a home when all is said and done. Some projections suggest as many as 1,000 players will be left in the transfer portal without scholarships. That may sound extreme, but with 11,050 players typically rostered (130 teams x 85 players per team) and the extra year of eligibility inflating the number of eligible players closer to 14,000, then the thousand makes some sense.

It seems unlikely any of the Notre Dame dozen will be among those 1,000, as such misfortune generally trickles downward, but it is regardless yet another ripple effect of the pandemic not realized, and certainly not accounted for by the NCAA.

Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah became the first unanimous Irish All-American since left guard Quenton Nelson in 2017, and with left tackle Liam Eichenberg and left guard Aaron Banks joining Owusu-Koramoah as consensus first-team All-Americans, Notre Dame had its most since 1990, when four players were unanimous selections.

Under head coach Brian Kelly, the Irish had multiple consensus first-team All-Americans in 2017 (left tackle Mike McGlinchey, Nelson) and 2015 (linebacker Jaylon Smith, left tackle Ronnie Stanley), as well as unanimous selection linebacker Manti Te’o in 2012 and consensus cornerback Julian Love in 2018.

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