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.
Always Fighting. Always Irish. #GoIrish x #Rally pic.twitter.com/H9L2DlLPrA
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) January 2, 2021
“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.
As Ian Book, Kyren Williams, Robert Hainsey and Michael Mayer leave the interview area, Hainsey pauses to grab his name card as a keepsake.
We can *all* relate.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) January 2, 2021
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.
So sappy as it sounds, thanks to anyone who wastes their time reading my drivel, particularly when it's rambling.
The encouraging words when furloughed were appreciated, the warm welcome back at the season's start was needed, and the active readership pushed me forward.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) January 2, 2021
INSIDE THE IRISH ROSE BOWL COVERAGE:
— Alabama jumps Notre Dame in all-too familiar scene at an altogether different Rose Bowl
— Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s problem not ‘unique,’ but undeniable
NOTRE DAME PERSONNEL:
— Griffith, four others into transfer portal; Banks to the NFL
— Former Wisconsin QB Jack Coan brings starting experience
— With Kurt Hinish returning, interior DL a 2021 strength
— TE Tommy Tremble heads to the NFL as run-blocker extraordinaire
ASSISTANT COACHING CHANGES:
— Notre Dame hires top defensive coordinator target, Cincinnati’s Marcus Freeman
— Reports: Notre Dame safeties coach Terry Joseph heading to Texas
Round grade: High sixth https://t.co/M8rRjpnMkh
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) January 9, 2021
OUTSIDE ROSE BOWL COVERAGE:
— In the strangest Rose Bowl, Alabama’s win felt as routine as ever
— The day the Rose Bowl came to cold, windy Dallas suburbs
— How Saban, Alabama teammates explained Najee Harris’ Rose Bowl hurdle
— College football SP+ rankings: Notre Dame tumbles in post-bowl update
— What’s next for college football’s top non-title game teams?
OUTSIDE PERSONNEL COVERAGE:
— Marcus Freeman: two cultures, one family
— Jack Coan comes full circle with transfer to Notre Dame
— Vanderbilt hiring Barton Simmons to player ops role
GENERAL OUTSIDE READING:
— Coronavirus, vaccine, revenue remain college football concerns as rocky season comes to end
— 2021 NFL mock draft
— Top 17 Heisman Trophy candidates for 2021 college football season
— I still wouldn’t bet against John Wolford
— Rams need to stick with John Wolford and start him in playoffs
— Auburn has fallen well behind its rivals along the OL
— The college football champion not in the title game
I'm still a bit curious what five people gave Ian Book first-place Heisman votes … https://t.co/qdLfbwRhFo
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) January 6, 2021