We see you Notre Dame, sitting there with a record as clean as Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Baylor and Florida State. Don’t think for one second we are forgetting about you, because how can we?
Notre Dame is one of six undefeated teams left standing in the country. Will they still be there this time next weekend? The Irish head to Tallahassee, Florida to take on Florida State, with the defending national champions looking about as much of a lock to be in the four-team College Football Playoff field as any. This is the final game in a key three-game stretch for Notre Dame to prove something to the nation. The first two tests key three-game stretch for Notre Dame to prove something to the nation. The first two tests went well, I suppose. Now comes the mid-term exam.
While each college football season should ideally be judged and evaluated solely on the body of work put together during the course of that particular season, it can be difficult to shake the feeling we have been here before with Notre Dame. That is not fair to the Irish, but it may be the reality. Two years ago Notre Dame strung together a perfect 12-0 regular season, kicking off with a win in Ireland and highlighting the journey to Miami with victories over Michigan State, Oklahoma, USC and, of course, Stanford. The Irish climbed the rankings that season and ended the regular season with the top spot in the AP top 25. Notre Dame took the top spot in the BCS ranking and played for its first BCS national championship, but Alabama plowed right through the mystique and lore of Notre Dame’s magical season like it was a sheet of tracing paper. As it turned out, more inspirational images from that season would later be tarnished as well, but that is a whole other story.
Is it fair to judge the success of a season on the result of one bowl game? Well, yeah, it is. But to do so would be to discredit all of the hard work that was put in during the course of the regular season, and the regular season is still supposed to mean something.
This season has seen Notre Dame get through the first half of its schedule without a loss. They have done so at a time when an academic code of conduct investigation has held out five players. After an explosive 50-43 victory over North Carolina on Saturday, the Irish now take on a program that has traditionally given them fits. Florida State owns a 5-2 all-time mark against Notre Dame, the best mark against the Irish any school with more than one game played against Notre Dame can claim. The odds and the trends seem to be slanted against the Irish, and many may just be waiting for Florida State to beat down Notre Dame in similar fashion Alabama did two seasons ago so they can wash their hands of the whole Irish infatuation and hype.
If Notre Dame somehow escapes Tallahassee with a win, it will be impossible to ignore the Irish the rest of the way. Then, and perhaps only then, will Notre Dame be seen as a legitimate contender for a playoff spot. For now, this Notre Dame just feels too familiar to shake past history.