Non-Conference. Non-Factor. Despite 10-2 mark, Notre Dame Under the Radar.
Other than for a few elite traditional powers, a 10-2 season tends to be a joyous thing. That’s a lot of happy Saturdays, an abundance of glory to savor.
And then there’s Notre Dame. When the Fighting Irish secured their third straight 10-win season at Stanford on Saturday, it was pretty much under the radar.
In a way, it’s a shame that kind of consistent achievement is not appreciated more.
Since the miseries of a 4-8 campaign in 2016, ND has gone 32-6. This is only the second time (1992-94) that the Irish have won at least 10 games in three straight seasons. That ought to be a big deal.
The upcoming bowl season pretty much sums up why it isn’t. There was a time when a 10-2 Notre Dame would be a lock for a high-profile New Year’s bowl. That’s no longer the case. Between the College Football Playoff and intricate conference tie-in rules, the Irish are tracking for the Camping World Bowl against a fallen hero like Texas. That’s not even the best bowl in Orlando.
Broadcast news: If that widespread projection holds up, it will be a meeting between the only two schools that have their own networks.
Now, I may happen to think a lesser bowl in Florida has it all over a supposedly better bowl in Texas. Because of things like weather and water access. And because I have been to some frigid Cotton Bowls. But that’s just me.
I also may happen to think that TV network honchos—I guess that basically means ABC/ESPN honchos—would love to slot the Irish into the biggest bowl this side of the Super Bowl if they could manage it.
But those gerrymandering days are gone.
This is the new normal for Notre Dame. Even last year, when the Irish put together a 12-0 regular season and received a coveted College Football Playoff berth, the lingering impression for some people—whether ND haters or lovers—was how thoroughly Notre Dame was throttled by Clemson.
And the buildup for that game was kind of the high-water mark for this three-year reign of success.
So what’s the deal?
For one, by rejecting the notion of being in a conference, ND loses all those conference measuring sticks: Winning a league, winning a division, spoiling a rival’s big plans, enjoying the perks of a broad range of bowl tie-ins.
When you say, ``National championship or bust,’’ it’s either feast. Or, more likely, famine.
Another problem is, Notre Dame’s fortunes are subject to the ebbs and flows of its opponents. In their losses, the Irish put up a good fight at Georgia, but were roughed up at Michigan.
And then there's this: What was ND’s best win this year? USC, Stanford and Virginia Tech weren’t even ranked, leaving Virginia and Navy as its only victories over ranked opponents.
Virginia or Navy? Tell your grandchildren about that when they ask about that glorious 10-2 record in 2019.
Here's the thing: What's really lacking in this Notre Dame era is rivals. I suppose Notre Dame and USC people hate on each other, but it's not like Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama or countless other Hatfield & McCoy feuds. Notre Dame-Navy? Please.
Back in the day, Notre Dame-Miami had venom. But that's ancient history. Notre Dame-Michigan raises emotions. But now they're not going to play for a while.
After ND got blasted at Michigan on Oct. 26, the Irish had games left, but no drama. Virginia Tech, Duke, Navy, Boston College, Stanford. . . Yawn.
Of course, the Irish and their fans wanted to win those games, which ND did. But beyond the W, where was the thrill in that?
Maybe that's being hard on this team. It had an excellent season. It just was sort of anonymous.
There is, of course, the prospect that ND will be involved in a memorable bowl game that puts some frosting on the cake.
Then again, in the Camping World Bowl? Take the under. Big-time.